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 →

Black Sand, Bright Skies

Iceland. Land of Fire and Ice, a landscape of stark contradictions somehow rendered harmonious by the capable hands of Nature herself.

This is a place that has inspired me from childhood, a small island close enough to the top of the world to slip past the radar of many, yet one which has given the world a particularly vibrant creative culture, some of my most respected visual and musical artists, and one of the most productive literary cultures in the world. It is a culture built on stories – stories inspired by the geography that surrounds its inhabitants, by the history of that land – Viking conquests, Norse gods and goddesses, faeries and trolls and the like. And it is also an incredibly progressive culture, with deeply rooted environmental concerns, a recent history of political revolution, and an incredibly forward-thinking personality in terms of social justice and equality. The landscape here is as varied as the scope of its culture and creative output.

My own artwork is already very concerned with the interwoven concepts of space and story (you can find my portfolio at for more of that), and in traveling across the world to immerse myself and create within the context of Iceland’s culture, my goal is to further understanding (for myself and others) how this culture has been so impacted by its sense of place, how one might translate that place through the senses in art, and how to stimulate dialogue and understanding through the creation of that artwork. Here I will be part of two residency programs – one in the capital city and one in a small village a few hours away – two different landscapes. I will be making art alongside other creatives stemming from international backgrounds all converging in Iceland as they are drawn by its art, its land, and its people – and sharing my art and ideas with them and the wider communities I am to encounter.

With this adventure I am moving from a country at the forefront of the world’s stage to one just as rich in culture yet often overlooked. If only I could count the number of times people have said to me when I mentioned my travel plans – “Iceland, that’s the green one right?” But it is a country of many other shades and terrains, and I look at my work here as research, field work – uncovering the heart of why this country has birthed such passionate people – about their country, their landscape, the environment in general. This is an opportunity to make art that speaks across cultures that are vastly different in many ways, yet which unavoidably, however unexpectedly, influence one another – perhaps most visibly through their creative cultures.

In a few days of travel I will be in Iceland. Black sand beaches will be under my feet. Auroras will dance in the dark expanse of night above, whether guarded by clouds or clear in my view. I do not yet know what these things will be like as I experience them in my body, with my senses, beyond photographs and writings describing them – but soon I make my own translations, from one sensory experience to another.

(Thank you!)

Mary Elizabeth

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