Strange things that people have said to me in Iceland

This is a brief interlude while I write a longer post.

Each time I’ve been to Iceland I’ve had some really strange things asked of me, here’s a selection:

Drunk Kid: ‘Are you from Finland?’

Me: What? Why would I be from Finland?

D.K: ‘You look like a Moomin.’

Another one:

Different Drunk Kid: ‘I saw you from my window and wondered are you a Mongolian Assassin on a mission?’

At a party:

‘Are you a street artist?

Small boys in the petrol/gas station ask the cashier about me:

‘Does he work for the Mafia?’

The latest one:

Belgian Guy: ‘Are you guys in a band? I thought maybe some Post-Industrial Instrumental Rock music’


Of Rideshares, Reykjavík & Menningarnótt. Part Three – Sunday 20th August 2011

There was a break in service since I was feeling a little under the weather for most of this past week.

Another reason that I didn’t want to drink too much on Saturday night was that I had a breakfast appointment. My younger brother back in England had worked for a  woman who was married to an Icelandic artist and when word of my travels had got round I was asked if I would like to  meet the artist.

I met Magnús first in London in December briefly and then again in February when he was kind enough to take some time to show me his work in some of the city buildings. Magnús and his wife were also very generous in inviting me to  dinner and I assisted with part of the installation of one of his pieces at the National Museum of Art. A real thrill was to be had by those at the SÍM house when he came to the evening show that the residency artists hold.

It was great to see Magnús and his family again over coffee and breakfast and to be able to catch up with what he and the family have been up to.

I bid a fond farewell to the city and headed off to the bus terminal where I’d arrange to get a ride back with the same driver.

This time though the passengers were different, this time there there was a young boy and his dad. They offered me the front seat and off we went back north. The dad and the driver spoke in Icelandic, I couldn’t tell you what about but they obviously were on amicable terms. The boy sat singing to himself quite happily and only once asked what my name was.

I took a few shots from the front passenger seat which doesn’t do the landscape real justice.

As we neared the end of the line for me the rain started to fall and I was starting to dread the idea of trying to hitchhike back. I asked the driver which direction I needed to head for the turn back to Skagaströnd, instead we reloaded my bags and headed off again in the car. He decided to take me all the way in for which I was very grateful and during that short period I was asked what I was up to in Skagaströnd.

After a long journey I was kind of relieved to be back in Skagaströnd with its empty streets.

Of Rideshares, Reykjavík & Menningarnótt. Part Two – Saturday 20th August 2011

I woke on Saturday after a reasonably early night to be greeted by a gloriously sunny day and got myself downtown to one of the places you are guaranteed to find me in if Liverpool FC are on the TV. Back in February I had discovered that there are a great many LFC fans in Iceland (I’ve already met two in Skagaströnd) and I watched several matches in Bjarni Fel Sportsbar and for a while Liverpool kept winning. As many semi superstitious sports fan knows you don’t mess with a streak and so it was that I watched nearly all of Liverpool’s matches until they lost there. Liverpool were visiting Arsenal at The Emirates and playing in their black away kit. I sat there eating my cheeseburger lunch and watched enthralled as Liverpool went  to win 2-0. The day is always a little bit sweeter when Liverpool win, a good start to the day then.

A small preview of the day to come was the marathon as the street was closed from traffic and runners were cheered on as they neared the finish line.

My observation from the previous night that I might be in Reykjavík, USA and not Reykjavík, Iceland wasn’t exactly quashed when I spotted this arrangement of flags by the pond!

But what is Menningarnótt? I hear you cry…since that was one of the reasons I came to the city. Reykjavík has festivals throughout the year ranging from Iceland Airwaves, Gay Pride and Menningarnótt. All the galleries and museums are open and hold demos and tours as well as outdoor stages are erected for bands to perform on. Menningarnótt (Culture Night) is pretty much an all day and into the night event.

The first exhibition I saw was at the National Gallery of Iceland which is showing ‘Femme – Louise Bourgeois’ until 11th September. While in now way a fully comprehensive retrospective its a good show encompassing sculptures, prints, drawings and textile works. I took great interest in the presentation of the works on paper as a way to display a narrative or a cohesive process of thoughts. The works were shown together literally side by side in frames. Any working through of an idea of theme from a personal standpoint has been normally restricted to sketchbooks but here the sequence of images were placed side by side. The vitality of line in the looser works on paper by Bourgeois did make me wonder if I worry too much about the ‘finished, polished’ work before showing anything. There was also one of the spiders, while not as large some of the others I’ve seen in the past, it was still memorable.

I am now convinced that there are indeed elves or the ‘hidden people’ operating in the Reykjavík area. This is due to the fact that the flat where I was staying has what the landlady has described as old locks that need looking at. The first night after I went out and returned, I couldn’t open the door with the key and sent a text message saying that maybe I had the wrong keys. Of course the door then opened straight away on one turn after that even though I’d spent 5 minutes earlier getting frustrated and half expecting the police to turn up. This happened more than once for me to now be pretty convinced that behind the door was some little guy holding onto the handle with two hands when I put the key in the lock.

After I’d eventually got back in around 330pm and stopped f***ing around with the door and picked up my portfolio, I headed back into town and stopped by the Reykjavík Art Museum to see the shows there. I wasn’t overly engaged with what was on there and can’t actually remember that well what I’d seen there!

In February I had visited and subsequently used the workshop at The Icelandic Printmakers Association and they were also having an open day with printmaking demos. There I was able to catch up with members that I’d met earlier in the year and to show them the work that I’d made since my last visit. I also got to meet other members and to see the work in the exhibition space next door. As an added bonus I sold a print as well! While showing my work to one of the members, one of the visitors had spied my work and wanted to see it. One of the observations that people have made about my work is that its often monochromatic although recent work has seen an injection of colour. Strangely, I showed her the colour workfirst but she wanted to see the work in black and white before spying a red version of a print and deciding decisively that she wanted it. That seemed as good as a time as any to take a break and I headed out to dinner with a spring in my step for the second time that day.

I decided to have dinner at the harbour that evening although with so many people in the city, I had to wait longer than I wanted to for dinner and had to resign myself to missing some of the events that I’d hoped to go to.

Down the street from the harbour is the SÍM house which includes an exhibition space for artists participating in the residency. SÍM is The Association of Icelandic Visual Artists and I met the August artists and saw their work. By this time there was a real buzz and the streets were starting to fill up with people.

I’d found just coming back into the city slightly weird this was a whole another level of weird. I’d never seen this many people in Reykjavík before.

As the sun started to set the crowd seemed to swell as did the noise and the level of expectancy rose.

Harpa is Reykjavík’s new concert hall and it was still being constructed back in February and was opened in May. It has had about three official openings since it opened and Saturday was another one, the glass facade was designed by the artist Olafur Eliasson and it was to be illuminated for the first time. Since this is my blog and I can do what I like 😉 I’ll jump back in time and show some photos from 1st August when I first got to the city and went to visit Harpa.

However, next to the fireworks the illuminated facade seemed a little bit disappointing or maybe I was too far from the building. At intervals parts of the facade lit up in primary colours but somehow I was expecting more. The fireworks were good though.

Harpa is on the left.

I did have a couple of beers after that and was amazed at how crowded the bars were. However, I was fully aware that I had a coffee appointment on Sunday at 1030 and didn’t want to miss that or be hungover.

If I’m perfectly honest despite looking for familiar faces which I didn’t find for a second night in the bars, I’d had a pretty damn good day already with one key ingredient missing which would have made it even better but you can’t have everything…till next time.

Of Rideshares, Reykjavík & Menningarnótt. Part One – Friday 19th August 2011

There are numerous ways to travel around Iceland ranging from those who cycle round, hitchhiking, taking the bus (expensive), domestic flights, asking around and letting people know you’re looking for a ride and then there’s also the carpooling website. There are no trains in case you think I’ve missed that one out.

I placed my ‘ride’ wanted notice on the website on a Monday and waited and waited. I’d already booked my accommodation in the Reykjavík for Friday but by Wednesday still hadn’t found a ride. Thursday was spent trying to find a ride and emailing potential rides. Some answered in the negative, others I never heard back from. I pretty much gave up and resigned myself to a bus ride or to trying to hitchhike. Thursday was also the night of the Potluck farewell dinner (see below) and so I went back to prepare my dishes but having finished my food prep, I had a nagging feeling that I should check my email one more time.

My luck was in! One of the drivers I had emailed still had a spot left in the car, I got a lift from the administrator at NES and waited at the petrol station at Blönduós for my ride. All I had was a visual description of the car though believe me suddenly you become very aware of every make of car. Then you start to wonder if grey means silver.

My ride arrived and not really having any idea of what to expect, I found myself sitting in the back behind the driver in car full of teenage passengers. One teenage girl sat in the front passenger seat and I sat next to two teenage boys. The boys periodically chatted to each other or sent text messages on their phones. I couldn’t tell if any of them were related or not. Otherwise the only other sound was the radio which would drop in and out depending on the section of road…the only song that we heard completely was ‘Instant Karma’ by John Lennon. I found it slightly unnerving if I’m honest that nobody asked any questions, I know its tourist season and all but I really expected a few questions like: ‘Do you like Iceland?’, ‘What are you doing in Iceland?’, ‘Where have you come from?’ or ‘What is your name?’. How often do you get a 6ft tall Japanese guy in Northwest Iceland with a British accent?!

I will say this though, I saved more than a 1/3 using a rideshare and it was a good hour quicker than the bus.

After 17 days in Skagaströnd, I really found the city weird with the noise and amount of cars and all the different voices. I honestly wondered at one point if I was in Reykjavík, Iceland or Reykjavík, USA?! Where had all the Icelanders gone? I know I’m just as much a tourist but honestly was it a buy one get free special in the US?!

In February this year I was lucky to be one of the artists to stay as part of the residency run by SÍM, The Association of Icelandic Visual Artists in Reykjavík. I had a great time then, thanks in large part to the other artists with whom I was lucky enough to share with. Although not staying in the house this time round, my accomodation in the city was actually in the same part of  town. The neighbourhood was very familiar and after a quick dinner I did head downtown to check the bars for any familiar faces. I didn’t find any and headed back earlier than I intended to and was rewarded with this view. I  do love the view in that neighbourhood when the sun sets…


Nothing to do with drugs…I mean ‘pot’ literally in the sense of cooking!

On Sunday one of the artist’s left early to go to Sweden and since I knew I wouldn’t be here for her last weekend, so it was decided that we would have a farewell dinner for Hiroko with the other artists. One of the things that the residency does in the first or second week is have something called Pot Luck whereby the artists and some local residents bring a dish or literally a pot of food and everybody shares. Its a terrific idea and ideally I would have shown you pictures from that one but we just dived straight in and I don’t think anybody took a single picture! Well here’s a picture from the one we held on Thursday night:

There’s pasta, fish soup, marinated pork chops, stir fried vegetable noodles, chicken,  Australian rissoles, goulash, dumplings, cheese & ham toasties and cakes.

It was a good night with various quantities of alcohol being consumed as well as well a two rounds of ‘exquisite corpse’ being played by 10 artists. For those that don’t know what it is, a piece of paper is folded into in our case 5 sections and each person draws in their section without letting the next person see. I’m afraid I have no evidence of the resulting pictures which have now gone off to Japan via Sweden.

Concentrating on their psychological drawing tests…

Its all gone…

And just to prove that I was there…

Ordering alcohol may never be the same as one of the things we learnt from Hiroko was not to ask how strong a drink was but ‘what percentage?’ of alcohol was in the drink, depending on the drink consumed this would become a one word statement/question: ‘PERCENTAGE?’. Anything with a low percentage was deemed to be ‘juice’ and not worthy of being drunk.

Luckily we’re in a small town with very little traffic as she kept forgetting to ride on the right side of the street!

Not the outdoors type…or am I?

I’ve never really thought of myself as the outdoors type, you know the sort thick woolen socks, Berghaus jacket, trousers, matching underpants or the young ‘I want to be just like Bear Grylls’ without the camera crew ‘extreme’ hiking, adventurer.

I haven’t even been camping as an adult! That said I’ve never worn a tuxedo as an adult either maybe I could combine the two and go camping in a tuxedo but I digress.

I have now been in Skagaströnd for 17 days and not even visited the next town 23km away. The urge hasn’t really been there that said I am going to Reykjavík tonight and tomorrow night and will return on Sunday. I have my daily routine and walk 10 minutes to the studio stopping each day to see what surprises the light will make to the view. I see the same dogs sitting outside and say to them ‘Morning Dog’…they don’t answer yet. 😉

The clue that the season will be changing can be seen in the town either obviously as one house is being clad but mainly in the amount of homes that are getting a lick of paint in the primary colours that are favoured here.

Behind the house that I am staying in is a headland area called Spákonufellshöfði and a couple of evenings ago I found myself wandering up there quite happily for an hour and a half. I saw nobody else which appealed to the hermit in me but the birds and at one point felt slightly jealous of the seagulls. They looked like they were having the time of their lives circling over the water and the land around me.

Hmm, the outdoors isn’t bad at all…

They come in Pink.

The weather has turned colder and rainy and windy in other words Icelandic weather but if you dress appropriately it’s not really the end of the world. What we didn’t expect in the studio this morning though was four girls all in matching pink rainwear.

We get the odd curious kids coming in usually in pairs, initially the first pair to visit were the girls I christened the ‘Trampoline Girls’ who spent most of their days jumping up and down. They first introduced themselves as ‘Dr Sexy’ and ‘Dr Arse’ but we’ve since learned they’re actually called Thelma and Gunna. I didn’t really believe that ‘Dr Sexy and Dr Arse’ were their given names…

So another pair of girls came in over the last couple of days and they come to look around and to draw. They gather that’s we’re doing and so the first thing they want to do is to draw something. I’m running out of wall space as I seem to get presented with a new drawing each day to put on my wall. I don’t know if it’s a consequence of my clumsy attempts at bad Icelandic but the kids seem to enjoy trying to tell me things in Icelandic or they could be just telling me something I don’t really want to know!

Only 4 pieces of work on the wall belong to me!

There is definitely a ringleader in the new kids who’ve been visiting in their fetching pink rainwear. I’m hoping she doesn’t know the 2 finger gesture that she’s showing in the picture but at the same time it wouldn’t surprise me if she did! She also presented me with one of the street decorations from the Kántrý Dagar with a screw still attached to it! Going to have to watch out for her. She also spied my almost finished packet of biscuits behind my laptop and mugged me for them!

With our four visitors is Hiroko, one of the artists staying here. This photo looks like it should be for some kind of album or for a music video…

‘Hiroko & The Girls from Skagaströnd’ – ‘The Rainy Day Remixes’

Kántrý Dagar

The thoughts and pictures may not always be quite in chronological order either as I’ve taken time to get pictures from others or not processed my thoughts yet.

For the moment I’ll try and best illustrate and show what I can from the weekend that just passed. As I mentioned earlier the weekend was the Kántrý Dagar  (Country Day) and the town was decorated with bunting and other strange sights like…

I’ve actually discovered that I don’t seem to have as many pictures as I thought I would now that I look through my pictures which leads me to the conclusion I must have been drinking too many beers to take pictures… :s

So I’m working on this post by looking at the schedule of events and trying to recall what I was doing!

Friday I was in the studio where we had the odd visitor during the day ranging from curious kids to adults, 7pm stands out since everyday is a kind of ‘what shall I eat today?’ A dilemma more often dictated by what is in the store on any given day. For most of us staying at the residency free soup in the marquee was dinner. We all had seconds, it was a good soup!

Then it was onto see the bonfire which drew the largest amount of people I’ve seen in one place so far while here.

Then it was onto drinking various drinks…no pictures there.

Note written to myself though that I discovered on Saturday morning…’0438h Drunk as a shark (meant skunk but handwriting had gone by then) returner (should be ‘returned’).

Yes, I was a little hungover next day…and things were kind of in slow motion for Saturday up to a point…

Saturday, it was noticeably colder and I even put the pea coat that I’d brought with me. I felt bit of a numpty when I was leaving England wearing a jumper and a pea coat while everybody had summer clothes on but then they didn’t know where I was going…

I put some paper on the wall during the opening hours of the studio and with some prompting got visitors to complete the sentence where possible. Not everybody wanted to add anything though…

What we have there as far as I can tell or from what Google translate tells me which is not always accurate is as follows:

Art is…untouchable, red, fun, storm, thoughts, beautiful, great, living, black, feeling, creation, sweet, babysitting the artist, Karen, Eva.

I’ll leave it there for a while, I had hoped to have one word written after the other horizontally but somehow it turned into a vertical column.

After a dinner that went slightly awry in that we were under the impression that we could buy meat and then grill it in the marquee between 1800h-2000h. We did the got meat part but there was no sign of a BBQ in the marquee at 1900h so instead returned home and ate there. Then it was back out and I found myself off to hear a little bit of some old boys playing before hearing one of the locals who works assisting the residency singing.

Then it was onto the bar where I caught up with some of the other artists who were already beer in hand. The theme of the days is Country as in Country and Western so lots of cowboy hats…I got to borrow one for a couple of minutes on Friday…

There was a band playing in the bar and the music was loud but good. We’d all seen the odd local person going about the town but whether it was the beer or the festival being a reason or an excuse for being forward a good and lively night was had by all. At some point during the night all female artists had lied about being married to ward off potential suitors…there were other questions that weren’t always just about where we came from! Some comments were eyebrow raising but it never turned nasty.

I was told by one woman that her cousin and this is a new phrase for me:

‘My cousin is f***ing alien horny for guys like you, you need to meet her!’

Sadly I never got to meet the cousin that night…

And yes it was after 0400h again when I got home… :s

Don’t worry I won’t make a habit of it!

Föstudagur 12th Ágúst 2011

Today is weather wise the flattest of days by way of light since I have been here although there is a sense of expectation as the town gears up for a weekend of events called Kántrý Dagar.

The town which normally numbers 530 will expand to have up to 2000 people listening to and dancing to music as well no doubt drinking and other revelry.

The streets and houses have been decorated with bunting and ribbons and hand painted signs and decorations adorn front gardens and lamposts. I should probably go on a photo taking mission before the weekend kicks off…

The view on my walk towards the studio in the morning…

p.s. The sun came out later…its bright and sunny at 1748.

From afar

It’s very strange watching the events in England unfold and then seeing the videos that the BBC website will allow. In some ways I am not that surprised given the strange culture of instant gratification that has been on the increase. If I think of  TV in England there are so many reality TV programs where the prize is a certain amount of fame or even financial that why would people want to get a job and work their way up. Perhaps an overly simple take on things but those working for the police and ambulance services get paid a pittance compared to some jobs.

One that has struck me as unusual here and with my mind conditioned to assume the worst in teenagers is that the teenagers here do the maintainance and upkeep of the town. They do get paid a small wage and I see them painting things, picking up rubbish and mowing lawns. I asked one of the teenagers if these were the ‘bad’ kids getting punished but it’s not community service but just something they do for some summer money.

I’m still not sure what to think of the trouble in England but I am distanced both physically and by a sense of detachment that I find difficult to explain.