Mary Elizabeth Vance
Mary Elizabeth Vance
Reykjavik, Iceland 2015
I am spending three months in Reykjavik, Iceland, living and working at an artist residency with other artists from around the globe. At SIM, the Association of Icelandic Visual Artists, and Gullkistan in rural Iceland, I will develop a body of interactive artwork that responds to the culture and landscape of Iceland and promotes intercultural dialogue. Read More About Mary Elizabeth →

Accessing the Inaccessible

The past couple weeks has been full of crazy adventures and uniquely Icelandic experiences (which I will break into a few posts – internet has been harder to come by lately so I will post in the order I have written them!).

It feels strange to be so close to leaving now, strange to feel the quiet stillness that has pervaded my time here in the colder months slowly change as I finish up projects I am making in the landscape (which require a bit of travel) and all the other things I have to get done before leaving.

With summer, it is a new experience to suddenly able to reach areas in the Icelandic interior that are for so much of the year inaccessible. Laugarvatn is quiet, and so I have been breaking up my time between exploring such remote places and working some at SIM back in Reykjavik where there seems to be more and more to contribute to in terms of art events and collaboration. Recently, I booked a car with a friend I met last month from SIM who is also still in Iceland now, and we explored some areas in the highlands near Laugarvatn and the Golden Circle, and shot some video for some of our respective projects. That area is steeped in the most ancient recorded events in Iceland’s history: the parliament that met in the region, the remnants of Viking settlements still being excavated – history still shaping Icelandic culture today and embedded in the visual anthropology of the nation. One of these settlements was seated in the middle of a vast volcanic desert with dark cones rising against the treeless horizon; we rolled through the landscape for a mile or so towards the main road till we came upon one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, one of the surprises Iceland keeps throwing my way. I had read briefly about the Gjain valley in the Thjorsardalur region – but no pictures I had seen compared to the experience of suddenly finding a cleft in the rocky terrain opening onto a lush green utopia that seemed straight out of a Tolkien novel. My friend and I wordless looked at one another and ecstatically ran down over a path in the sudden cliffside and into a hidden world of waterfalls, basalt caves, and dark streams, wishing we could live in such a place for ever (later finding the area was indeed once part of the nearby Viking village).

We eventually left, I uncertain I would ever be satisfied with any other place again, but as always we came upon other fantastic sites, beautiful in other ways (though still something special about Gjain seemed to color the remainder of the trip). In the event of the midnight sun that prevents it from ever being truly dark here anymore, we decided to make a midnight pilgrimage to the Geysir before heading home, still plenty of light ahead of us.

The next day I went out alone to continue collecting video for a project, one I suppose one could describe as trying to find the darkness in the now perpetually light – a reversal of my experience in cold and stormy April. I had a 4×4 vehicle for the two days, and so decided to venture out to places I could only access with such. The object of my trek for the day was a hidden plane wreck in the south, in the middle of a region called the Sandar where all one can see for miles is black ash sand and dense fog – especially that day, much rainier and foggier than the day before it. This place was the opposite of Gjain – I turned off the roadside into a barely marked path through the sand, trusting the tiny yellow markers that emerged out of the fog every few feet until the plane emerged from the mist – an event I imagined happened on a day similar to this. The famous 1973 crash was actually a U.S. Naval plane, no one was hurt, but the cause of the crash is still steeped in mystery and suspicion. The sight was terrifying but also awe inspiring, the chaotic rush of the sea barely in view behind the wreckage, and nothing else. Reminders that Iceland still has plenty of haunting beauty as much as it seems calm and majestic on the surface – in the easily accessible places.


Gjain Valley (Hobbiton)


Haifoss in Thjorsdalur


1973 U.S. Navy plane wreckage, Solheimasandur


And on a completely separate note, here’s a link to my video from last month – finally online!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *