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Iceland Expedition, Part 1
Report by Julia Martin
with Finnur Arnar Arnarson, Karlotta Blöndal, Pavel Mrkus, Greg Pope, Ivar Smedstad, Diana Winklerová
The expedition through Iceland, which took place from 10th to 20th of August 2015, led participants to various locations in the South, East and North of the country, where the untapped sources of renewable energy – water, steam, and wind – as well as the impacts of hydro- and geothermal power plants on the landscape and on local micro-economies, can be observed.
Iceland, with its strong investment in geothermal and hydroelectric energy, appears to be in a different situation with regard to energy resources than continental Europe, which is still dependent on fossil fuels. However, the harvesting of “green” energy in Iceland also comes at a price for the country’s local and translocal ecologies, and a closer investigation for which purposes this “clean” energy is used reveals a web of economic dependencies and strategies that is rather similar to those of more heavily industrialised countries in mainland Europe. The construction of Kárahnjúkar dam for example (2003-07), and the political process leading up to it, have been the subject of deep controversy in Iceland. Under the current government, plans for more hydroelectric mega-dams are under way. They promote an intensified “harvesting” of the country’s large number of free-running rivers and promise cheap "green" energy – with the aim of attracting investors, multinational corporations, and energy-hungry heavy industry to Iceland. The ecological degradation of the river systems and the emission of greenhouse gasses from the new factories and from the hydroelectric reservoirs remain largely unobserved concerns.
The main emphasis of the Iceland expedition was the exploration of the Kárahnjúkar Hydroelectric Project and of its three interrelated main sites in East Iceland: We visited the largest rockfill dam in Europe, Kárahnjúkar dam, as well as the aluminium factory for which it was built, and the two affected river systems. During the expedition the participating artists met with experts from other disciplines and were introduced to the ecological, political and socioeconomic aspects of the visited sites. The program aimed for a critical and informed debate about case-specific ecological and socioeconomic co-dependencies, and about the means and ends of renewable energy production and energy consumption.
Adding a (self)critical angle to Frontiers of Solitude's "artist as fieldworker" approach, during our 10- day expedition in Iceland we continuously discussed the chances and challenges of such short-term artistic fieldwork, specifically when investigating longterm ecological and economic relationships. Our conversations brought up a whole bundle of questions considering the role of the artist, the problem of aesthetic distance, activism versus spectatorship, disciplinary versus interdisciplinary knowledge, and the problem of grasping ecology as a concept and reality. Topics for discussion that we encountered throughout the trip were for example:
– How restricted are our field observations by an aesthetic experience of "surface ecology" and by romantic ideas of landscape?
– Is it possible to grasp instantaneously the deep layers of human-nonhuman ecological relationships, such as socioeconomic and political longterm developments, which may be the driving forces behind the visible symptoms of land use?
– How can the complexities of human-nonhuman ecological relationships be represented without repeating the image of a distant, sublime, romanticized Nature?
– How does an expedition such as ours differ from tourism?
– What could the role of the artist be or become in the quest for a new understanding of ecology, nature, landscape, and systemic relationship?
– Can the field experience be communicated through artworks at all, or does it remain the artist's personal adventure?
– Is it necessary to fly artists all over the globe as "witnesses", in order to produce art that tackles the question: What is ecology, and what is ecological thinking?
Day 1: Arrival day and journey from Reykjavík to Akureyri
Day 2: The raw powers of nature
On our way from Akureyri to Seyðisfjörður we visited the geothermal energy landscapes of Krafla Power Station as well as the surrounding steam vents and lava fields in the North of the country. The extreme sound and sight of enormous amounts of steam hissing out of the bare ground, the pungent smell of sulfur, and the experience of walking through vast areas of lava formations provided a first impression of the violent natural forces that are being harnessed in this area.
Further along the road in the Northeast we visited Dettifoss, reputedly the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Here again, sight, sound, and touch (the spray was blowing everywhere) combined into a strong sensual experience of the sheer power of falling water.
Both Krafla and Dettifoss showed very clearly how landscapes are formed by the relentless forces of water, steam, and wind. But we also encountered another transformative force at these sites: people.
As two of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland, Krafla and Dettifoss have had to be developed infrastructurally in recent years, in response to growing numbers of visitors and to the damaging traces they leave behind in their admiration of Nature. Parking spaces have been
expanded, roads widened, toilet facilities added, and paths stabilised, in order to accomodate large groups of visitors and to protect, as much as possible, the fragile sites that would otherwise be eroded even faster.
Day 3: Environmental Art in Iceland
On the first morning at our "base camp“ in Seyðisfjörður we explored the town, visited Skaftfell Center for Visual Art, and went for a walk to experience the sound sculpture “Tvisöngur” by Lukas Kühne.
In the afternoon we assembled in the town's theatre/cinema for a public lecture by art historian Markús Þór Andrésson, organized by Skaftfell for the FoS project. Markús outlined for us the history of environmentally engaged art in Iceland from the 1970s until today. He discovered a need for further art historical and critical research into these ecocritical artistic practices in Iceland, which should resonate strongly again today, in the light of worrying future plans for Iceland’s industry and energy production, worldwide environmental crisis, climate change, etc.
Markús also pointed towards the difficult relationship between the rhetorics of nature preservation and nationalism in Iceland and elsewhere: In the current debates about mass tourism and industrial development in Iceland the "baddies" in people's perception tend to be foreign companies and foreign tourists, while the Icelandic population's own contributions to environmentally damaging behaviour and political decisionmaking remains largely uncriticised.
Following the lecture we watched the Icelandic documentary movie Draumalandið (2008), based on Andri Snær Magnason’s book with the same name. It traces the political and historical background of recent large scale industrial development in Iceland, highlighting the construction of Kárahnjúkar Hydroelectric Project and the Alcoa Fjarðaál smelter in Reyðarfjörður. Taking the Kárahnjúkar case as a very powerful example, the movie and book expose the need to keep discussing questions of value, individual and collective responsibility, democracy, and the prioritization between economic growth, prosperity, and an intact nature.
Day 4: Ecology, micro-economy, and education
On the fourth day the group visited the Nature and Heritage Center Skálanes, located on a cliff at the very end of Seyðisfjörður fjord. Skálanes has been restored in recent years from an almost abandoned farm building to a family-run center for environmental education. It regularly houses international student groups, wildlife researchers, reindeer hunters, volunteers, and other visitors. Skálanes aims to develop further as a largely self-sustainable economic venture, experimenting with small-scale local hydropower, permaculture, and green tourism. On our visit we were guided by the center's director Ólafur Pétursson and learned from him about the practical and ideological challenges of striving for a balance between practical and academic research, green tourism, environmental education, and economic self-sustainability under the conditions of extreme weather and remoteness.
In the afternoon we visited Seyðisfjörður's Technical Museum, where its director Pétur Kristjánsson gave us insight into the history of the town and its cultural and technological connection to continental Europe: Seyðisfjörður does not only host the only passenger ferry between Iceland and abroad, but was also very early on influenced by the arrival of new technologies in Iceland, such as the telegraph, telephone, and radio. The first undersea telephone cable between Iceland and Europe arrived in Seyðisfjörður. The town has maintained its open lookout across the sea ever since.
In the evening we attended a performance by Gerd and Karin Aurell, artists-in-residence at Skaftfell Center for Visual Art.
(to be continued)
The cosmic gravitational force pulls all matter toward the center of the Earth. Water from above searches for cracks and openings in the top layers of hard rock, and flows through crevasses over the surface. The energy of falling water is constant, independent of time, the environment, aesthetics, or human-oriented time scales that contain an individual life. Gravity’s proof is the existence of cosmic mechanisms as an elemental power that holds everything together, a concentrational force with the precise equilibrium of clockwork. An adequate supply of falling matter - in this case water - is the only variable in the calculations of the power generated, and quickly changing conditions for the existence of life. The energy of collapse is a paradox.
The artwork “The Fall” brings an explicit model of confrontation to hydro power in its raw and abstract form. The work will consist of multi-channel video installations assembled from footage taken during an expedition in Iceland. The images will pass through post-production that involves an animated time-lapse effect and exposure correction. Another part of the installation will consist of the multi-channel sound that comes from these takes, but which is modulated according to the speed of each channel. The installation will be adapted to LCD monitors arranged in a concentrated space. Other spaces might find it ideal to present it as a set of multiscreen large-scale projections with distinctive multichannel sound in a separate darkened room.
Pavel Mrkus, October 2015
Pavel Mrkus MgA, Doc. (b 1970, Mělník) is an audiovisual artist who makes use of digital moving images and sound often in relation to specific space. He graduated from the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. His interest in Religious Studies together with experience of four years teaching position at Toyama City Institute of Glass Art in Japan lead him to unique mixture of cultural paradigms within his work. After showing at 50th Venice Biennial in 2003 he participated in many group and solo shows around world. Together with Daniel Hanzlik they established Time-Based Media studio at Faculty of Art and Design at J. E. Purkyne University in Usti nad Labem. He was awarded a Personality of the Year 2012 for his exhibition Next Planet in The Brno House of Arts.
"With a non-conflictual stubbornness, the artist seeks out and applies elements of cyberspace spirituality to artistic projects. He subconsciously compares this spirituality to the principles of transcendence in the analog world. Similar to how Eastern religious systems have become the philosophical point of reference for the work of the early Conceptualists, in many ways they represent, permeated as they are with traditional Christian spirituality, a landing point for the cosmic odyssey of this Czech artist." (Michal Koleček)
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. If we were to see all the aspects interrelated, as a human kind we would most probably interact with our surroundings in a very different way. Based on experience of the expedition in Iceland, in the presented artwork I am trying to touch questions of fragmentary perception of the environment. How large is the footprint that we leave behind and how large impression does the environment leave in us? Is there a relationship between the amazement by the beauty or sublime of the perceived and responsibility for these phenomena? The collection of presented artworks depicts fragmentary impressions of the natural environment in relation to different mental frameworks.
Only in Fragments
The Frontiers of Solitude project touches in a variety of ways upon my previous artistic production, personal thoughts and contemplation. For the exhibition in February, I am preparing a collection of works influenced both by the inspiring environment of my expedition to Iceland, as well as other deeper connections to the Frontiers of Solitude project. I am loosely extrapolating my previous artistic expression, as well as the frontiers of my own visual practice.
Since the beginning of the project, the topic “frontiers of solitude” has been present throughout, and subsequently has become an essential motto of self-inquiry and for my art. It is directly connected to the perceived environment of Iceland, and indirectly, it is found deep within my thoughts, both before and after.
The collection of artworks deals with the influence of audio-visual recordings that become subtle objects. The potential tactility of an object and the necessity of the viewer’s movement in relation to it are, in my view, relevant senses that can lead the viewer toward a feeling of active presence. I understand the influence of direct practice on the intensity and depth of perception. That is why I try to create a new reality from actual or imaginary documentation. However, my aim is not to monumentalise a communicated message. It is rather its fuzziness, its indefinite qualities, and its uneasy urgency. Visually, I relate to natural forms and, in general, I try to connect them to the human experience.
The subject of ecology that pervades the project is connected to the perception of the landscape and the realisation of a personal attitude where I, as a human being, enter a space that has been affected by my own kind. The footprint of human activity in a landscape has its own communicative value, which stimulates the possibility of sharing personal feelings by means of creating a message in visual terms. Transmitting the message into the new spatial frame of either a gallery or a picture in a catalogue (and the like) creates a new experience filtered by my personal relation to the object originally perceived. I am not able to give the viewer my full experience. I rather pick and choose, focusing on individual perceptions, which I put into new relations. In addition, I also search for balance between the possible understanding of myself and the viewer. Focusing on detail results in closeness; the possibility of entering into the situation. Namely, I introduce recordings of deeper perceptions in my works that have had a certain emotional impact on me that is worth sharing.
The concept of ecology can also, in my view, become a criterion for a temporary perception, particularly involving the movement of humans, sounds or visuals on screen that may become a momentous features that influence one’s feelings. I observe the blurred borderline between detachment and belonging, as well as the connection of these terms to the perception of solitude. In parallel with the contemplation of the impact of tourism on the environment, I wish to raise the awareness of the viewer so that he becomes more than a mere beholder, using a creative approach that may merge him with the perceived, as if to uncover the mask of the visitor, so he may realise himself as having a part in the situation.
Diana WInklerová, Prague October 2015
Diana Winklerová (b. 1983) is a sculptor and musician living and working in Prague. She graduated from the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague from the sculpture studio under the guidance of prof. Kurt Gebauer. She actively participates in the cultural scene of both visual arts and music, teaching modeling at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague. In her installations she uses different types of media whose implementations mostly take the form of sculpture, objects, digital photos, video or computer manipulations.
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 geothermal power plants on the landscape and on local micro-economies, can be observed.
We will visit the largest rockfill dam in Europe, Kárahnjúkar dam, as well as the aluminium factory for which it was built, and the affected river systems. The construction of Kárahnjúkar dam (2003-07), and the political process leading up to it, have been the subject of extreme controversy in Iceland. Under the current government, plans for more hydroelectric mega-dams are under way. They promote an intensified “harvesting” of the country’s large number of free-running rivers and promise cheap "green" energy – with the aim of attracting investors, multinational corporations, and energy-hungry heavy industry to Iceland.
Participating artists will meet with experts from other disciplines and will be introduced to the ecological, political and socioeconomic aspects of the sites visited. The program intends to feed into a critical and informed debate about case-specific ecological and socioeconomic co-dependencies, and about the means and ends of renewable energy production and energy consumption.
10. Aug: Arrival of artists in Reykjavík/Keflavík Airport
Travel by car to Akureyri
11. Aug: Travel along the north coast to Lake Myvatn, geothermal landscapes of Krafla, through the northeast to Dettifoss nad waterfalls Egilsstadir
12 Aug: Afternoon meeting at Skaftfell Center for Visual Art, talk by Markús Þór Andrésson
13 Aug: Visit to Skálanes Nature and Heritage Centre, Seyðisfjörður
14 Aug: Site visit to Reydarfjördur, tour to Alcoa Aluminium Smelter
15 Aug: Site visit to Kárahnjúkar hydroelectric dam in Eastern Highlands
16 Aug: Site visit to Lake Lagarfljót and Heradsflói Estuary
17 Aug: Return to Seyðisfjörður, evening meeting at Skaftfell Project Space, sharing of visual material, observations, thoughts, open to the public
18 Aug: Travel along south coast to Reykjavík, (Jökulsárlón Ice Lagoon, glacial estuaries, geothermal greenhouses Hveragerði
Accommodation at SÍM (Association of Icelandic Artists)
19 Aug: talk by Andri Snær Magnason, and evening screening of "Dreamland" movie, based on his book Dreamland, discussion on the planned projects and impressions of the participants
20 Aug Departure day from Reykjavik
Participants: Pavel Mrkus, Diana Winklerová, Greg Pope, Ivar Smedstad, Karlotta Blöndal, Finnur Arnar Arnason
Organisation: Julia Martin, Tinna Guðmundsdóttir
Documentation: Lisa Paland
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. It is a meeting point for artists and locals, and its activities are based on exhibitions and events, alongside an international residency program and outreach program.
Skaftfell is also the guardian of a minuscule house previously owned by the local naïve artist Ásgeir Emilsson.
In March 2013 Skaftfell received an Icelandic award, Eyrarrósin, for outstanding cultural leadership in a rural area.
Skaftfell - Myndlistarmiðstöð Austurlands
Center for Visual Art in East Iceland
710 Seyðisfjörður, Iceland
(+354) 472 1632
Local Project Manager
Local Project Curator
The Iceland expedition: Tracing hyperextended objects and their ecological agency.
Hyperextension is a medical term describing the extension of a body part beyond its normal limits. I have coined the term “hyperextended objects” in order to describe objects whose ecological agency extends them into the range of other objects, connecting them to many other objects, forces, beings, ecologies, in specific means-and-ends relationships. Regarding objects not as closed but as hyperextended allows us to understand them as ecological agents participating in forming ecological systems of objects and infrastructures, both man-made and natural. To discover their joint ecological agency, objects must be hyperextended beyond their individual object-hood through contextual research. The aim of the expedition in Iceland was to introduce the artists to this concept, and to let them trace hyperextended objects in the field context, thereby discovering their wider ecological agency. We used the Kárahnjúkar hydroelectric project in East Iceland as a case study, following the extensions of the entire project: The hydroelectric dam, the powerstation, the powerlines, the aluminium smelter for whose energy supply the dam was built, the neighbouring towns, and the two affected river systems. All these components together form a hyperextended object of concern – whose wider ecological agency may even defeat the initiating object's "green" intention (e.g. producing hydroelectricity while destroying aquatic systems, in order to build parts for airplanes). It is hoped that recognizing and visualizing hyperextended objects in advance can lead to changes in decision-making regarding land use and environmental planning.
Julia Martin (b. 1976, Berlin) is an artist and landscape architect from Berlin, living in Seyðisfjörður, Iceland. She holds a Ph.D. in art from Goldsmiths, University of London, an M.F.A. from Edinburgh College of Art, and an M.A. in landscape architecture from the Technical University Berlin. Her performative actions, drawings, photocollages, installations, and writings investigate the relationships between objects and agents in space and time, and have recently focused on developing her concept of hyperextended ecological objects.
Julia's recent research project is Kárahnjúkar–Reyðarfjörður–Heraðsflói (2011– ongoing), about which she says: This ongoing fieldwork-led research in East Iceland investigates the ecological and socioeconomic relationships and contingencies of three expansive objects and sites: the Kárahnjúkar hydroelectric dam, the Alcoa aluminium smelter in Reyðarfjörður, for which the dam was built, and the Heraðsflói estuary where the two affected rivers meet before they flow into the sea. The project looks especially at the infrastructural, political, and spatial connections between these places and at their intervowen transformation due to human intervention. Tracing and visualising their means-and-ends-relationships, the case study reveals a hyperextended object: a complex ecology incorporating without clear separation natural processes, human activities, and their residues.
Greg Pope: Lagoon
Lagoon audiovisual performance 20 min
A simple series of repeated actions build the sonic and visual imagery in a live performance utilizing an adapted slide projector, contact mics, guitar pick-up and modified shutter system. The performance brings together ‘pure’ images of the Jökulsárlón lagoon in Iceland with the raw intervention of live, inscribed, drawing with light. An idealized and untouched view of nature is gradually invaded by crude abrasions and real time intervention – what at first begins as a touristic take on an iconic landscape ends as a brutalist lesson in creation through destruction.
Stone Horizon is the result of the Frontiers of Solitude expedition to Iceland. This will be a projector performance made in collaboration with Veronika Vlková (CZ) and Kateřina Koutná (CZ). The performance will take place at Stavanger ScreenCity Festival (October 2015) and PAF, the Ffestival of Film Animation (December 2015), in Olomouc, Czech Republic.
A structured 40-minute live cinema event will be created from 35mm photographic material gathered during our tour of Iceland. The event will be divided into three parts: Stone Horizon, Liquid Stone, and Hard Currency.
For this performance, we will be using three slide projectors using a speed-controlled shutter apparatus to create a proto-cinema, moving image performance. The projected image will be juxtaposed with action and sounds by means of acoustic and electronic instruments, played by Vlkova and Koutná. This piece will not directly address issues of ecology, land (mis)use and corrupt politics, etc., but these issues will be embedded in our approach and the presentation of Stone Horizon. The event will portray an abstracted notion of Iceland, although the country itself will never be mentioned, rather it will hopefully convey a general feeling about a spectacular land and its alterations through human intervention.
The piece is being devised and workshopped in Czech Republic over three days at the end of September, so it is still very much in development, and the final form is not yet known. Apart from Stone Horizon, I intend to use some of the material to create a series of connected images, hand printed photographs taken of the Kárahnjúkar hydroelectric dam. This is a project to be developed during the winter, after the December festival in Olomouc.
Greg Pope 22.9.15
Greg Pope is a British media artist and filmmaker who currently lives in Norway. After dabbling in punk rock bands and absurdist performance, Pope founded the Brighton-based super-8 film collective Situation Cinema in 1986, and afterwards, Loophole Cinema (London, 1989).
Using 16mm, super-8 and video, Loophole Cinema were self-styled shadow engineers performing numerous events around Europe. They produced The International Symposium of Shadows in London in 1996.
Working collaboratively and individually, Pope has created video installations, live art pieces and single screen film works since 1996. Recent works include live cinema performance pieces Light Trap and Cipher Screen, as well as the 35mm film productions Shadow Trap and Shot Film. He is active teaching, projecting, programming and making film.
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. The marble structure overgrown with moss has the feel of an ice landscape through the macro recording. Through restructuring of the real time recording and juxtaposing of sounds and images related to thermic energy the piece creates a pastiche of image and sound. The different layers of warbling sound affects separate sections of the image, thus suggesting a dissection to expose an inner nerve.
Ivar Smedstad (b.1961, Oslo) studied fine arts at the San Francisco Art Institute and received his degree in performance/video in 1988. He then moved on to work with distribution and preservation of video art at Electronic Arts Intermix in New York, where he held the position as Technical Director.
In 1992 he received a fellowship from the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne where he worked as an artist in residence and lecturer in media art.Since year 2000 Smedstad was associate professor in the Intermedia department and institute chair at Trondheim Academy of Fine Arts.
Smedstad is currently director of Atelier Nord, a media arts organization in Oslo. Ivar Smedstad has been working with video art and electronic media since the early 1980s and has participated in numerous international and national video art exhibitions, screenings and festivals.
Karlotta J. Blöndal
Frontiers of Solitude (union/mediation)
Frontiers of Solitude (mediation) consists of a short video loop displayed on a smart phone through social media. It is individually presented to the visitor by the artist herself, or by a gallery worker. The work invites reflection on the multiple layers of communication explored and utilized in the Frontiers of Solitude project: Communication between the presenter and the perceiver of a work of art, between humans and nonhuman forces such as geothermal steam vents or the energies that create and transform landscapes, and the communication technology employed by individuals and society to mediate experiences and productive outcomes with instant accessibility, enabling their quick and easy consumption.
Frontiers of Solitude (union) is a table flag whose fabric has been replaced with aquarelle painting on paper. It can be regarded as the flag of the Frontiers project, and also as a kind of non-flag, whose colors and lines resemble biological residue, organisms, or even skin tones. It might
express the very vulnerable, conflicted, but influential position, and the self-positioning of humankind within nature.
Karlotta J. Blöndal (b. 1973) works in a variety of media, including drawings, paintings, publications, installations and performances. Her work often uses found documents, exploring the tension between presentation, re-presentation and value in the art object. Blöndal studied at the Icelandic College of Art and Crafts and holds an M.A. from Malmö Art Academy. She has been involved in artist-run initiatives such as the Living Art Museum in Reykjavik and Signal Gallery in Malmö, and was co-editor and publisher of the Icelandic art magazine Sjonauki.
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. in 2014 with a final work about the remains of open cast mining in eastern Germany using instant film. She is currently working as an intern at Skaftfell - Center for Visual Arts in Seyðisfjörður and will document the Frontiers of Solitude expedition in Iceland.
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.
I love driving in the highland.
I hate destroying pure nature.
I love Coke.
I hate aluminium plants.
I love watching Formula 1.
I hate pollution.
I love greenhouses.
I hate the greenhouse effect.
I love economic growth.
I hate large enterprises.
I love my new computer.
I hate mining.
I love Christmas lights.
I hate electric lines.
I love travelling abroad.
I hate too much tourism.
I love myself.
I hate myself.
Finnur Arnar Arnarson (b. 1965) works with video, text, and installation, finding his inspiration in familiar reality. Themes in his work include alienation from the environment, the objective and subjective experiences of time and space, and technology as an extension of human will and determination.
Arnarson studied sculpture and mixed media at the Icelandic College of Art and Crafts. He has worked as a stage and set designer at the Iceland Drama School, and has taught at the Iceland Academy of the Arts.