after the ball is over

troll islands

i’m writing this post at the end of a month-long slog writing a funding proposal for this project.  It involved dreaming up every art thing possible to do in three months by a group of artists based on the theme of trolls and hidden people.  and then refining all the possibilities down to a narrow range of might coulds, a process which involved endless internet searches, constant messaging to my friends in olafsfjordur, and artists around the world. and then coming up with accurate and reasonable budget figures for everything, down to the ladders and paintbrushes.  and then writing about it.  the writing is the hardest part.  if i go on in a proposal the way i go on here on my blog, i would get my proposal dragged to the trashcan.  and have, back in the day when i thought personable was the way to go.  no, they want applicants to sound professional.  so, fine, i shine up okay.  i’m just not writing in international artese because much of my audience speaks english as a second language, and you just can’t do that to people.

the underlying problem in all this is that i keep coming up with inspiring new ideas about the project, and whenever i talk to someone about it, i get so enthusiastic, and come up with more ideas, and on and on until i’m exhausted.  and that’s not good.

my icelandic friends all tell me i’m trying to do too much.  but it’s not much, it’s not that much, every little project is small and easy, and it’ll all take care of itself.

and yet, things aren’t really like that.  at home, we have friends kicking buckets right and left lately, and it seems there’s no time to deal with all the little things you’d like before it’s time to leave the building.  that’s sobering enough, but then i go and pull my back out, and suffer gastritis and a migraine while i’m rushing to finalize my funding proposal, and still i’m thinking of new side projects and talking to people about how their idea could happen.

one thing i learned when i was in iceland is that if you get the least bit out of line, the elves are watching, and they will whap you.  that’s how i busted my shoulder.  i was thinking along lines i shouldn’t have been thinking, and acting on it, and the next thing i know i’m pitching toward the pavement in slow motion.

now, i’ve tested this constantly since i got back home, because i brought a bunch of icelandic huldufolk home with me – yes, i invited them – and then realized i already had elves all over the house and yard to begin with.  so the kids and i made some houses, and they’ve been very happy, but they’ll whap you whenever you’re acting on the wrong impulse, just like your mom who had eyes in the back of her head.

so, even as i finished the proposal with agonizing pain in my hips, i knew that i was going to have to take this to heart, because i would end up with worse than a busted shoulder after trying to do too much during this massively long 12 week project next summer.

and now i’m recuperating and trying to stand straight upright as a personal goal.  and i thought i would set down the actual projects that will more than likely actually get done if there is absolutely no funding, and it’s just what i can do, with a few projects i would love to have someone interested in taking and running with, and that i’ll put in the call to artists when that goes out in october.

a 5m troll woman on the hill is the main project i’ve been trying to arrange since i was first in olafsfjordur in 2014.  i’ve got sort of permission for a prominent spot on the way from the tunnel to the town.  the city has sort of promised we might be able to use their bulldozer and driver when they’re not busy trying to stuff 12 months of civic construction stuff into the 2 months of reliable thaw.  we might can have free rocks from their quarry if we ask just the right guy at just the right time cuz he’s crazy busy.  and then i’ve got to figure out how to stack the rocks without killing anybody, maybe with balance supported by rebar and cement.  and after that, i figure i can slap cement all over it to form the features, and after that put in some paint and moss, and shovel some dirt up around for skirts, and call it a sculpture.  truthfully it’ll take more than just me to complete.  i’ll need to have the help of someone who knows how to stick volcanic rocks together, and tell me about the feasibility of cement sculpting – is it like sand sculpting, really?

another project that i’m pretty sure i can handle, at least one of, is the little trolls.  i want to build small, 6 foot (2m) tall trolls by the sides of the roads, out of the way of the snow plows.  small volcanic rocks, maybe just one, set down and molded into a troll.  the features don’t have to be clear, just the shape, and the gesture.  cement, paint, moss, dirt, plants.  i’ll need the lend of a bobcat to move the rocks from the quarry to the site.  different artists will make different trolls, and perhaps there will be a few who want to come to iceland to make these trolls.

then there’s the murals.  i’ve done one, and it took a long time, but it was my first one, and i’m not normally a wall-muralist.  i’m hoping to get several artists who are interested in this project.  we’re going to get permission for walls in advance by various local means (thanks to my icelandic friends on the ground), and during the summer we can go around and paint trolls on the sides of buildings.  A dozen of them, perhaps.

(please note those are copyright images downloaded for illustrative purposes)

finally, the workshops.  there are so many workshops and events we can have for people who live in the town, but it will of course be summer, and they’ll all be gone.  but for the ten or so kids who are around, we can have a elf door party, where the kids design small elf doors, and then we all go around the town and paste them up in out of the way places.

for the whole town, we can have a photography contest – who can make the best troll photo.  lara the eminent local photographer, or maybe gisli the eminent local photographer, could be the judge.

and also for everybody, we can have a lopapeysa design contest – who can make the best troll sweater.  there are all sorts of lopapeysa designed sweaters made of that wonderful icelandic wool, but i haven’t seen any troll designs.  maybe the knitters of the town would like a little friendly competition.

so that’s not too much for one person to organize, not if people want to see it happen.  and if people help.  i’m pretty sure i have the go-ahead from the trolls and huldufolk, tho you can never be positive; and it’s such a fun idea anyway.

the call to artists will bring in all sorts of artists who want to be in iceland in the summer.  aside from a sculptor who can work with welding and rebar and cement and volcanic rocks, anybody who can handle volcanic rocks and cement, and anybody with mural skills and a drawing style.  but aside from that, the troll and huldufolk theme can be taken metaphorically.  we’re talking about unseen beings, hidden intelligences, sides of our life on earth we can’t normally see.  there is so much art to be done with the metaphor that i can’t even begin to describe the variety – sound, dance, spoken word, film, installations, traditional painters, craft artists, eco-practitioners, architects, designers, and chefs – one of our icelandic members is interested in exploring the idea of troll food, kind of a fusion of traditional nordic cooking and whimsical snack food.

anyway, it’s time for me to go do some more recuperating, but i wanted to get these thoughts out before they slip away.  because now it’s tax time…



trollagerdi stage 2 proposal

i just finished writing a funding proposal for the trollagerdi project scheduled for the summer of 2017.  so i thought i’d post it here, because the process was very good for deciding what i’m going to be doing.  and of course, the moment i submitted it, i got revised pricing from someone in iceland, which alters the budget, and i also got wind of another artist who would be wonderful on the project, so that alters the lineup.

but that’s the way it goes.  here’s the proposal.

Short description of the project:

Troll Garden: Bringing Trolls to Tröllaskagi is a collaborative multimedia public art project, developed with Listhús SES and local participants, to celebrate the region’s folklore and natural history, and honor the peoples’ innovation and independence. Fjallabyggð, North Iceland, June-August 2017

Project description:

Troll Garden: Bringing Trolls to the Troll Peninsula – Tröllagarður: Koma tröllum á Tröllaskaga

Our project calls international artists to a small fishing village in northern Iceland to install a tribe of trolls.

Soon, a giant stone troll marks the approach to the town, and small trolls hulk on the sides of the roads, while troll murals appear on houses, made by an international team of visual artists.

Local students submit original folklore research to the national archive. Artists and students film and edit a documentary about the summer’s activities – a garden-troll contest led by a local potter, tiny elf doors made by children, a knitting design contest run by the local gallery, a Danish-run cookbook workshop, a photo competition, a street art party, craft workshops, and more – open to all, intended to nurture bonds between artists and locals.

Our project features free monthly exhibitions, performances and talks, creative exhibitions for children and adults, and public workshops given by local and international artists, finishing with a festival of art, food and music. Our project relies on the input and participation of international educators as well as artists. Above all, local cooperation and engagement at all levels is vital to – and the measure of – its success. The precise scope of our project depends on the locals; we have their support and enthusiasm for the project, and plan to make the troll festival an annual event.

We will introduce trolls and fairies/hidden people into the fabric of daily life and observe how the townspeople react to their presence, as an exercise in community expression. We propose to engage the community in an abstract conversation about place – their physical place in a remote and breathtaking environment, as well as their cultural place in history and modern society. A dialog between trolls and townspeople playfully highlights issues the town faces in its growth – employment, social welfare, sustainability and quality of life.

Our project offers the community a metaphorical space where they can develop new waysof working together to solve local issues.

Tröllaskagi is the most mountainous region of Iceland. Sparsely populated, its fishing villages were isolated from each other until the 21st Century. When the new tunnels opened, the villages were incorporated as Fjallabyggð. With its fishing industry in decline, the area’s population is shrinking, and civic cohesion is important to their sustainability.
Ólafsfjörður is a town of 800 in Fjallabyggð. Its people are independent, self-sufficient, and family oriented; each person fills multiple roles in the town. Its remoteness has kept the world away – there is little tourism, but the area is rich in nature and sports, culture and art. The townspeople are open to artist initiatives, and very welcoming of strangers who come to stay and learn about them.

Listhús is an artist residency in Ólafsfjörður, with a mission to develop arts and culture as part of the area’s vital attractions. Up to 14 international artists a month gather to make art in the North. They come for the landscapes, the extremes, the isolation, the stunning scale, a quiet place to concentrate on their art practice. They come to experience the North, to explore the changing environment, to hike and fish and ski and surf, to meet the people and experience the culture.

Listhús promotes collaboration between artists and local people, and cultivates a base of local art expertise to benefit international artists. The area has many local artists, and our project draws on their cultural knowledge. They act as guides to the artists, and as mediators between artistic impulses and the town’s needs and preferences. Listhús is partnered with Menntaskólinn á Tröllaskaga, the local junior college, where there are teacher collaborations with the artists, and frequent classes and workshops.

Describe the project’s activities and time schedule (what, where, when?):

Our project runs from June-August 2017, three months of art and activities around Fjallabyggð. Artists spend 2-12 weeks at Listhús, with studios, workshop and gallery space, and town resources such as a woodshop, printshop, pottery studio, gift shop, classrooms, professional kitchens, event and exhibition space, and audio/video equipment. Artists work on established projects, noted below, or propose something of interest to themselves and the town.

Troll Research. Students record nursing home residents’ folklore memories and local tales. March-April 2017

Art Projects
Troll Woman on the Hill. 5m Volcanic stone figure, painted and landscaped, on a hill above the town. June-August
Little Trolls. Individual artists design and build small stone trolls by the roads. June-August
Troll Murals. Murals designed by the artists, varying in size and complexity. June-August

Community Workshops and Contests
Little Elf Door Paste-Up Party. Teacher and children design and decorate paper doors, and install them around town. June
Troll Food Cookbook Workshop. Professional and amateur cooks explore food chemistry, Nordic cooking, and local ingredients. Results featured at Troll Festival. June
Troll Photography Contest. Photo workshop, fieldwork, processing. Contest results during Troll Festival. July
Troll Sweater Design Contest. Friendly competition for the best troll-themed sweater. Contest results during Troll Festival. June-August
Garden Troll Workshop and Contest. Specially designed ceramic trolls decorated by all. Contest results during Troll Festival. August
Chalk Art Party. Families making public art together. July
Leather Workshop. Making bags from local materials. July

Monthly Artist Meeting. Meet residents. June-August
Monthly Exhibit. End-of residency show. June-August
Troll Festival. Grand ceremony introducing projects, with contest results and awards, troll-food samples, live music. August

Describe how the project will contribute to development and innovation within its field of activities:

Our project focuses on four areas of activity: the Listhús art residency program; the artists; community enrichment; and cross fertilization. The development and innovation we seek also breaks down into four aspects.

Listhús art residency program – the project helps Listhús develop a program of artist-run projects influenced by the artists’ relationships in the community. This project is a further test and refinement of the idea. Through a series of such projects, Listhús seeks further growth and increased involvement in the region.

The artists – Listhús’ innovative residency structure and arctic themes attract experimental artists and groups who wish to explore the Nordic environment and stretch the bounds of their art practices through discussion and collaboration.

Community enrichment – In addition to beautifying the region with artwork, artists work in the community to solve problems creatively, and advance cohesion among the local people.

Cross fertilization – Encouraging dialog with international artists in an isolated town, and embedding artists with local cultural hosts, we see very personal art emerging as the artists become part of the town. We expect projects inspired by local issues to contribute to the development and enrichment of arts and culture throughout the region.

Describe how the project engages, or communicates with, its audiences, and how knowledge is disseminated between the actors participating in the project:

Audience communication:
Listhús has healthy local, regional, national and Internet publicity channels, and a network of alumni. Project artists use their own mailing lists to keep their audiences informed. Project leaders write articles for art, travel, nature and community publications. Local participation in the project should be robust because of the buzz created by student-led research, frequent community workshops, and contests.

Internal communication:
Working long-distance is essential to this project. Relationship is everything in Ólafsfjörður: it’s next to impossible to arrange things without face-to-face contact. The people I met on my first residency are competent, strong-willed and active locals who can ask questions for me, and suggest how I should shape my strategies and goals. They are the stakeholders, because it’s their town.

Currently, a dozen project partners use a closed Facebook group to post material and discuss ideas, issues and strategies. We communicate via instant messenger, Facebook, Skype, and emails. My project blog dates from 2013; the Listhús project page for the earlier phase of the project is also publicly available.

As new artists are added to the roster, they familiarize themselves with the project and help shape its direction. Our call to artists in October is skill-specific, and includes a detailed discussion of the project, an invitation for themed proposals, and a requirement for self-direction, communication, and commitment.

Short personal biography and country of residence for the central participants (artistic director, invited artists, etc.). [CV as attachment]:

All participants are central. Those listed below are provisionally confirmed.

Jeanne Morrison – Curator – US. Multimedia public art in a spirit of collective evolution. Writing, painting

Alice Liu – Director – Iceland. Video artist, animator, graphic designer. Managing Director, Listhús. 2016 Fjallabyggð Artist of the Year

Lára Stefansdóttir – Photography – Iceland. Principal, Menntaskólinn á Tröllaskaga (MTR). Instrumental in bringing computers into schools

Ida Semey – Cuisine and Culture – Iceland. MTR language teacher. Owns Kaffi Klara and Gistihús Jóa

Bergðór Morthens – Painting – Sweden. MTR art teacher using distant teaching. Widely exhibited in Nordic region

Lisa Thuler – Sculpture – Brazil. Founder, Principal, Academia Cristã Morada da Colina. Coordinator, grassroots education campaign for mastocytosis

Hólmfríður Arngrímsdóttir – Ceramic – Iceland. Owns Kaolin

Tómas Einarsson – Printing – Iceland. Owns Skiltagerð Norðurlands. ICE-SAR rescue leader

Shannon McRae – Folklore – US. Professor, program coordinator, SUNY. Herblore, photography

Katie Bush – Painting – US. Children’s education, High Museum Atlanta

Caitlin Bradley – Sociology – US. Cultural competence, social media. Poetry

Bego Anton – Multimedia – Spain. New documentarism photography

Margaret Dyer – Painting – US. Plein-air workshop teacher, Europe and US

Dallas Fox – Leathercraft – US. SCA medievalist, handicrafts

Will Huberdeau – Writing – US. Journalism, creative writing teacher

Co-operating partners (name, domicile and country of the project’s co-operating partners) Please specify which co-operating partners are confirmed and which are pending:
All of these are pending: many are Listhús alumni, others have expressed interest during online discussions. Confirmed partners are listed in 2.3

Invited artists
The following are invited to be part of the project, but have not committed:
Drawing – Cosima Scales – Sydney, Australia
Encaustic – Janice Steeves – Guelph, Canada
Film project – Ruan Suess – Scotland, UK
Film project – Samuel Cousin – Montreal, Canada
Folklore – Ragnhildur Jonsdottir – Hafnarfjörður, IS
Painting – Kari Henriksen – Melborne, Australia
Painting workshop – Lesley Hicks – Gateshead, UK
Multimedia – Claire Bushby – Perth, Australia
Multimedia – Gretchen Pankhurst – Scotland, UK
Mural painting – Alejandro Dorda (Axel Void) – Madrid/Miami
Mural painting – Joe Dreher – Atlanta, US
Sound – Kate Carr – Belfast, UK
Troll architecture (bus shelter) – Laurence Falconet – NYC, US

Call for artists
In October, we issue an international call to artists, seeking innovative artists in all media. Applicants propose a self-directed public art project, or plan to collaborate on larger projects, in addition to their own residency practice. We’re looking for artists who are multi-disciplined and enthusiastic, interested in engaging the community and exploring a country where folklore is part of an active tradition. We seek predominantly non-native English speakers to diversify our roster, and anticipate a significant number of Asian artists through Listhús connections.
The main focus of this project is on the sustainability and quality-of-life issues facing people in the North, and the possibility of addressing some of these problems using art. The project happens within the context of Fjallabyggð’s redevelopment cycle, and we hope to facilitate that process with a creative dialog between townspeople and artists.

Describe the Nordic and possible, European, and/or international dimensions of the project:

The Nordic region is well represented in this project by the people of Fjallabyggð, as well as some of the principal partners, one of whom comes from Denmark, another commuting from Sweden. The project relies heavily on our Nordic partners to set the tone and direction as cultural ambassadors.

The project is a collaborative effort between artists, directed by input from the local people. The nature of this project is cross-disciplinary and international, drawing on artists from all over the world who have an interest in Nordic lands and cultures in general, and Nordic folklore in particular. Educational professionals on the project team are drawn from Iceland, Brazil, Denmark, China, and the US. Resident artists come from all over for their own unique reasons, bringing cultural diversity with them, and returning home with a new emphasis on Nordic themes in their work.

How is the project planning to disseminate information about its activities and the results thereof (aim/objectives, strategies, working methods and expected impact of the activities)?

We aim to engage the local population, contribute to the evolution of art residency practices, and encourage artists to experience Iceland more deeply than tourists can.

We use all available methods of publicizing and involving the local people; use our contacts in regional media to generate interest; insert stories in national and international media, tourist publications and in-flight magazines.

Articles focus on art, travel, culture and folklore, featuring resident artists and their projects. Blog posts begin pre-project, increasing in frequency and detail with time. All artists post to social media during the project, which will live on in a “Making Of” film by residents and local college students.

We hope to see a more vibrant town with an increasing population and widespread renown for its nature, art and culture. The impact should increase slowly over time, encouraging cultural health and helping the town avoid the superficial and disruptive type of tourism.

What communication channels do you plan to use (e.g. social media, websites, events, advertising, publications or similar)?

Local – Because of our network, the local people know about our project 18 months beforehand. Best communication is low-tech – word of mouth, flyers, posted notices.

Social – Each artist agrees to fully document and publicize their part in the project. Some artists use blogs to showcase their experiences; others use a variety of social media, from Facebook and Instagram to YouTube, LinkedIn and Vimeo.

Media – We will feature our project on TV (N4), publications (Grapevine, Lögberg-Heimskringla), promotional articles in travel, tourist, and art magazines, demonstrations on Instructables, Inhabitat and Trendhunter, murals in Juxtapoz.

Advertising – Full page ads in local and regional papers and websites, international call to artists.

Events – Frequent events to capture the interest of the local people and encourage interaction with the artists: talks, meetings, performances, parties, workshops, a festival.

Extra – We are able to go live with our project via the city’s webcams.

Comments on the budget and the financing plan:

In the budget, pricing for commercially-available materials was obtained online, through Icelandic office supply and hardware catalogs (A4 and Byko), and may therefore contain inaccuracies; thus a contingency percentage is crucial to cover changed prices and overlooked essentials.

As to the financing plan, we are assured of the free use of heavy equipment and their drivers, but cannot depend on their availability because they are essential to the running of the town, which has only 2 months to do a year’s work. This may result in a need for emergency funding to rent equipment and hire drivers; funding we will raise privately by subscription should it become necessary.

progress on trollagerdi project

it’s been a long time since i had anything to put on this blog, but this past fall, i started in to a conversation with the director of the art residency program at Listhus, with an eye to continuing work on the troll project.

even tho it’s been several years since i went to iceland (2014), i’ve been thinking about it constantly, and have been working thru my plans.  it has always felt like i would be going back, so i have always invested the time daydreaming it.

so i am looking at a three month troll festival, with up to 30 artists, using trolls as the theme.

right now i’m working on funding applications, and these are in turn helping me to refine the project, so everything i have written on my computer so far (you’ve seen nothing of it yet) is fodder for the applications.

the project changes daily.  my icelandic friends tell me not to try too much, to take care and time to develop relationships with local people, and that magical things will happen when the people decide to support the project and become involved.

this project is community-based.  it’s also project-driven, and when we issue a call to artists, it’s going to be for outgoing self-starters with an interest in trolls and elves and huldufolk and other unseen beings.  we hope to get artists from all over the world, and in all disciplines.

our plan is to bring trolls to the troll peninsula.

i’ll explain as soon as i’ve got my proposal in shape.6879_10207993093051339_2228190009251574694_nkristin sigurjonsdottir took this picture of a troll, or actually i see a whole bunch of trolls in that.


wildflower seeds

this is the first official purchase for the trollagerdi project.  before this, it’s all been planning and speculation, making contacts and talking about ideas.  i haven’t even bought airplane tickets yet.

but now i’ve got something concrete.  i just purchased wildflower seeds on the internet, from naturescape in england, and am having the seeds shipped to alice liu at listhus.  she’s the project manager.  she’ll plant them in her garden and see if they come up next year.  if they do, then we’ll order lots of seeds and plant them everywhere at the site.


we’ve done a whole lot of planning, of course, and talked to many many people about the project, but as yet it still lacks permission, and key donors haven’t agreed to help, and it’s still just in its infancy, basically.  the scope and timeline have altered since the beginning of the idea, back in february or march.

landscaping project 18 years later

this is part of the process of getting ready to do a public art project in iceland next year.  it shows that i have done something similar in the past, so that people know i’m not going off completely at random.  in fact, almost 20 years ago i was responsible for the design of a school courtyard, and thought up something similar to what i came up with for iceland, the site or which is also at a school.

has the time gone by that fast? today i stopped by the school where i designed the inner courtyard back in 1995. way back when i lived in fayetteville, georgia, and they were growing fast, so they built a new elementary school. and i’m curious, so i poked my nose in while they were doing construction, and found out that there was no plan for the inner courtyard. so i volunteered, and was given the okay, and a $20k budget. whee hah. it was that simple. no approval process, no committees, just a sacred architecture design, and we’re good to go.

3 courtyard plan

it’s hard to see this tiny little picture, but i don’t have the original, or a larger one, so please bear with me. it shows the courtyard only, never minding the school that is built around it. it’s a very long courtyard, something like 300 feet, about the size of a football field, but only about 30 feet wide. i’m just guessing here, it’s been too long. the main feature is the pathway, which meanders, opening out into a large area for an outdoor classroom, and further along going over a bridge and pond. what you can’t see is the specifications for plants, grading, and all those technical things.

1 courtyard - spring hill north

and this is what they made of it. this is from the first year, when they opened the school. you’ll notice that the trim and roof and doors are painted green. that’s the only way i know it was the first year. it was designed to be a delightful view from all the inner classrooms, to be used as an outdoor classroom, and to have separate habitats for teaching. like a farm plot, a compost pile, swampy places and rocky places, shady places and sunny places. there’s even a fountain, tho the contractors stuck that in completely contrary to the bridge and pond idea. this is looking from the gym (or south) end of the school. all that grass is contrary to my design, it seems they went thru altering the design as it suited them, which i was upset about at the time, but at that point it was out of my hands and the contractor’s responsibility. these things happen.

2 courtyard - spring hill south

the view from the roof is instructive. you can see the garden (the superintendent put in a vegetable garden, and said everything tasted horrible because of the dirt). the faint green beyond the garden is a selection of grasses for a small meadow, and see all the nice trees going back.

and i just noticed, omg, that someone painted the green roof and gutters and doors red. how bizarre. it’s still the same school, just a year’s difference. so, the red school is the second year, when instead of grass they’ve got some trees and a meadow going, apparently. i’m afraid i can’t explain this at all. or really the chronology, except that the roof is red today. so i don’t know.

after the design and execution of the courtyard, and a year when i was still in fayetteville to do alternative projects with the school, and to shepherd the courtyard, it was left to whatever they could do with it. and poor dears, the weather hasn’t cooperated for awhile. one year it’s too hot and everything in there bakes because it’s a suntrap (which is bad in the south). i didn’t account for that. the next year it’s too rainy and growth explodes. eventually all the perennials died and there was just weeds, so they ripped the weeds out and covered the ground with plastic and mulch.

the courtyard is still being used. the installed some benches and a board to use as a teaching station, and there are benches in the shade where the teachers can eat. so it’s useful. but it’s fairly barren, and can be made better by various means. the first and most important being to amend that soil. i had a conversation with the principal after my tour, and suggested that each classroom be given a spot, and that the kids research what should go there, and they should do projects. and he nodded as if everyone had suggested that already. another thing could be to throw a bunch of money at it and get a landscaping company in there to make everything better. seriously, we had some lovely native trees and a bunch of great plants in there, but all that’s left is the crape myrtle (which admittedly looks lovely a dozen years later).


so a million years later, everything is mulched, the only trees are crape myrtles, with a few bushes, and some grass coming up between the mulch. at the library (or north) end, they’ve put in benches and a covered board, so they’re still using the outdoor classroom idea. and further on there are benches under the trees so that the teachers can hang out in the fresh air.


from the other side you can see where the bridge and pond were. the bridge and pond were actually the idea and work of another school family, and they did their addition the year after the courtyard was put in. it failed, but so did my fountain idea. and since i didn’t specify drainage, or get the construction guys to put in the pond area, it will probably always fail. which is just to say something else will grow, and it’ll continue to work fine. as long as somebody’s tending it and trying new things. that’s how it works at my own house. i grow a lot of anything i can get to grow at all.

one of the problems with my design is that i made no allowances for heavy rain runoff, and there were several places where recent rains had spread mulch over the pathway. but the worst problem was that the soil was not amended, and was the same heavy clay churned up when they build the school. this turned out to be a horrible problem. also, i should have had sprinklers put in.


one thing that was a great hit at the time was the idea of family trees. we did a fund raiser, and got seedlings of all sorts of hardwoods, and sold them to families, who then planted them in selected spots in the front of the school. and then we had the cement truck come by (i remember this, i wish i still had the pictures), and pour all these 12″ square markers, that the families then drew their marks or initials or inscriptions in. and they’re still there, and some of the trees are getting enormous now.

btw i think i’m way off as to the date of the school construction. i had thought it was 2005, but that was just yesterday. it was more likely 1996, which makes the school a million years old. no, let me count. still almost 20 years old.

(a year in advance)

in exactly a year, i will be starting my residency in olafsfjordur. i will have dealt with the timing of the journey, i will have gotten tickets, i will have packed and repacked a dozen times to get the weight of my checked bag down within limits.

at this point, i am preparing in the following ways:

every now and then i try to find out how much the ticket will cost.  it’s too early by several months to actually get a price, because they only book 331 days ahead, and it’s 360+ now.  i look at my itinerary and try to decide whether to fly in just in time to get there (stay in reykjavik the first night, take a bus to akureyri, stay in akureyri the second night, take a bus to olafs), which means flying on a sunday, which is never a good price.  or do i go when the prices are best, which means thursday or maybe friday at the latest, and then have 3-4 days in a hostel somewhere between reykjavik and olafsfjordur.  (in iceland, hostels cost up to several hundred bucks a night (and this is completely understandable, because summer is short, and it’s tourist season, when they make most of their money, so prices for a place to sleep are fair game), but there are ways to keep this to a minimum.  like, if i brought a tent i could stay in campgrounds, and there is one in every town.)

i’m working in back and forth emails with my residency director to arrange a public art project i would like to do.  i have discussed this in a few posts both here and here.  it’s the conceptual stage at this point, but every time the idea changes, i get to do more research and send emails to more people.  i have been studying up on horticulture and which plants grow in north iceland, and i have been studying icelandic folklore and fairytales, and reading up on huldufolk and their ways.  my residency director has been contacting the owners of possible sites and various city officials to see what is possible, and i have been restraining myself from contacting anyone that she should probably talk to first.  i am very conscious of being a stranger, and want at all costs to avoid a colonial attitude.

i’ve been learning icelandic hahahahahahaha.  i have been listening to icelandic tv in the background, watching a few youtube videos on icelandic vocabulary, have been skimming thru an icelandic language primer without doing the exercises, and follow an icelandic writer on facebook, dutifully translating and sounding out everything he posts.  but it’s having an effect.  i can hear some words now when i listen, and i can tell some forms of words, and i know a tiny bit of vocabulary.  i will never be able to have a conversation, but i might be able to tell what people are saying, and i should be able to puzzle out written signage and menus and the newspaper.

except that, even tho they say icelandic is just like old norse, it’s not.  they don’t spell it the same way; they don’t mean it the same way.  the vocabulary has completely changed since 800 ad, slang is untranslatable by google translate, and icelanders love references, allusions, sarcasm; things that you need to be one of them to understand.  so i will try to avoid embarrassing myself and irritating them by trying to speak icelandic, and will try to behave the way i do in ireland, as if i’m the butt of every joke.

i’m still collecting little bits of the things i’ll be taking with me.  i got a good pair of boots, i got a wax jacket from my sister (thanks suse) and rewaterproofed it, i’ve found thermals, i bought a travel towel, i’ve got my backpack and my rolly bag and found a nifty cosmetic kit i can use for art supplies.  they’re all stashed away until it’s time to start packing and unpacking my bags.

and finally, i’m trying to get my novel up to speed so that i can be writing the part i want to be writing when i’m in the place where i want to be writing it.  it has taken me far longer than i hoped to get as far as i have, and the work i have is hopeless and needs extensive revision (rewriting).  nonetheless, i will start as i planned when i get to my residency, and try to salvage the rest of it when i get back.  after all, it’s three novels in one, why not?

so, a year in advance, i’m ready to go.

i only have to nail down a whole network of people and arrangements for a public art project that is secondary to the real reason i’m going, which is to write.  i only have to figure out the best timing and buy my tickets.  i only have to get everything together and pack it up several times.  i only have to arrange for things to run smoothly when i’m not home for 5 weeks.  it’s all ongoing, and will take a whole year to work out.

more later.

refining a pubic art project

this project will go thru several stages (see previous posts, below). when i do a public art project all by myself, i spend many hours working up ideas before i settle on one, refine it with several drawings, then submit one drawing, as finished as possible, to whoever gets to approve my project.

but this public art project is different for many reasons. nobody put out a call for artists with a preselected site and materials and budget. it’s my idea, and i’m bringing it forward hoping to get people interested. so i will encounter resistance simply because nobody but me is thinking this way and it’s my job to get them interested. but i don’t have a finished final drawing to show them. i just have an idea – hey, i’d like to do a public art project in north iceland! whoopee! but all anybody can say to that is, ‘okay, and…?’

another reason it’s different is that much of it has to be done from thousands of miles away. which means a lot of other people will be involved. a lot of the work i’ll be doing will be done right here, on my computer, in emails and blog posts and facebook messges. others will have to choose a site and prepare it, make local contacts and organize the participants. i hope to minimize the burden on others, but the work they put into the project will mean it becomes their project, rather than mine. which is great.

the reason for this update is because my contact on the ground, the wonderful director of my art residency, has been talking to people around town about the ideas she and i brainstormed together in some facebook messages. and one of the people she’s been talking to came up with a really good objection to one of my ideas, which is that wildflower gardens take maintenance. and my whole operating method is to bring my art to a certain stage of completion and then walk away. so, because i don’t want to cause a train wreck, i am rethinking my idea.

the suggestion was that we might make some use of all the rock that came out of the tunnel that now connects the two towns of fjallabyggd. it was just finished a couple of years ago, and i’ll just bet there are tons and tons of rocks of all sizes and shapes, just lying around collecting moss.

here is an example of the rocks from the tunnel, decorating Menntaskólinn á Tröllaskaga, the local junior college.

the suggestion was also made that we could take the fairies into account.

i am of two minds about this. i believe in fairies, and you don’t mess with them. they are a proud people and don’t like being dissed.  but when you talk about rocks, and rocks of a certain size, and rocks which aren’t a normal part of the landscape, then i think fairy houses. so, maybe, we could use some of the rocks blasted out of the mountain, and make a fairy city. if the fairies didn’t mind, and the townspeople didn’t mind.

google translate gives álfur uppgjör, i’m sure there are many other ways to say it in icelandic, but i like Huldufólkbyggd. fjallabyggd is the name of the conjoined towns, and olafsfjord has a lot of -byggd streetnames.  i assume they refer to the fact that these streets used to be swampy vacant land, and i assume they were built up in recent decades.  byggd sometimes translates to ‘built-up area.’

so, the idea i came back with, based on practical criticism of my plan and a good suggestion for an alternative, is this.

we can take a number of rocks, not large ones but too big for people to lift, from whatever pile they’re in, and move them to a suitable site (which we’re working on finding). then, we can build a tiny little town of fairy houses.  we could make a design of our own, or even a small version of olafsfjordur itself.  we can make streets of paving sized stones, and buildings of larger rocks set into or on top of the ground. then we can decorate them as fairy houses, and plant flowers and grasses around them.

this would require a whole lot of participation by the people who live there.  for instance, i would like to open the design of the elf city to people who live there. we could have a contest, all ages. then, the ground that is selected will need to be cleared and prepared. and then the rocks have to be selected, moved, and placed.  this is real work, and it would be great if there was some local funding to compensate the people who will do this.  perhaps that kickstarter campaign…

the fun part would come after all the grunt work. i want to get the children involved in decorating the buildings. kids are great at painting, and they could make really good doors and windows, roofs, other architectural details.  if it was decided to make a mini-olafs, then they would be really good at making small copies of all the buildings in the town.

we would put annual flowers in front of the houses, and make streetsigns, and have a big party to open the exhibit. while i’m in the town, i will make up special seed packages to give out, and then later, in the fall, people can plant them around the fairy houses, which will grow next year, and hopefully make a permanent garden around the stones.

that’s my idea at the moment.  i have sent it off to the people who are interested in it, in facebook messages, and when they have a chance to think about it, they will respond with their thoughts, and i will think about what they say and redesign the project again.

if anybody reading this has an opinion or suggestion, i welcome them.

iceland countdown begins

it’s just over a year until i go to iceland, and this is how i’m preparing at this stage. i’ve gotten myself a pair of waterproof boots, i’ve rewaterproofed my (sister’s) wax jacket, i’ve got a travel towel, and a sleeping bag. i’ve got some high-tech long underwear. i’ve got my suitcase and backpack.

so, i’m ready to go.


i’m going to be making a book to take with me and donate to the residency. this book will have all the maps and hiking routes and bits and pieces of information i’m collecting at this point. i’ve got a stack of printouts on my desk that i will be binding up into a travel book. being an artist, i’ll be making this book myself, so i’m in the middle of learning how to make paper, and will eventually learn to bind it myself as well. i’ll be using transfer techniques to put the maps on my handmade paper, but we’ll get to that later as well. right now i’m still assembling materials. it may happen that i make my travel journal as well, or i might just put everything down on my blog and have that stand as my travel journal.

i’m going to be making a book there as well, and have sourced some nice leather for the cover, as well as having found a bookbinding shop in reykjavik. i’m doing the research to see what icelandic plants will make good paper, and am preparing a more portable papermaking mould/deckle to take with me.

i’m learning icelandic. it’s a bit of a joke, but i’m seriously studying. i’m working thru a beginner’s grammar, and running n4 i beinni in the background while i am on my computer. that way i’m always listening to people speaking in the background, and sometimes i’m looking at the channel so i can read along with the ads. i’ve got an icelandic author on my facebook feed, and every time he posts i copy it over into google translate. unfortunately, google translate makes spaghetti out of icelandic-to-english, so it’s almost useless for finding the meaning of what i’m reading. but it does have the handy audio feature, where i can get the mechanical man to read it to me aloud. and the only reason this is worthwhile is because i can hear how to pronounce “ae” and “ei” properly (eye and ay). if i put a period after every word, the voice will read it to me at a speed i can almost keep up with, and if i copy and paste, i can get the machine to repeat the same word ten times, and by the end of it i can almost say it along with the machine. it’s a great help, as long as i balance it with actual speech from the tv station. and i’ve got to say, this is a really good way to pick up the language. for me, that is. it’s the same method i’ve always used to learn a piece of music. eternoplay.

i’ve been studying about the place i’ll be staying. i’ll be in olafsfjordur for a month, in july of next year. so i have found a webcam, and a weather station, a tide table, the iceland met office, and a currency converter, and constantly make use of them. right now, the solstice (happy summer!) and full moon, it is always light in iceland, and has been for awhile now. people are out and about way late, there are families fishing on the docks at midnight. since march, when i decided on this residency, i’ve been watching the town daily. i’ve seen the snow melt and the days lengthen and everything turn green. i hope they don’t think i’m stalking them, but i feel very attached to the town already. i’ve learned the landscape of the town, i’ve studied the maps, topological, areal, historical. i’ve read everything i could find on the internet about it, about the area. and there are huge enormous holes in my knowledge because i’m getting it from the internet. for example, i have no idea what the town looks like from a different angle than the webcam. and google translate often renders the name of the town as ‘staircase’ (someone please tell me how olaf’s fjord could mean stairs).

i’m also working on developing a public art project. i’ve been making contacts with specialists across iceland, talking about supplies and logistics and feasibility. everything about any project i do has to be laid out in advance, so i’m in the beginning stages of figuring out what i could do. one of the previous posts is a casual proposal for a project, and it’s pretty much been superseded by a recent round of discussions between me and the head of the residency program there. first i thought of putting up a mural, but they’re doing that at the moment.

then i thought of doing something with plants, because i love working with plants in my art, and have designed gardens before. but there are issues. one of them is that iceland is at the edge of the arctic and only certain things will grow in the short, sharp summer (and come back the next year). i originally thought of a wildflower field, designed to be seen from the webcam and making some sort of form celebrating the town and place. but given the conditions, which would make successful germination and growth problematic, and the fact that i will be there at the entirely wrong time for starting a wildflower garden, it might be too much trouble to do something of this kind.

for the second version of a public art piece, the wonderful residency program director is going way past the job description to talk to people about my proposed project. in order to do anything, i’m going to have to arrange all sorts of things with the city planners, for instance, and somebody’s property is going to have to be used, and i’m going to need volunteers to help, and even some company’s donation of supplies and logistical support. so much more goes into public art than just an artist with a brush.

one of these contacts pointed out the difficulty of a garden project, and suggested rocks instead of seeds. they’ve just finished building a tunnel down the street from the town, and there’s lots of rock available, so why not use that? i thought about it for a moment, disappointed that a huge reverse crop circle wouldn’t be feasible. but then i saw the possibilities. iceland is one of those places, like ireland, where fairies aren’t just fairytales. fairies are real, i have experience of them myself, and have developed all sorts of private rituals in order to acknowledge their presence and help/interference (especially on this solstice full moon night). one of these days i must write down a few of them and put them up as posts. like how to get things back when the fairies have…borrowed them.

anyway, this immediately brought up a related idea. people build houses for fairies in iceland. they live in rocks. it might not be offensive to build some fairy houses from some of these tunnel rocks. i would want to involve someone who can communicate with fairies in any project of this kind, because you don’t want to mess around with fairies if you don’t know what you’re doing. but if it wasn’t a horrible idea, we could build a housing estate for the fairies as a public art project. we could build a replica of the town, with streets and houses (flagstones and big square rocks), or we could design a small fairy village, with painted rocks, little wildflower gardens around each one, a few street signs. velkomið að huldufólks fjallið byggðar! (thanks google translate).

i’m also working on my novel. the whole reason i’m going to iceland is because i’m writing about antarctica after the ice has gone, and iceland is where i need to go to see what i’m writing about. it’s as close as i can get to my science fiction antarctica, and in my mind it is the place itself. but the antarctica part of this novel isn’t until a ways further down the plot structure, and i have not written the preceding chapters as fast as i need to in order to be at the right place when next year rolls around. so i have a lot of writing to do in order to be ready to go. and here i am writing a blog post instead. that’s a factor, where i let the planning of my trip take my attention away from writing my story.

all of these things have to be taken care of before i go, and i have just a few days over a year to prepare. but i figured i’d set down this part of it as a benchmark.

history of olafsfjordur

H07-H-1595-qv1 photo 1983

this is my version of the book of the settlement of iceland.  i am looking to see why olafsfjordur was named that, and turns out it was because a guy named olaf settled it.  it’s only partly that way in america, where something that’s named johnstown is named because of a guy named john.  in most of europe, the reasons why are lost to history, but in iceland, there was nothing but rock before they came, so things are more clear and simple when it comes to placenames.  the funny thing is that iceland, like a lot of my favorite places, was settled by people who were kicked out of the society they lived in, and ventured off for a new life of opportunity and adventure.

part 3, chapter 9

there was a man named gunnolf who settled land between the thwart river (thvera, at the head of the valley on the west side) and glodafeyki’s river (?) and dwelt at hvamm.

he came from a long line, and it’s all in there in detail, including lots of progeny and relations, some royalty (daughter of a russian king, sister of the king of the giants), and many children and grandchildren, who kept getting married and having more kids.  who did stuff.

somebody’s son ondott came out to the mouth of kolbein’s river and bought from slettu-bjorn (a relative) land down from  halsgrof on the eastern side and out to the mouth of kolbein’s river, and on the west side down from that brook which is met with out away from nautabui (cattle booths), and up into gorge-river and he abode at vidvik.  sigmund of westfold had to wife ingibjorg the daughter of raudsruggu (the rocking cradle), in naumadale, the sister of thorstein svarfad; their son was kolbein who went to iceland and settled land between grjot river and deildriver, kolbeinsdale and hjaltdale.

with me so far?  me neither.

part 3, chapter 11

ulf the viking, and olaf beck (or stream) went in the same ship to iceland.  ulf settled ulfsdales and abode there.  olaf beck was the son of karl from birchisle in halogaland, he slew thorri the black, and was outlawed on account of that.  olaf settled all the dales to the west and a part of olaf’s firth to the meeting (till mots) with the lands of thormod, and dwelt at kviabekk (foldbeck); his sons were steinod, the father of bjorn, and grimolf, and arnodd, the father of vilborg, the mother of karl the red.

there was a man named thormod the strong, he slew gyrd, the grandfather by the mother’s side of skjalg in jadar, and was for that exiled and went to iceland; he brought his ship to siglufirth and sailed up to thormodseyri, when he named the bay siglu (mast) firth; he settled all siglufirth between ulfsdales and hvanndales, and dwelt at sigluness; he quarrelled with olaf beck about the hvanndales and killes 16 men before they came to the agreement that they should have it on alternate summers or summer about.

thormod was the son of harald the viking, and he had for wife arngerd, the sister of skidi from skididale; their sons were arngeirr the keen, and farfi the father of thrand, the father of copse-isle narfi and alrek, who fought at slettuhlid with knor, the son of thord.  gunolf the old, the son of thorbjorn thjoti (the rusher) from sogn; he slew vegeir, the father of vebjorn, the sygna-kappa (sogna champion), and went afterwards to iceland; he settled olafsfjord on the eastern side up to reek river, and out to vomula, and dwelt at gunnolf’s river; he had for wife gro, the daughter of thorvald from urdir, their sons were steinolf, thorir, and thorgrim.