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Iceland Expedition, Part 2
Report by Julia Martin
with Finnur Arnar Arnarson, Karlotta Blöndal, Pavel Mrkus, Greg Pope, Ivar Smedstad, Diana Winklerová
The next three days were devoted to the core question of the expedition: How to trace and reveal the complex ecologies of human-nonhuman relationships, which transform and create landscapes and cultural habits through visible and invisible processes?
Day 5: Alcoa aluminium smelter
On day five we travelled to Reyðarfjörður, a small town on the east coast where the Alcoa Fjarðaál aluminium smelter is located. A guided tour gave us a good impression of the enormous size of the factory, its production capacity, and of the company's very well functioning public relations department. Our guide also mentioned the economic risk involved in using renewable energy sources such as hydropower: In case of a power shortage, which could be due to a very long winter, resulting in low water levels in the reservoirs, and therefore low electricity production, the factory would not be fully operational. Once shut down the factory's melting pots would require a whole year to be fired up again. Unsurprisingly, the currently very low water levels of Kárahnjúkar's reservoir (the winter had been very long) were a serious cause of concern. Before driving back home, we looked at the local extensions of Alcoa’s presence in Reyðarfjörður: the newly built gigantic sports hall sponsored by Alcoa, the new highrise buildings and bungalows implanted into the fishing village, expecting Alcoa workers as new inhabitants, the abandoned work camp for the factory's construction workers which is now gradually being transported to the north of the country where a new silicon factory is going to be built.
In the evening, we held an informal artist talk in Seyðisfjörður's community house. Greg Pope and Diana Winklerová shared their work with the group and with Skaftfell's artists-in-residence.
Day 6: Kárahnjúkar Hydroelectric Project
On day six we expanded the "ecological object" of the Alcoa smelter and looked for the means upon which its operation depends: We drove into the highlands to the Kárahnjúkar dam. Along the way we saw the transmission lines connecting the smelter with Fljótsdal Power Station, we listened to the humming of their transformator station, we saw lake Lagarfljót, whose colour has changed from milky green to milky grey after the dam became operational. Once arrived at the site, we explored the gigantic structure of the dam itself, noticed the marks of wind erosion on the banks of the only partially filled reservoir, and saw the dry canyon where once a river had been flowing freely. The group was stunned by the silence of the place: no sound of flowing water, no birds, and – exceptional for the highlands – no wind on that day.
On the way back, the group experienced a bath in a hot spring up in the highlands. Drilling for this hot water in the ground provides affordable heating for most households in Iceland.
In the evening, Pavel Mrkus and Ivar Smedstad shared their work with the expedition group and with Skaftfell's artists-in-residence.
Day 7: Héraðsflói Estuary
On the next day, we looked at the two rivers that have been affected by the construction of Kárahnjúkar dam. Driving to Húsey, a remote farm in the Héraðsflói estuary, we followed Jökulsá á Dal, the dammed river that is now for most of the year fed by rainwater instead of glacial water.
Further in the south, the other river, Lagarfljót, makes its own way through the estuary. Its waters have turned greyish-brown from increased glacial sediments, because Jökulsá á Dal's glacial waters have not only been stopped by the hydroelectric project's reservoir but have also been redirected through tunnels into the powerstation and from there into Lagarfljót river. The redirection of one river into the other has caused the aquatic life and diversity in Lagarfljót to decrease dramatically.
From Húsey we walked towards the coastline as far as we could go, looking for the place at which both modified rivers flow together before entering the sea. The difference in their water colour is profound and clearly visible.
In the evening, back in Seyðisfjörður, Karlotta Blöndal and Finnur Arnar Arnarson gave an informal presentation of their work for the expedition group and Skaftfell's artists-in-residence.
Day 8: Reflection and presentation
On day eight we prepared for our public presentation of the Frontiers of Solitude project, which was held in the afternoon in Seyðisfjörður's theatre space. The organisers gave a comprehensive overview of the project's intentions and partners, and outlined the expedition program. The participating artists presented initial responses to their experiences of the encountered places and issues, and opened up a discussion with the audience. The conversation revolved around the Kárahnjúkar case, democracy, activism, local passivity as a cultural trait, the lack of a willingness to plan and make decisions, the touristic gaze, the dimensionality and relativity of local environmental issues in relation to the rest of the world, and the gap between self-perception and outside perception.
Day 9: Travel observations
On day nine we drove back to Reykjavík, stopping at the Geological Research and Heritage Center Breiðdalssetur, where we visited the exhibition "Parallel Line Up" and spoke to the artist Jenny Brockmann and to the center's director Christa Maria Feucht about their individual approaches to fieldwork. Jenny Brockmann's artistic practice links geology and weather, and during her research in Iceland she has been able to explore and appropriate various techniques of measuring and recording, as used in geological field expeditions.
The rest of the day and evening saw us travelling along the south coast of Iceland, stopping briefly at the famous glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón, where the topic of the touristic gaze came up once again with force.
Day 9: Art and activism
In Reykjavík we had a meeting with author and activist Andri Snær Magnason at Toppstöðin, a former power plant which has been transformed into a center for cultural entrepreneurs, activists, and artists. With Andri we spoke about the writing strategies for his book and movie Draumalandið, the development of his writing practice as a whole, how to sustain an investment in activism, and about the latest developments in Iceland's energy policy. We also discussed poetry as a political agent and as a method to bring disparate elements of a complex system into direct contact and context with each other – for example linking, through poetic association, the political, psychological, and socioeconomic aspects of the Kárahnjúkar project.
In the afternoon we visited the National Gallery and spoke to the director of the Woody Vasulka Chamber research and archiving project. The day – and the expedition – ended with a fabulous dinner at Finnur Arnar Arnarson's house in downtown Reykjavík.
Day 10: Departure day for all
The Fall …
Only in fragments are we able to perceive the world around us. Our senses head towards a fraction of reality, which is above that filtered by the urge of the mind. …
Field Work and Ecology
This expedition through Iceland will lead participants to various locations in the South, East and North of Iceland where the untapped sources of renewable energy – water, steam, and wind – as well as the impacts of hydro- and geo …
Skaftfell Center for Visual Art, located in Seyðisfjörður, plays the essential role of presenting, discoursing and encouraging the development of contemporary art in eastern Iceland. …
The Iceland expedition: Tracing hyperextended objects and their ecological agency. …
Greg Pope: Lagoon
Lagoon audiovisual performance 20 min …
Marble Warble is an audiovisual work recorded in one take at the grave of Maria Georgsson, born Wathne (1.3.1885 - 28.12.1912), in Seyðisfjörður, Iceland. …
Karlotta J. Blöndal
Frontiers of Solitude (union/mediation) …
Lisa Paland (b. 1989) studied cultural and media education in Merseburg, Germany with main focus on digital and analogue photography. She finished her B.A. …
Finnur Arnar Arnarson: Ignorant and Happy
About liking and disliking at the same time. About being schizophrenic, ignorant and happy. I love toasted bread. I hate power plants. …