On a park bench in Taiwan, KT Browne is watching. She is watching the embrace of the searing East Asian sun. She watches people in the park walk tree-lined laps with small radios slung around their necks. She watches workers on scooters wearing special sleeves to cover their arms. She looks across the colourful umbrellas that shield skin from developing a colour of its own.
“I started to pay closer attention to my senses,” she says of that time, alone in Taiwan. “To how I felt in certain public spaces, and how I thought others felt there, too.” The harder she focused, the more cultural blind spots she noticed. It was then she began to question belonging in a new way:
To what degree does anyone belong to a place if they can only view it as an outsider? Must we participate in society—and if so how, and to what degree—in order to be a part of it? Is it enough to simply exist?
Tainan City, Taiwan is 12,794 km from New York, where KT grew up, and 9,601 km from Skagaströnd, Iceland, where she lives now.
Skagaströnd has 508 permanent residents. It has a post office, a library, a bank, a gas station, a restaurant, and in the summer it also has a pool and a café. Every year around 50 artists and writers become temporary residents of Skagaströnd at the artist’s residency — Nes listamiðstöð, — for anywhere from two to five months. The residence has a dance studio, a research library, a ceramics kiln and an exhibition space.
KT first entered Skagaströnd in 2015 as a writer at the aforementioned residency. To KT, trained both by choice and circumstance to observe her community, there was an obvious gap between the permanent and temporary residents. The parking lots were packed for church and school events, while Nes’s monthly exhibition drew in a small but “solid group of regulars, representing a fraction of the community,” KT says.
With the help of her partner, Magnús, KT conspired to create something “lasting” that the artists could contribute to.
Sight is not vision
“I wanted to find work that gets beneath the landscape,” KT says. “It is easy to come to Iceland and be enamored with the scenery—I was for my first month—but I want work that questions ‘place’ on another level. Work that is not just a representation or interpretation, but an investigation.”
Through connections at local artist residencies (and social media— “Facebook was amazing”), KT sent out a call for submissions to an art and literary magazine. She arranged it around the theme of travel and emphasised work that had a special connection to the northern regions of Iceland. In Spring 2017, the first volume of ICEVIEW was sent to print.
The magazine features a curated collection of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and visual art that broadly addresses the questions KT began asking in Taiwan: on the privilege of community, on the responsibility of the traveller, on the accountability of the artist. ICEVIEW is currently in it’s second publication cycle and is set to be released in November. The theme is consistent but its geographical scope has widened.
“I love travel writing,” KT admits, though she doesn’t need to voice it. It is obvious in the way she describes her own experiences, in the books she reads (and writes), in the authors she quotes, her questing: Is it enough to simply exist? She wonders as she works, looking more for a process than an answer, looking for different ways to see the sun.