Connecting two islands, one lighthouse at a time
Galway City, Ireland. As I make my way through its winding streets on a characteristically dull, damp day, I find the stubborn voice of my former university lecturer ringing in my ears. “You can’t research potential,” he used to say. It was something on which we never agreed. So I was both energised and intrigued at the prospect of meeting two inspiring women completely focused on doing just that.
Kathy Scott and Mari Kennedy, the passionate engines behind groundbreaking, cross-national initiative ‘the ireland:iceland project,’ are in Galway for the screening of three Icelandic documentaries as part of Galway Film Fleadh. Joining the motley group of Irish creatives for the event are intrepid Icelanders Heiða Helgadóttir of the Best Party, film director Gaukur Úlfarsson and producer Björn Ófeigsson, in Ireland to promote their work, and join the debate on creative responses to crisis or Kreppa.
According to its navigators, the purpose of the project is to generate conversation between Irish and Icelandic artists, social entrepreneurs, innovators and new economists with the end of finding creative ways of moving forward from our individual post-crisis twilight zones. “It started with an investigative hunch inviting Irish and Icelandic people to illuminate the times we live in,” explains project founder Kathy Scott. “We had an interest in the shared and separate story of our two islands perched on the edge of Europe. I was fascinated with the ancient links between the two countries and thought it was a strong jump off point for a conversation between us.”
Undoubtedly, links between the two countries run much deeper than a C and an E. From our unsympathetic Atlantic location to our colonial pasts, Irish and Icelandic peoples share a well-documented history of resilience and buoyancy in the face of social upheaval. Thanks to the unwitting deposition of a hefty chunk of Irish DNA to the Icelandic gene pool via marauding Viking raiders, we share a strong genetic link. There is also an intellectual and linguistic connection via the Irish monastics and scholars who reportedly visited Icelandic shores on their Atlantic voyages. However, in modern times it’s been more a chronicle of economic boom and bust, political ineptitude and ecological mismanagement that have provided the premise for our parallels.
FROM KREPPA COMES CREATIVITY
“For a long time we had had been making trips and expeditions between both islands, talking to people and instilling the idea among creative communities,” says Kathy. “After a year of this we just decided to dive in, roll up our sleeves and bring a bunch of artists, politicians, catalysts and creatives together and explore WHAT IF?”
It seems to have been a determined and dogged effort that, last February, culminated in the project’s first major exploratory event on a chilly weekend in Dublin. The Northern Lights Observatory brought intrepid Icelanders Jón Gnarr and Einar Örn Benediktsson of the Best Party, Guðjón Már Guðjónsson of the Ministry of Ideas, and Kristín Gunnarsdóttir of the Icelandic Design Centre, among others, to Irish shores for a four day ‘collaboratory’ with some of Ireland’s top artists, economists and social innovators. A weekend ‘think-in,’ aimed at investigating questions of cultural identity and transformation, was held in Townley Hall, just outside Dublin. “We wanted to explore what it feels like to be alive in Ireland and Iceland at this moment in time,” Kathy explains, her eyes lighting up. “It was incredible, witnessing all these amazing minds and innovators jumping up out of their bunk-beds in their pyjamas at eight in the morning, thinking how are we going to change the world!”
Mari Kennedy muses over her thoughts on the process. “I suppose my focus is more on wider social transformation and change, while Kathy’s is more on developing distinct art projects.” Kathy added that the project was constantly shifting between the two poles, “sometimes the drive is about art and inspiration—other times it’s about society and disruption.” Mari believed that the creative community needed to be brought into political and social debate and policy making in a much wider way. “It’s about drawing in the creativity that gets pushed to the margins, about moving from an ‘I’ towards a ‘we’ perspective, and embracing the wisdom of the crowd.”
EXPLORATION FOR EXPLORATION’S SAKE
And it seems the movement is gathering pace. “It’s like one big crazy experiment,” Kathy expresses, “but one that can produce an unlimited amount of meaningful projects that challenge the status quo, provoke and inspire.”
So where is all this energy being directed? One project already underway is the setting up of an artist exchange programme, with plans for residencies in remote lighthouses, ancient sites and disused urban spaces on both shores. However while the explorations have already kick-started a series of creative projects, both women are keen to stress the fact that ‘ireland:iceland’ is not a static beast with a specific or sole direction. “We are interested in design thinking—not end gaming where this can go exactly,” Kathy offers while Mari adds “I guess we see ourselves more as facilitators, inviting people from both islands, and beyond, to come and explore ideas, and make the connections that can spark individual’s ideas into collective action.”
Attention is also currently moving towards the development of a digital project with top Irish and New York based digital artists. “We are hoping to bring them to Reykjavík to take the conversation further and share ideas with creatives on the ground there.” As is to be expected, this large-scale project is extremely ambitious, with a focus on engaging people in real time, real life conversation in a fun and innovative way.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
With a myriad of think-ins, pop-ups, laboratories and salons on the horizon for this hugely ambitious project, it must be difficult for its founders to find time to stand back and assess where it’s all headed, and see where it’s come from. “Sometimes I look at all of this from the future, as a interesting period in time when Irish and Icelandic people hooked up and transferred knowledge, ideas and spirit and tried to make the world a more interesting and braver place.”
I suggest you keep an eye on your local lighthouse.