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 →


One of the great opportunities afforded by doing an artist residency is the chance to work alongside artists from different perspectives and genres of art – different corners of the world as much as the art world. Last month I felt an inspiring conceptual similarity to a number of the people around me, which enabled me to explore a number of my interests with new insights. But one thing I had little chance for was actually working with the other people. This month has been a new experience in those terms and I’ve had the chance to learn from people exploring ideas new to me in the process.

I’ve been trying to experiment with new media during my stay, an endeavor I plan to extend into this coming month – particularly inspired by my own love of cinema and many video-heavy art shows I’ve seen while here in Iceland – thinking about the bridge between these two visual realms. New ways to tell stories. There has been a particular image for a project in the back of my mind for a while – a piece that began as a vague idea long before I came to Iceland, or ever knew I would – which I found the ideal place to bring it to fruition here. But this is a video piece that centers on a shot I could never have made alone due to set up requirements and the piece’s performative nature. I found myself finally at the point where I was ready to make the piece happen, but as it was toward the end of the month, I was having some difficulty finding help. As fate would have it, one of the other artists was hoping to do a video shoot in the same location that afternoon – so, we decided to help each other.

In the process, Cara, due to years of practice with a video camera, was able to make suggestions no one else could give; and I could not have accomplished the piece without her. Some things ended up slightly different than I expected – but better. A perfect parallel to my time here so far – necessarily collaborative, surprising in the importance of certain connections, full of natural surprises. And, this piece ended up being the one I chose for this month’s exhibition.

The day was magical; her piece was performed on a corner of a peninsula I had never been to before on the other side of the nature reserve where I was filming (significantly so, as my piece dealt with the distance between these spaces!). The wind was wild, the waves brutal – we trudged through a golf course to an old WWII bunker on the point. The sky overcast – the weather in all not ideal for many a wanderer that day, but all a too perfect setting and set of conditions for both of our projects.

I’ll post the video later and let it do the explaining, but the piece involves a thick red sheet stretched across the harbor and horizon. It is a simple but personal piece, if not most of all for the amount of time I have waited to make it. Letting go of the fabric took on even more meaning in the moment – it felt like a real letting go in other ways – release of tensions, feelings, control, and the weight of a past event one has been holding onto for so long – be that an experience or an idea. The act was then simultaneously nostalgic and incredibly rooted to the present, and forward motion. On a personal level and also in a way very connected to the specific place I am located now – in life and in Iceland. These days remind me how specific this whole experience has been – how precisely the stars occasionally align – and maybe there is no real meaning in it, maybe we create the meaning of such coincidences – but what a wonder than I am able to create such meanings here, and be involved in their creation around me.

Sometimes a chemical reaction must be very specific to take place. One is free to interpret the event however they wish, to base more science upon it, to turn it into a metaphor. But the indisputable fact that such has happened, how random details can add up to harmonious ones – how an island even forms and exists – there is plenty to learn from, to marvel at in that.



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