Situated halfway up the western coast of Skagi peninsula, the humble fishing village of Skagaströnd seems an unlikely headquarters for an international literary journal. Centuries ago, this northern town served as a major outpost for trade between Iceland and mainland Europe, but today—with about 500 residents and few amenities besides an Olís gas station—its cosmopolitan inheritance is hardly apparent. However, with the introduction of Iceview Magazine, a biannual arts journal based in Skagaströnd, editor KT Browne has positioned the town, once more, as an exciting hub for a new kind of international exchange.
The magic of travel
Founded in 2015, Iceview showcases works that engage with abstract notions of travel, movement, and place. Poetry, fiction, and personal nonfiction grace the purple-tinged pages of the most recent volume (published this July—full disclosure, with a contribution from a Grapevine staffer), punctuated with photographs, paintings, and digital collages—all of which betray a concern for, or curiosity about what it means to move through, and exist within, an ever-shrinking world. If this premise seems a tad cerebral, that’s the point. KT finds a certain superficiality in the way people talk and think about travel. “People fetishise place, fetishise cultures without truly understanding them,” she says, “To proclaim that you know something about a place or people is condescending and takes the magic out of your experience.” To KT, the fundamental distance that one encounters while traveling is precisely what makes travel exciting.
This theoretical fascination with the nuances of travel arises from KT’s own experience as a transplant in rural Iceland. Originally from New York, she relocated to Skagaströnd three years ago for a writing residency at Nes, an arts centre in the town. She admits that she herself was guilty of romanticising Iceland. “At first you think “Wow!” Your mind is blown, and you’ve discovered yourself,” she laughs. But the longer she lived there, the more she found herself challenged by the subtleties of life in a foreign home. “What does it mean,” she ponders, “To live in a place that you don’t necessarily belong to?”
Themes of isolation and separation—whether physical, emotional, or both—infuse the works that appear in Iceview. In the July issue, for instance, author Gloria Heffernan reflects upon the experience of traveling while her mother is dying: the author’s internal, emotional landscape collides with and ruptures the real, external landscapes of Iceland and her home state of New Jersey. Other works employ humour to offer postmodern critiques of travel: in a sculpture by Marion Balac a row of selfie sticks, positioned in flag holders, hold aloft travel-themed iPhone cases (made, of course, in China). “We curate our lives to such a greater degree than we ever have,” KT reflects, “On the one hand we’re becoming very aesthetically literate and on the other hand we’re becoming miserable.”
Even as distance constitutes the thematic crux of Iceview’s identity, what arises from flipping through the journal is a sense that meditating on separation can contribute to dialogues about travel and cross-cultural understanding. The journal achieves this most noticeably in its treatment of language: each page appears in both English and Icelandic. The journal’s translator, Kristinn Árnason, works both ways, rendering English works into Icelandic and vice versa. Even editorial minutia—the table of contents, titles and descriptions of the artworks—appear in both languages.
Travel writing travel reading
This policy, KT hopes, will help open the world of contemporary Icelandic literature to a broader, international audience—Iceview is, after all, available in bookshops and newsstands in several major cities in Europe and the United States. Domestically, Iceview is stocked at Penninn-Eymundsson stores around Iceland: the most popular site for picking up a copy, as it turns out, is none other than the branch at Keflavík Airport. KT ponders why this is the case: is it the sheer volume of traffic through the terminal? Tourists burning their last notes of the local currency? But perhaps these numbers reflect the relevance and relatability of Iceview’s chief questions—as though tourists, processing the superficial wonders of a trip through Iceland, want to engage more deeply with what it means to see, to have seen, to be in, and to have been somewhere impossibly distant.
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