When you think of the Westfjords, you might imagine a far-off land in the Iceland countryside; a place where dramatic mountains tower over the grey ocean, with no humans in sight.
This mental picture wouldn’t be far from the truth. The Westfjords are remote, with their further reaches lying a nine hour drive from Reykjavik. While there are many towns and villages, nature is at the forefront of Westfjords life. Yet artist Eva Isleifs believes that this isolated place also functions as a space for bringing people together.
Origin of place
Eva is the co-founder, with Þorgerður Ólafsdóttir, of the ‘STAÐIR’ project, which means ‘PLACES’ in English. A bi-annual exhibition held in the Westfjords, the idea for it began when Eva and Þorgerður started embarking on regular visits to the region in 2008. Drawn there by the landscape, the project was designed for artists to work in close proximity to nature.
“I was fascinated by the area,” she relates. “There wasn’t anything happening there, so I put all my efforts and energy into creating a space for artists to come together.”
Outside the comfort zone
‘PLACES’ offers artists the time and space to reflect and gather inspiration for their art practise in a natural setting. This year, Eva was the curator. A number of selected artists travelled independently on a ten-day trip to the Westfjords.
During this trip, artists were encouraged to get out of their comfort zones. “We want to give artists the experience of creating art in Icelandic nature—of creating projects that are outside of their comfort zones,” Eva explains. “They have to step outside the studio, and go into nature.”
With inspiration from the trip, the artists—Þorgerður Ólafsdóttir, Hildigunnur Birgisdóttir and Gunndís Ýr Finnbogadóttir, this year—were tasked with creating multimedia artworks that relate to the Westfjords. The artworks were then placed around the Westfjords region, in indoor and outdoor locations, for an exhibition that runs throughout the summer. The exact spots can be found on Google Maps through the ‘PLACES’ website, and in the exhibition catalogue.
While the location of the Westfjords invites artists and guests of the exhibit to contemplate silent nature, Eva stresses that ‘PLACES’ is a social, human project. During the trip, the artists form close bonds with each other—bonds that facilitate human relationships in the wilderness. In a sense, the Westfjords serves as a backdrop for these relationships to bloom.
As Eva thinks back to the last trip, a smile crosses her lips. “It’s always a good time!” she laughs. “At times, the focus of the trip easily becomes, ‘should we buy 10 or 50 flat-cakes?’”
This year, ‘PLACES’ also involves children from the kindergartens of the Westfjords, who create sculptures and paintings as part of the project. Multiple kindergartens are involved, so that the children can interact across different municipalities and form new friendships. “It’s a real social project,” says Eva. “Every other year it’s almost like a family reunion.”
The future of PLACES
Eva hopes the scale of the exhibit will grow in years to come so that the artists might spend more time together in the Westfjords. “We only have short trips to the Westfjords,” she says. “And, unfortunately, at this point, we do not have a specific location where artists can go and stay. That would be a dream. We feel the artists would definitely benefit from staying longer.”
For now, though, you can find the artworks dotted around the Westfjords, and perhaps absorb some of this project’s special atmosphere for yourself in the process.
‘STAÐIR/PLACES’ is on until the end of August. Follow the project on various social media at @stadir_places.