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Friday, 24 February 2017

Last night in Skagaströnd

I should have been in the car today driving to the airport at Keflavik and picking up Tom and Linzi, then driving off on our big adventure. This was not to be.

A storm warning was given last night which put paid to our travel plans and I waited to find out if the flight would even take off. This was sent to everyone last night:

So basically the whole of the 1 road - Iceland's equivalent of the M1, was closed today, all buses cancelled as well as lots of flights.I have been in the studio all day and the wind is not that strong at all. We often miss storms as we're in a bit of an odd place. Watching the Westfjords from the water, it looks terrible over there and it's probably coming this way now!

So Tom and Linzi have landed safely and are comfortable in their last minute accommodation in Reykjavik, having just managed to get on the Grayline bus from the airport. The buses started running again at 5pm. There might even be time for shopping.... They are travelling up north tomorrow on the Straeto bus and I will pick them up from the hub of the north.... Blonduos. Then off we go - somewhere to be fully decided once we are sure of the weather. This is Iceland!

One of the benefits of the worry of flights, not having to get up early and being spark awake at 1am this morning was the amazing aurora show. I had packed up the studio, turned the lights off as I was last in and was just about to leave - looking like one of those donkeys in Greece with piles of stuff attached to them (camera bag, tripod, massive shopping bag, other camera stuff, drawings etc etc), the this happened. The sky was moving so fast and the lights were dancing for about an hour. Truly magical.

5 steps from the studio

tower of doom, studio on left (old fishing factory)

a beacon lights the foreground, hence the lighter grasses

some pink in there 

the whole sky. Stunning
This was one of those magical times when you can only stare upwards in awe. I have spent ages setting up the exposure of these by going outside in the light and checking focus distance etc. It's amazing, but to focus on infinity manually gives a slightly out of focus image. The sky is nearer than I thought.... Maybe not, but my focus ring seems to think so.

pressing the shutter and then running into position... Blurry, but I was there!

This is my studio space before I started to take things off the walls. I couldn't quite face doing it and it took me a good hour of sitting, looking forlorn before I could bring myself to take things off.There was also a pile of 'didn't make the wall' stuff and as I was going through it I felt that this was another place, another time. The mono prints and images I made in January seemed ancient. I do feel as though I have a plan of sorts for when I return, but it will take effort to make sure I don't stop finding time to make art.

These are my wonderful fingerless and thumbless gloves, loving made by Rhona. She even made them quirkily different to help me to remember which hand was which.... I love them!

This is the naked wall. A very sad looking place indeed.The mono prints on the left of the image have been photographed for layered work and scrapped, the shelves are now empty. The desk has been scrubbed and the floor swept. Another NES experience is over and I feel sad.

There is something about this places that draws me so much. It's not the prettiest, or the biggest (still only around 400 residents). It doesn't have lots of shops or entertainment (currently 1 shop - recently refurbished and excitingly new, 1 garage and a cafe which only opens in the summer. Oh and a folklore museum) BUT, it is a place where you can totally lose yourself, walking along the coastline, not seeing a soul, the sea disappearing into the black sand as it crashes in. The sea cliffs, my temporary thinking place are only about half a mile out of town, but they could be at the end of the earth. So peaceful and colourful.

The valley through the mountains with the river that no-one even seems to notice as it's 'just a little river', with the sides of Spakunafel covered in snow promising the top, but always teasing with another peak to go. I still haven't managed to get to the top. Maybe next year?

I love the electricity pylons here - much to the amusement of my fellow artists. There's something about the way they stretch through the landscape with no trees in sight to compete for height. People say that the weather changes often here, and it's true, within half an hour there can be so many types of weather and the light changes every five minutes. 

It's an odd experience, especially as a person who usually only cohabits with close family, to share a house, studio and live as a community with around 12 other people. There was a big blip last month, but that was more to do with people being ill-prepared for this type of existence. The people I have spent time with are wonderful and have such individual talents, that I am in awe of many of them. I know I have made great friends which will be sustained long beyond this Iceland experience, and others, I will remember fondly, but we will probably go our separate ways until we meet in a gallery or event along the way. This takes nothing away from how fabulous they are, but perhaps there is less in common with some, as with all of those we meet in life. The richness of my time here is down to everyone within NES and I am so thankful for the opportunity. Who could forget Ollis chips, moving plastic horses, naked mountain climbing, juggling, the tower challenge, tarmac, green tights, dinghy drills, and plumbers who take a shower during working hours.... Thanks guys.

I will miss this view. Every time I walk outside of the studio I am met with this. Calm, stormy, grey, pink blue - beautiful blue. This is exactly what it looks like in reality at least once a day. So peaceful and thought provoking. 

So I will finish up here. I think it is unlikely I will complete another blog as I am on the road until the 28th when I leave Iceland. There are many people to thank for contributing to my second NES residency, so thank you ALL, both here and at home. It's been a blast and I want to come back, perhaps in a late summer. If there are any artists reading this who haven't done a residency at all, apply, just go for it. It's an immersive experience that is impossible to replicate at home. I was a month in England in an artist residency and although it was wonderful, there's no comparison to moving into a different culture and country, even for a short while.  

It's hard to believe we did this, actually swam in the sea in Iceland at 2.7 degrees.
This is one of my favourite memories from here. Getting undressed on the beach and walking into icy cold water, not being able to feel my toes or fingers (one finger for an hour afterwards..) but going under anyway. Brilliant, invigorating, stupendous....

So long, from the desk at the bottom of the studio.

Bless Bless,


Aly x

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Northern lights and poo stewed lamb. From the sublime to the ridiculous...

Well today is exactly one week before I am back on UK soil, to Birmingham airport. I am both happy and sad to be leaving. The time is right, but I have had such a wonderful time here and two months is certainly better than one to immerse yourself into the Icelandic way of life.

The past few days have been eventful in terms of weather, people, work, food and the sky, oh the sky.

Where to start? - backwards.

Last night Caroline and I decided to invite Michael and Rhona to dinner for a traditional English roast lamb, roast potatoes, turnip, veg, pudding and lovely chat. This is a tried and tested recipe - one of Jamie's, where you put the lamb directly onto the rack in the oven and let the juices drip onto the roasties, making the most delicious potatoes on earth (really!). Well, I went to the supermarket and purchased the ingredients, an expensive joint of lamb (even by Icelandic standards at £37ish and headed home to cook. Without the obligatory glass of wine while cooking, it felt a bit odd, but I was relishing the chance to cook something different and have meat for the first time in ages. 

I should have known as soon as I opened the plastic seal around the meat - a smell reminiscent of putrid dead animals, offal and something I couldn't quite place. I put it on the rack, thinking that lots of things smell bad raw - such as liver - which I love cooked. Anyway, a smell began to pervade the house - and outside the house and everywhere really... I quickly messaged my one Icelandic friend, sending him the label and asking what I was doing wrong/how to cook it? He said it should be boiled. 

Aha! I thought, that would release the saltiness and perhaps create a wonderful dish instead. So I transferred the meat to a massive pan and put it on to boil. Cleaned the rack and the cooker as the smell was so bad. Waited for it to come to the boil. This made the smell transfer even more quickly and it got into my nasal hairs so that I just couldn't get rid of it. Caroline politely said it could be fine once cooked, but she had gone green and looked really sick. 

We decided to put it outside and run to the supermarket an hour before the guests were arriving, to find chicken. This was cooked and the meal was gorgeous. 

The pot of lamb is still outside the bin and I can't face lifting the lid, hence the lack of a photograph at this point. I put a message on the Skagaströnd Facebook page asking for advice and got this response:

"It is dung smoked lamb"

followed by:

"It tastes like lamb smoked over faeces"
"you have to cook it for hours or it's awful"

Here is a link to the process involved, but I'm sorry, I could never get past the cooking stage as it makes everything smell of death. My nostrils still have the smell and I have washed them out with soap - twice.

So, what else?

Significant excitement came to Skagaströnd a couple of days ago when the supermarket was revamped, rebranded, closed for a day (aaarrrgghhhh!) and reopened to free cake, coffee and discounts. I am not exaggerating when I say that the whole village was out. I counted 25 cars in the carpark and some even had to park at the garage opposite and walk the 40 or so steps to the supermarket. Now usually, there are around two people in at one time and I have never waited to be served, except when the staff are multitasking and doing other things. The opening day however, was something else. Queues of up to five people, lots of fresh fruit, although no spinach, new lines, a bakery section (not a bakery - that would be asking too much) and Tunnocks caramel wafers for the equivalent of around 20p each!! Amazing. The other artists didn't understand, unless you were me, Rhona or Michael, and we were in British heaven.... Little things. 

Caroline and Rhona, stunned at how busy it was

Free kafi and cake

Every time it was eaten another one appeared
Honestly, so much excitement for one day. Everyone spent so much more than usual and there was a sense of bon ami and joyous celebration. Really, promise.

Caroline and I had a great walk to the mountain valley and found snow and stunning views. I had been there before but it changes every time the weather changes, which is every five minutes.

The track to the mountain Spakonufel

Living dangerously

I love Icelandic pylons

more pylons

Great pylon..

on the track with the valley below

My mountain

Last of the Dutch explorers
I haven't spent all my time walking, going the supermarket and getting excited about free cake and coffee. I have been making art and looking at gallery spaces for an exhibition back home. If you remember from a previous blog, I spent a day on a piece of work and then lost it. It's definitely gone, never to be found, so I made absolutely sure to save every one of the 18 layers of the next piece I am working on. This is not finished but gives an idea of where I'm going with it:

I'm quite pleased with the progress and hope to make another 5 pieces within the next few weeks back home. I can't really work on the MacBook as the screen is too small. Really looking forward to getting back to my big mac and spending lost hours and days layering images.

The last thing I wanted to share is the wonderful experience of happening upon a wonderful Aurora show a couple of nights ago. I popped out of the studio and saw green in the sky. It became the most beautiful display and we were there on the hill watching for well over an hour. The camera settings I usually use were wiped out by the brightness of it so I was able to use finer settings to capture the lights. We were all in awe. There was much shouting and whooping and it was brilliant for those artists who hadn't seen anything yet.

just outside the studio

someone said 'it's like death eaters, only positive ones"

so lucky to be working 10 steps from here

The wonderful artist and friend, Michael Coppolov, staring transfixed at the sky
I just found out that the last remaining member of my mam and dad's siblings has died. Feel very sad as I remember spending so much time at Aunty Vera's house as a kid. They had the best toy cupboard and I was jealous of my cousins because they got loads of cast off toys from the family their mum, my Aunty Vera worked for. I never saw the fact that she probably worked her socks off cleaning for someone, as I was too busy being envious of Kathleen's hand me down ice skates..... I forget how lucky I was having my mam and dad there all the time. The funeral will be next week, so I hope I am back in time. It will be really odd going 'home' straight out of Iceland, especially after talking about the North East so much while I have been here. I had a big conversation at dinner last night about childhood stuff in Whitehall Road and it's been on my mind ever since. It's really odd that I should get the message this morning about her death.

I think that's about it for today. I have tomorrow and Thursday before Tom and Linzi come to visit, then I'll be on the road for 3 days. Not sure if I'll manage another blog, but I'll try. I won't, therefore do the whole 'what a privilege' thing yet, although it is. Always, every day.

Have the best of days.

Leaving you with Jane Austin: 

“When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene.” Jane Austen


Aly x

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Melancholy, tower climbing, gin and French Plaits

Hi Hi!

I have exactly 12 days left before I touch down in Blighty and the last few days have been a real mixture. For starters, the weather (sorry it's the English person in me - starting with the weather) has been what I can only describe as 'English' with a smattering of magic thrown in. Yesterday was dull, drizzly and tepid - really reminded me of Chesterfield on any given day in February, however, as often happens in Derbyshire, there was amazing light in the sky which was breathtaking. Sunset a couple of days ago was so beautiful and so pink that we all stood outside for ages watching it. This is Rhona, from Scotland, entranced, who, by the way, gets on a bus in Edinburgh, whose livery was designed by my multi talented nephew David Cook. Small world...

Our little studio by the sea
There has been no more swimming yet, but today was the perfect weather for it. Instead we decided to have challenges. Riding around the studio on bikes is a bit tame now, so the tower it was. This is a 10m steel structure outside the studio, set in concrete. You can go up the inside, where you would only break an arm or leg if you fell, or the outside, which would be a much more dreadful outcome if the handhold didn't in fact, hold.....

We are now up to 4 people having scaled the tower. It's very scary as you climb up, worse coming down...

victory wave on an outside climb
victory lap
What a setting though! The weather today was spring like. Icelanders talk about the weather all the time now as well as they have never had a milder winter in memory.

Yesterday was different. It stated with rain, moved into drizzle and ended up dull. I did however stand in the same spot watching the mountain when this happened:

I also walked further along the coast from the studio than I had been before trying to get to an outcrop of rock which I thought would be interesting to photograph from. I walked for an hour to get there and found this massive fence - to keep me out? or to keep something in?

if I go around to the waters edge, does that mean I can officially keep walking?

stretching all the way to the main road
It was a bit disappointing and I can't understand why the fence was there? No livestock at the moment, but perhaps it was for sheep in the summer. 

I also found a brilliant blue box on the beach which I played around with, moving the camera around the subject.

abstract blue box
My studio wall
The other thing that happened today was an impromptu hairdressing salon. French plait tuition for Sophie and I had a moment of thinking about Lizzie and doing her hair, which made me get a little emotional. I then listened to Chiquitita and had to go to get a tissue to blow my nose #notcryingmuch...

Sophie is an amazing writer and one of her poems really moved me. Here's a line or two:

"But my hands are white starfish and I've never broken a bone." The whole poem is wonderful and will be out soon for release. I will let you know when. 

I can't remember Tess this young, but came across this picture and went 'ahhhhh'.

So, I'm going to finish this as I'm tired and need to eat and sleep. Sorry it's short, but I was soooo happy about climbing the tower, I wanted to share the euphoria.

I'll be in touch soon, promise.

Bless Bless,


Aly x

Monday, 13 February 2017

6 Days since the last blog.... Sorry folks. It's all go here.

I am currently keeping warm indoors after braving the Icelandic waves and plunging into the surf for a swim..... Well, the surf was none existent as the water looked more like a millpond. Also, the water was so shallow to such a distance out, that it was more of a crawl on my stomach along the rocks and slimy things of the sea bottom. I call it swimming because I was submerged, except my head and wooly hat, I moved my arms in a breast stroke kind of motion and tried to kick my legs, resulting in a cut foot. From a distance it probably looked like Sharon Davies or Rebecca Adlington, obviously. 

the harbour on the way to the 'beach'

It was a lovely day today, around 4° air temp and colder sea, no wind, so we decided that we would do it. It has been the topic of discussion virtually every day since getting here with lots of brave people saying 'yes yes, I'll do it'. Well, 4 swimmers and one photographer made it to the beach and got on with the task of deciding how quickly it would be possibly to take clothes off, go into the sea, swim, get out (across the rocks) get dried, get dressed and walk the 10 minutes home for a gin. In fact we stood in our swimsuits after getting out of the sea as it felt so warm in the by now 2° air temp. 

I haven't got any photos of me yet, but will post on f/b, Instagram tomorrow. These are a few from my phone of Sophie, Luccia, Caroline and Marija.

High Five - Sophie and Luccia

Sophie with bright red freezing legs

Marija - Photographer!

Sophie - Apres Swim

and Luccia Apres swim

Caroline, trying to get warm

What an amazing zingy wonderful experience. Loved every second. We are planning to go again but I only have 11 days before Tom and Linzi come to visit me before I leave Iceland.

Yesterday I made a photographic studio in the freezer at NES with some old lights that were lying around. They are fluorescent tube lights that are supposed to hang from the ceiling and I wanted them to stand up on their ends, so I tied them to a chair each. The chairs in question arrived a few days ago for the artists to 'use in some way'. They were from a trawler and not only weighed a ton, with metal chains to hold them down on the boat, but they also stink of fish. Really badly. The whole place now stinks of fish. Anyway, I took some images of my house mate Caroline, who is very beautiful and has stunning bone structure and eyes. 

Caroline is an author and has described her previous works and current novel to me. I am desperate to read them, but she is Dutch and they haven't been translated into English. I don't think Google translate could cope with a whole book, it struggles with single sentences... 

Apart from swimming in the sea - did I mention swimming in the sea? - today was another photo shoot day with Marija who is equally stunning.

So what else has been happening in the 6 days since last we met...? Well, I made the initial stage of a layered piece of work which I am happy with. There's a lot to do, and I can't work on these here as my computer screen is too small. But this is the work in progress.

I left the blog to find the layered image and have now spent the last hour searching for it on my computer.... to no avail. This is a photo of it from my studio wall. I'm a bit upset as it took me a day to make it. I'll have another look in a minute.

Ah well, the file is gone. I will attempt to recreate it, but it won't be exactly the same.

What else??

I have been living on veggie curry for much of my stay. The reasons for this are 1) spices keep me warm, 2) the veg is often a bit limp and wouldn't look great 'au naturel' as it's often travelled a long way to get here from across the sea and 3) I am trying to be healthier in general. That's working if you don't count the bars of chocolate and half price pick and mix at weekends. Oh and the chips at the Ollis Garage. I haven't had any normal potatoes since I got here - except the chips!

The whole village were out today - which is unheard of. Why? because Samkaup is being transformed. What is Samkaup? I hear you ask. Samkaup is the 'supermarket'. It's about as big as a normal sized Lidl and serves the whole village for everything from knitting needles, through light bulbs, to chocolate, veg and cous cous. (called Kus Kus here). Anyway, it is being renamed, revamped and refitted. It is actually closed on Thursday for the WHOLE DAY. People were saying goodbye to their favourite aisles, they're all changing. No longer will one be able to walk in, turn right, then left and find the praline salted chocolate on a shelf with other chocolate. I went in today, DAYS before the change around and the chocolate had been taken off the shelf and replaced with some air freshener. Not an appropriate transformation methinks. What if a visually impaired person goes in and grabs the air freshener and starts to eat it......? Or what if I go in and grab the air freshener and eat it because it's the nearest thing to my salted praline???? It's all so stressful...... They have a new freezer too. I wonder if they will keep the little customer satisfaction machine? It has happy green faces moving to sad red faces that you press to say how satisfied you are with the shop and the service. Well I'll not be pressing Mr. Green if the chocolate doesn't reappear.

my walk to the studio every day
I just put this in because every single day there is beauty in this place.

Marija has just uploaded some images from our swim! Here they are:

Heading towards the black sand beach. That's me in the middle!

pointing, at something. Probably some ice floating on the surface....
getting ready. Woolly hat stays on obviously
We're in. We did all go fully in, promise  but there is not
currently a photo showing this.

Thinking of South Shields

Happily on our way home. We had a G&T
What a way to spend a couple of hours. Already planning the next one. I have been searching and searching for my photoshop file but it is lost. I will have to start again....

Our gorgeous little village. 350 people, one supermarket, one
bar/restaurant, bank, school, post office, old peoples' home, soothsayers museum...
Oh I forgot, yesterday we had incredibly strong winds and nearly got knocked over walking to the studio. The sea was amazing and we kept running outside to take pictures and feel the wind. Michael, the only other English person went out in his t-shirt..... It wasn't actually too cold, around 4 degrees, but the wind chill made it freezing.

Camera movement trying to keep still to take Michael's photograph

Silly English people...

Ok folks, that's all I think. I need to try again to find this lost file. I don't hold out much hope but it's 11.10 now and I want to find it tonight or let it go......

I can't believe the time has gone so fast. I have been here for 41 days and I have 15 left. I've missed everyone very much, but I don't feel ready to go yet. I'll have to come back again, and again. And again. I love this place.

Bless bless


Aly x