This year marks the first and only year since its opening in 2007 that VATNASAFN/LIBRARY OF WATER has been unable to fund a writer-in-residence. While one writer, American architect and poet Eric Ellingsen, used the free space this year, the position did not come with its usual stipend. This is due to a familiar story within arts communities in Iceland and abroad: a lack of funding.
Housed in the building that was once Stykkishólmur’s public library, it was converted into a public art installation by American artist Roni Horn in 2007. The finished space includes three collections: a rubber flooring spattered with adjectives in Icelandic and English that variously describe the weather, a book collecting the written reports of Snæfellsnes locals on Icelandic weather, and water from each of Iceland’s rapidly receding glaciers suspended in massive glass columns. Originally conceived solely as an art project in collaboration with London-based art organisation Artangel, VATNASAFN/LIBRARY OF WATER grew throughout its inception to encompass a writers’ residency in the attached apartment.
The residency has hosted and funded at least one writer per year from 2007 until 2013, with two per year in 2009 and 2010. Most of the writers have been Icelandic, including prolific multi-genre authors Kristín Ómarsdóttir and Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl most recently. There have also been some highly acclaimed international writers-in-residence, including American essayist Rebecca Solnit and Canadian poet Anne Carson in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
When asked about the situation, nominating committee member Fríða Björk Ingvarsdóttir confirmed the end of their grant support from the Annenberg Foundation in the United States. “The Annenberg’s commitment was for five years, and covered wages for the writers as well as the accommodation cost while they were in Iceland,” she explained. “But because of the devaluation of the krona in the aftermath of the economic collapse, we managed to make it last for seven years,” she added on a lighter note. Artangel, the curator of the project, has yet to secure a new grant to fund the residency.
Friða emphasises that writers have still been invited to stay at VATNASAFN/LIBRARY OF WATER and use the space to work, but that it no longer comes with the stipend. “We just want this to make a real difference for the writers and the stipend matters in that respect.”