Musings, Magic, and Muck

We set out to find thrown away things, forgotten duds.

We looked for lost remnants, known to some as garbage. We were happy to fill up bags for an afternoon out of the studio. Looking for detritus and finding inspiration all around.

Blönduós is an orderly town. Still, some garbage lurks in the cracks, windswept under bushes, or in the most tucked away of crevices. So we looked and peered on.

At first, we found mostly horses. Greeting us, cheering us on with snuffs and gurgles. I wished I could fit one in my bag and carry it around with me, if only for the afternoon.

Blönduós horses
Blönduós horses

Continuing on, our bounty was cigarette butts, water bottle caps, and stray garbage bags with rhubarb growing every which way.

Pitter patter, continuing our steps as the rain sprinkled on and off.

Thinking about colours and footsteps and what is left behind.

Baring witness to the resilience of plants growing in the least fertile of places. The same spots where garbage loiters. I wonder if the plants mind their occasional debris companions, fluttery as they may be.

Rhubarb

Wandering with our noses gravel-bound and squinting eyes. A pause to look at our surroundings and we were at the steps of a church where an old brass door hung ajar. Colour, magic, and reverence awaited us when we were looking for discarded things.

Reynir Katrínar’s home and art

Standing before us, an artists dwelling nestled within a spirited structure. A magnetic pull. Inconspicuously tucked next to a mossy hill in a sea-coloured church. The home of a warm welcoming artist, Reynir Katrínar, who weaves tapestries of trees, dries herbs, makes paintings, and grows strawberries in his rainbow windowsill among other things. A rich life – overflowing.

Reynir Katrínar’s art
Reynir Katrínar’s windowsill strawberries
Poppies and Insects

To linger there forever crossed my mind. Courteously, we continued on with gratitude for the unexpected welcome and quench of inspiration. out in the elements we went. Rain rain, ever so gently. Onwards to the destination that inspired this outing. A pathway tucked between the beach and the hill’s slope. A destination destined for rubage.

Garbage-bound. We set ahead on our pursuit.

The entire way, we had a trustee companion by our side – Cat.

We managed to fill two large garbage bags with debris in just a short jaunt. The rain started to barrel down on us and the wind intensified.

Cat walk
Teddy and Cat
Julia and Cat (photo by Teddy)
Cat

It was challenging to say farewell to this creature who so valiantly led us and saw our efforts through. Teddy, Cat and I meandered together for over an hour.

Bittersweet and gleeful, we trod our path home, bidding farewell and leaving Cat by the sea. Clad with two heavy bags and an armful of drenched cardboard boxed, we set forth. With an oncoming storm brewing, we were misted by arctic winds looking perfectly foolish to parsers-by as our mystical bags of garbage-harvest flapped in the wind.

We took pause to pick a Lupin bouquet to enliven our nest once we got home.

A spiralling day this was. Something about setting out to find garbage and encountering a heard of horses, hardy plants, an artist’s nest, and a sprightly cat guide is utterly fortuitous.

We also found garbage.

This world houses debris all about. Sometimes I do not have the heart to look around me. It is often lonesome and disheartening to witness garbage unfurling its talons . However, what I learned from this day is that when I went to look for trash, I did find it, but I also found plenty of magic. I would not have happened upon the delights of this day had I not gone out with my original intent to look for things in the deep crevices, under the twisting elms, and in the shadows. We are all here, on this earth, in this vessel. I will hold onto this knowing: musings, magic, and muck ferment in the same vessel.

with love, Julia Woldmo

Se faire discret et écouter / Make yourself discreet and listen carefully.

Dès mon arrivée en Islande et pour la durée du séjour, j’observe la beauté saisissante du panorama et j’écoute attentivement les sons qui en émergent. Ils m’interpellent tous. Un calme s’étend sur le territoire où je circule et m’abandonne. Le silence n’existe pas, mais il se révèle pleinement par l’absence de pollution sonore.

C’est bien connu que les sons aux basses fréquences de la nature apaisent. Ils informent et instruisent. Ils invitent à nous mettre naturellement au diapason avec eux.

Dans les ateliers du Ós Residency, nous entendons au premier plan le son omniprésent des vagues océaniques. Il y a aussi le vent qui percute la structure du bâtiment sur toutes ses façades. Le bruit du ressac et le sifflement du vent au contact des fenêtres entre-ouvertes s’accompagnent extraordinairement du chant des oiseaux marins. Cette symphonie grandiose, aux modulations variées, constitue l’écoute centrale qui guidera mes réflexions pour la réalisation d’œuvres textiles, en ce mois de juin 2022.

Je m’engage à saisir les rythmes et les bercements des sonorités de Blönduós. Je tente de les traduire par un jeu de lignes et de textures produites avec les fibres de laine et des papiers que je file, tisse et brode sur la surface d’autres papiers de lin fait main que j’ai apporté pour l’occasion.

As soon as I arrive in Iceland and for the duration of my stay, I observe the striking beauty of the panorama, and I listen closely to its emerging sounds. All of them call out to me. A calmness spreads over the territory where I wander and abandon myself. Silence does not exist, but it is revealed fully by the absence of noise pollution.

It is well known that low-frequency sounds of nature are soothing. They inform and educate. They invite us to naturally attune to them.

In the Ós Residency studios, we hear the omnipresent sound of the ocean waves in the foreground. We also hear the wind hitting the structure of the building on all its facades. The sound of the sea surf and the whistling of the wind as it hits the slightly open windows is beautifully accompanied by the song of the sea birds. With its various modulations, this grandiose symphony constitutes the central listening that will guide my thoughts for creating textile artworks during June 2022.

I am committed to embracing the rhythms and lulls of the sounds of Blönduós. I try to translate them through an interplay of lines and textures produced with the wool fibres and papers that I spin, weave and embroider on the surface of other handmade linen papers I brought along for the occasion.

Parfois, je documente simplement, à l’aide d’une application sur mon téléphone, les sons entendus à l’extérieur et à l’intérieur de l’atelier.

Sometimes I simply use an application on my phone to document the sounds heard outside and inside the studio.

Cet après-midi-là, nous marchions sur un sentier tout près de l’océan. Nous avons subitement fait halte pour ne pas importuner les oiseaux nicheurs situés un peu plus loin. Nous nous sommes assises à une bonne distance de leur emplacement. Le vent s’était calmé. Un élégant chevalier gambette s’est perché tout près de nous. Il nous à offert le plaisir d’écouter son chant.

That afternoon, we were walking on a trail near the ocean. We suddenly stopped to avoid disturbing the nesting birds a little further away. We sat down at a safe distance from their location. The wind had calmed down. An elegant common redshank perched near us. He offered us the pleasure of listening to his call.

Le chevalier gambette et ses amis / Common redshank and friends

J’archiverai ses enregistrements sonores pour y revenir plus tard lorsque je quitterai Blönduós. Ces sonorités exceptionnelles font partie, d’une certaine façon, de mes œuvres produites dans le cadre de cette résidence.

I will archive these sound recordings and return to them later when I leave Blönduós. These exceptional sounds are, in a way, part of my works produced during this residency.

Mylène

Spin Cycle

A short comic / series of drawings about the stages of spinning wool, and the invisible labour that goes into the process.

Seperating the tog from the þel

Merging Identities

My great-grandmother was considered a master embroiderer during the late 1800s. She made most of her living embroidering fine silk and occasionally clothes for the high ranks of society in China. Her specialty was silk butterflies. However, during the cultural revolution in China, Chairman Mao wanted to create a new visual culture to communicate his ideologies. Much of the traditional art and culture were either destroyed or suppressed. This included embroidery and traditional silk-making. To survive, my great-grandmother and her family focused on weaving instead. This is the story I was told by my grandmother.

Part of the appeal to apply for the Iceland field school was to search for lost connections, histories and new narratives to reconnect with my great-grandmother. Growing up, my sisters were given the opportunity to inherit most of the familial expertise, while I sat watching them. Being the only male child of my parents, I was discouraged from needlework and weaving as it is seen as women’s work. I can’t definitively say this is the reason, but I never subsequently considered incorporating fibres in my artistic practice.

Since my move to Montreal, I’ve been thinking a lot about familial legacies, recalling my childhood memories and my sense of belonging. I started to re-imagining what my family’s life would be like if my great-grandmother had passed down her embroidery knowledge. This curiosity led me to re-trace my family’s history (“her-story”). Multiple attempts led me to many oral stories, but examples of work and records were nowhere to be found; this was partially due to the lack of public historical records in China. I tried to connect the available stories to make sense of it all, hoping to connect to my Chinese roots. In attending the Iceland Field School, I saw an opportunity to create work as an ode to my great-grandmother, a woman that I never met. Additionally, being embedded at the Icelandic Textile Centre, with its rich history as a women’s college, is the perfect location to celebrate and pay homage to all the strong women in my family through my art-making.

Fibres is a beautiful art form used and respected across all cultures, with records spanning over 1000 years. Embroidery connects narratives, builds solid communities, and reimagines threads and yarn into art. With this mindset, I knew I wanted to create a connection between my Chinese Canadian identity with the Icelandic landscapes using fibres. One of my main objectives was to explore and research Yue (Guangdong) Embroidery, a process from the region where my family originates, and its aesthetics as a tribute to my great-grandmother. This exploration led me to discover 7 characteristics of Yue Embroidery:

1. The themes are diverse. The classical theme incorporates landscape painting as its main focus, rendered in light colours. The “Five Ridges theme” is prestige rendered in colour, with symbols of auspicious fruits, animals, flowers, birds, dragons and phoenixes. The “Western theme” is mainly embroidered with gold thread to emulate the Rococo style borrowed from 18th century Europe.

2. Images that incorporate flowers and birds are specialties in Yue Embroidery.

3. Compositions are always symmetrical, composed of negative spaces that allow for more room to add finishing touches.

4. The lines are diverse, and the needles are varied.

5. Colours are contrasted between light and dark.

6. Gold threads are used for the outline of the embroidery pattern.

7. Yup embroidery was traditionally utilized for a wide range of applications, including clothing, quilt covers, pillowcases, scarves and so on.

Taking on these principles, I was really inspired to embroider the orange lichen on the Blonduos’ sea wall. A lichen is a life form that has a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae, similar to the relationship I have with my Chinese and Canadian identity. The bright contrast of the rocks and orange lichen also caught my eye, and it reminded me of my home in Vancouver.

The lichen became the connection between my home and Iceland, so I decided to embroider the lichens on rice paper. Rice paper is a material I’ve been using in my practice and I specifically bought it to use on this journey. One might say rice paper acts as a second skin with water, moulding to the contours of an object as it becomes moist. I wanted to utilize the properties of rice paper to ground a part of myself in the landscape along with my Chinese heritage. I would dip the embroidered rice paper in the Icelandic waters soaking and washing it almost like a ritual. Once the rice paper is moist enough, I found a rock with orange lichen near the sea wall, laid the paper on it and let it mould into shape. The final artwork is both performative and durational, as the rice paper and embroidery decompose and give back to the organisms, nature and the land.

Jacky Lo, MA Student, Art Education

Perfect is overrated.

As an artist I believe it can be really important to once in a while take a step back and re-set your making. As we move through our practice over many years, it can be only too easy to become reliant on certain modes of making, certain familiar materials, and the constant need to “perfect” what we do. Instead, I think it is really important not to loose sight of art practice as an endless process of lifelong learning, where you are constantly in conversation with your materials and never entirely master of them. After a recent period of intensive making in paper-based collage, I knew that for my work here in Iceland I wanted to push myself out beyond my usual area of material comfort. Coming to Blonduos was an opportunity to try something completely new and see what came out at the end.


I cannot deny the that process has been something of a struggle. At first I found myself overwhelmed by inspiration, then somewhat “scared” of my unfamiliar materials. Later came indecision about the conceptual direction I should take, then hesitation about tackling my final idea. The final intensive period of this journey has been characterized by experimental making, trial and error, and dipping my toes into new technology that I would probably run a mile from in my usual practice.


As my major project here I have decided to create a quilt documenting my own/the collective experience of the Field School. This, I happily admit, is a slightly bonkers idea, since I have never made a quilt in my life. So far the process has been a learning curve, during which I have worked my way through material set backs, acquired new skills, and come to several realizations I would never have otherwise. The following are several points of advice I now find myself ready to impart based on this experience:


1. Trust your first instinct, it’s usually the right way forward.


2. Sewing machines aren’t nearly has complicated as they seem. Feeling intimidated? Just sit down and sew. The worst thing that can happen is that you have to un-pick the stitch and start over. Its not that big a deal, just sew something! Incidentally the infrastructure of a sewing machine is astounding. Have a close look at one someday…whoever thought up that machine was a genius!)


3. The process of quilting is as easy or as complicated as you choose to make it. A perfectly patterned, perfectly assembled quilt is all fine and dandy, but for now I think I will happily stick to my slightly wonky sewing and uneven squares. The evidence of my hand in the making, of recording trial and error and the process of assembly is far more interesting to me than creating something “technically proficient” on the first go. There is something beautiful to be found in the mess, trust me. The “right way” and “perfect” are overrated.

4. Try new technology if you have the opportunity to, you never know what might happen. If it works then that is great, if not, you learnt something and can now go back to your usual way of doing it. It is a win/win either way.

oh and…


5. Never try to hand embroider finicky detail at two o’clock in the morning. If you are tired, you loose concentration and end up spending 45 minutes embroidering the wrong part of your work. Again this is simply a case of unpicking the stitch and starting over. It’s not a global crisis, but it can wait till the morning…go to bed!


Also…


6. When all else fails, there is nothing that a cup of strong black tea brewed 4 minutes with oat milk can’t solve. It is fantastic and a balm to all life’s ills. You should try it.

That is all! Happy making!

Jacob Le Gallais, MA, BFA (Student, Ph.D. Art Education)




A view across time, room #20, Kvennaskólinn, June 2022

By Paule Gilbert

English follows
Voici la vue, ou devrais-je dire quelques vues, sur l’embouchure du fleuve Blanda — une des plus longues rivières d’Islande — à partir de la chambre #20 de l’édifice Kvennaskólinn. Le fleuve Blanda coule vers le nord, du côté nord-ouest du glacier Hofsjökull vers la baie Húnaflói, où se trouve Blöndúos. Cet écotone, une zone de rencontres des éléments, où les écosystèmes aquatiques d’eau douce et salée coexistent, est riche en biodiversité. Tout au long de ma résidence, j’ai documenté ce paysage en choisissant un seul point de vue, en espérant souligner ainsi les changements constants. Les photos ont été prises à l’aide de mon téléphone, à tous moments de la journée, la plupart du temps avant de quitter la pièce ou quand j’y entrais. Un geste répétitif, comme une tentative de saisir le temps qui passe et les fluctuations de la vie, tantôt flagrantes, tantôt subtiles, mais toujours en mouvement. Je montre ici une trentaine des 128 images du projet. Celles-ci n’ont reçu aucune modification, si ce n’est l’ajout de la date et de l’heure.

Here is the view, or should I say multiple views, of the mouth of the Blanda River from room #20 in the Kvennaskólinn building. The Blanda River, one of the longest in Iceland, flows north from the northwest side of the Hofsjökull Glacier to Húnaflói Bay, where Blöndúos is located. This ecotone, a zone where the elements meet, where fresh and salt water ecosystems intersect, is rich in biodiversity and encounters of all sorts. Throughout my residency, I have documented this landscape from one viewpoint, hoping to bring forward the continuous variations. The photos were taken using my phone, at all times of the day, most of the time before leaving the room or after entering it. A repetitive gesture, an attempt to capture the passage of time and the fluctuations of life, sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle, but always in motion. I show here 30 of the 128 images of the project. They have not received any modification other than the addition of the date and time.

Visual Inspiration and References 🧼🌊🐑

Who washes the washery? The machines are cleaned after every 4 shifts (usually every 2 days) in the Winter and every Friday in the Summer. They are hosed down with water and take about 2 hours to clean.

« My » Blönduós Photo Album

Some rules to help you create “Your” own Blönduós Photo Album:

  • Find pictures taken by previous visitors of Blönduós on the Internet. That way, you will get a great preview of what the place looks like. I found 779 photos.
  • Focus on one topic of your choice. You will find that the river, the seashore, horses, sheep (so cute!), hotel rooms, and dishes at B&S restaurant are favorites. I chose: Textiles. I found 25 pictures that showed something related to textiles.
  • Get to Blönduós and then try to go to and stand in the exact same spot as the visitor who took the pictures you selected.
  • Take two pictures. For the first one try to take the exact same picture. Do not cheat. Same frame, same angle. The strong winds on the hills will certainly help you with this task, so will the mannequins at the museum (!).
  • Second: take a picture of your selected picture in your next picture. Well, examples below.

Here is the Kvennaskólinn, our studio and our house. Hint: If you want to get this one, you will have to climb a hill.

Below is the mysterious store. When I showed the picture to the owner to confirm that I was in the right place, she sighed and said: “Yes, and then Covid happened”. The store will be closing soon and will move to a more central location next to the grocery store. She will be selling much needed yarns and other precious materials for us, fiber artists.

Here is a picture of the Textile Museum where I found most of “my” pictures (17 + 1):

Here are some of my best finds: A collection of historical Icelandic costumes. From the 18th century faldbúningur to the more modern 20th century upphlutur and peysuföt, with charming details.

Please come with me on a short visit of the Textile Museum collection.

All I can say about this one is that I have noticed that her work has not progressed much…

And I saved my favorite for last. One of the mannequins decided to sit down.

Even though I am still not sure why visitors would take the time to post close-ups of historical textiles on a tourist website, I am really glad they did. And I was really happy to be able to also enjoy all the landscape shots as well!

There are 5 photos for which I could not find the precise spot where they were taken. Three were from a past exhibition at the museum, and to most likely the other two were taken in the store.

Last night, I browsed through all of the 779 photos of Blönduós I found before coming here. It is amazing how I now have a much better sense of this wonderful place. I can even know from which angle each of the pictures of the river were taken! And I had a great time at the museum for sure.

Thank you past visitors! You turned my stay here into a quest and great textile adventure!

meteorology piecework

Blönduós, June 2021

3:41 pm, June 15 2022, Blönduós
Lisa Robertson, The Weather (New Star Books, 2001).
Jelena Ćirić, Iceland Review, December 21, 2020, https://www.icelandreview.com/society/90-year-anniversary-of-icelands-first-radio-news-broadcast/.
5:57 pm, June 19, 2022, Blönduós
“Rules on Weather Messages,” published by the Iceland Meterological Office, 1938-1948.
From “Rules on Weather Messages.” “Wind taps” is a mistranslation of “weather vanes.”
6:58pm, June 9, Blönduós
Lisa Robertson, The Weather (New Star Books, 2001).
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cirrus_uncinus_cloud / https://whatsthiscloud.com/cloud-species/uncinus/
Mare’s tail, Blönduós
Mare’s tail dye, June 18, 2022, Blönduós.

… !

– Hannah Ferguson