Published October 16, 2014
The visual artist behind the Weird Girls Projects steps into frame for Árstíðir to examine loss
Artist Kitty Von-Sometime and a crew, including a friend brought along to monitor Kitty’s temperature in the cold, watched uncomfortably as their trailer full of film equipment, an ice sculpture, soda, and other potentially hazardous refreshments bounced in and out of sight in the rearview window as they approached Langjökull glacier.
They were on their way to shoot ‘Opus,’ more than a year after Kitty produced her last installment of the Weird Girls Project. Originally conceived to encourage her female friends to push their boundaries, The Weird Girls Project began as a one-time event: the participants showed up with costumes and Kitty documented the day in photos and video. She has since produced fifteen episodes in addition to numerous special productions, which have all further attracted media attention.
Kitty braced herself for a day of shooting. “I’m kind of allergic to cold,” she said after scouting the area by snowmobiles only four days earlier. “I shot on a rooftop in -14°C and my whole body swelled up.”
She knew the shoot was going to be demanding. She had wanted it that way. ‘Opus’ was meant to explore loss.
In late spring she began looking for musicians to collaborate on the project. The waiting lists to participate in the Weird Girls Project can stretch out for years. It didn’t take long to generate interest in her next undertaking. Árstíðir had just funded their third studio album, and surpassed their Kickstarter target by 48,959 USD. Árstíðir’s Gunnar Már Jakobsson met with Kitty and wrote “You Again” over an emotional exchange at Kitty’s dining room table.
When they sent over four demos, she was expecting to fall for something dramatic, but the simplest tune stood out; an ethereal piano arrangement that would play from iPhone speakers as Kitty fell to her knees in repeated takes on the glacier only weeks later.
“It has everything that it needs,” Árstíðir’s Daníel Auðunsson said of the stark melody. “It spoke to me the most too.”
For all the visions of loss, the atmosphere on the bus out to the set was alive. Kitty inspires, as the makers of ‘I Want to be Weird,’ a documentary film following her work, have observed. “Her projects encourage and strengthen the women that participate in different ways,” write the filmmakers in their synopsis.
Kitty works with ordinary women, not actresses or models in the Weird Girls Project, and retains the original concept of reacting to the unknown. Participants are not given information about the shoot in advance, and have been surprised with physically tasking costumes (a prosthetic mouth covering which doesn’t allow the woman to speak or eat, say) and minimal coverage for a shoot requiring nudity.
Spotlight on Kitty
The grueling shoots foster a sisterhood. But for ‘Opus,’ Kitty would have to stand apart. She would be in costume, and in frame, alone.
Fiona Cribben, a costume designer and veteran of the project, sat in the row of seats behind the driver, balancing a dress model on her knees. “I’ve never done such a dramatic costume,” Fiona said, describing the bodice, a cloche and forearm manica made with almost 900 one króna coins. “The coins were kind of my idea. Kitty’s always saying how she doesn’t have money. I wanted a bit of 1920s style too because it really suits her look.”
As the bus pulled onto the ice, Fiona passed around balloons and asked each crewmember to blow them up. Árstíðir’s Gunnar and Daníel, who sat in the back, accepted the Happy Birthday balloons with confused looks. One hoop skirt alone wasn’t enough to hold up Kitty’s dress, and Fiona planned to prop up the dramatic skirt with two large trash bags filled with balloons.
The guide drove on an invisible road, passing lopsided flags marking deep cracks in the ice. Some were large enough to swallow a jeep.
The pre-set giddiness on board heightened. Kitty asked the guide about the location, and he stopped. A textured glacial slope rose to one side of the bus. On the other side, ice stretched out to meet black sands and jagged mountains.
“The mood on a glacier can change so quickly,” cinematographer Hákon Sverrison said, pulling off his sweater in surprising sunlight to shoot. “If it’s cloudy it all looks milky.” He had worked on glaciers before. Kitty’s emergency request for a cinematographer had aligned perfectly with his one day off from the film he was working on. “I do a lot of music videos,” he says. “There’s never any money or time and we always have the oldest possible camera they could give us. But it’s fun, it’s organic.”
After a day of pouring rain, the glacier glittered. Speckles of ash gave the surface a robin’s egg look. Melt rivulets cut across the face of the ice in random trails and rushed down moulins hundreds of metres thick.
The crew filtered out of the bus and began unloading equipment. The ice sculpture had survived the ride in the trailer.
Under Kitty’s guidance, Hákon took wide shots of the landscape. A few of her friends and volunteers settled around her and began assembling her costume, like handmaidens to a queen. Teal spandex. Silicone and coin bodice. Skirt. Layers and layers of shimmering pleats. The balloons, stuffed into black trash bags, were concealed under the skirt.
Sigrún Jorgensen spread out her kit of brushes and powders. “Can you make sure you get my eyebrows white?” Kitty asked. She hadn’t been able to bleach out a brassy tone.
Mid-eyebrow whitening, other crewmembers unpacked thermoses of coffee and tea, along with cakes, cookies, chips from coolers. Some packed soft snow around the base of the ice sculpture, a pallid sheep’s heart frozen into its core. The camera crew shifted focus to the ice bear.
Kitty donned the neckpiece. Benas Staskauskas’s work: two cyanotic hands growing out of each other with a patch of disintegrated detailing that would make a trypophobe itch. A literal take on the choker, the jewelry would chafe and restrict Kitty’s breathing throughout filming. She added the coin and bead cloche, which would only get heavier.
“The choker was literally doing its job, which is what I asked the maker to do,” Kitty said. “I wanted a threatening presence but I wasn’t prepared for how much it hurt.”
When the crew stepped away from Kitty, she looked aquatic. The shimmering pleats of her gown became a net. She was the only movement in a frozen sea. She was alone on the ice.
“When Kitty creates these worlds, and her sets and her costumes, everything in her imagination comes to life. I like to work with her in capturing that,” said photographer Jeaneen Lund, as she coached Kitty across the ice for shots of her walking. “In my work I look for what’s gritty and raw, and I think our styles really complement each other.”
Between shots, Margrét Sigga Valgarðsdóttir, another veteran of the Weird Girls Project and longtime friend of Kitty’s, brought her coffee, which she sipped through a straw so as to avoid smudging the lipstick, and toe warmers when her hands were burning from the cold of the ice.
Her admirers, her friends, stood just out of frame, ready to be at her side. But as the sky grew overcast, it was Kitty who could not put on a sweater to ward off the waning afternoon’s chills. It was Kitty whose knees began to ache from falling to the ice.
“I got so lightheaded from the choker and the butane from the smoke machine, I thought I was going to collapse and vomit on this wonderful dress,” she said after the final shot, once she’d changed into thermals and traded the coin cap for a tawny fur hat.
It wasn’t hard for her to cry when it came time for the shot. “After I was able to cry, I felt better,” she said.
The bear was melting in her hands, blurring its details the way tears blur the world, its heart symbolizing her own heart reborn when freed from the ice.
But there is hope too, within this exploration of pain. “Opus is an expression of my inside. Everything you see is part of me,” Kitty wrote in a statement released before the premiere at Kex Hostel.
She developed each shot with a keen eye for symbolism. The weight of the coins becomes the pressure of financial obligations. The bear is a projection of her flaws and strengths, both frozen in resilience and made vulnerable in warmth.
But maybe what has to be understood apart from the film is the love Kitty’s work inspires. She allows exposed vulnerability to become strength for the women who have participated in the Weird Girls Project. In ‘Opus,’ she allows herself to claim weakness and be strengthened by it.
Who Is Kitty Von-Sometime?
UK-born concept artist and longtime resident of Iceland Kitty Von-Sometime is the subject of the forthcoming documentary ‘I Want to be Weird.’ Best known for The Weird Girls Project, a series documenting the experience of women as they participate in challenging and emotional performance art, Kitty focuses on themes of female empowerment and body consciousness. Most recently she teamed up with Icelandic band Árstíðir to create ‘Opus,’ a performance piece and music video.