The artists, Kati Gausmann, Ráðhildur Ingadóttir and Richard Skelton, traveled twice to Seyðisfjörður, staying for a total of three months each. Icelandic nature quickly captivated the newcomers but within a short time frame each artist had multiple threads to explore, ranging from past to future, humans to non-humans, consciousness to non-consciousness and the natural world to technology. After the first residency session key words became to merge: co-existence, intelligibility, nature engagement, the invisible world, social wealth, material resources and local knowledge. The second residency period was concentrated on combining and transforming the different threads, ideas and feelings into actual artistic output that are now be on exhibition in the Skaftfell gallery.
Artistic culmination took many forms. In Kati Gausmann's artistic practice concepts like the scale of time and space, universal and terrestrial rhythms intrinsic to human experience are explored through photography, drawings and sculptures. Gausmann's approaches these concepts as sculptural phenomena and entitles her work “dancing dough and circumstances,” referring to earth’s crust as an ever-changing form with movements that humans can never abandon. During the residency session Gausmann devoted her time on studying the extravagant geographical surroundings and history that are unique in east Iceland. She investigated the mountains and rocks that encircle Seyðisfjörður and made reliefs and frottage using latex and paper. The process was both physical and time-consuming, forcing the artists to commute repeatedly to the same locations. The outcome, that are on exhibition, is a series of black and white heavy textured prints on paper, transparent paper as well as Plexiglas. By focusing on details in the macro world Gausmann presents a new way of preserving the world, in relation to the human lifetime, earth history and universal rhythms. Also on display are the original Latex reliefs both mounted on the wall and hanging from the ceiling. The foreign chemical substance transforms to natural, almost recognizable, form and concealed within are little rock and moss.
Ráðhildur Ingadóttir, an Icelandic artist, focused her investigation on two different projects. Her long-term interest in wool fleece, a material in the micro-environment that is for the larger part discarded by the local farmers, lead her on a journey of finding ways to process the natural wool and transform into good quality thread without mixing it with foreign wool. She collaborated with a farm in the fjord and collected wool fleece from different seasons of the year. She cleaned the wool gently by hand in large fish containers, dried it outside and did various tests to figure out what part of the fleece is most usable. Her material-research lead her to the conclusion that it is quite possible to make good quality thread from solely Icelandic wool fleece. Objects and sculptures of wool were made in the process, as well as many installations that have been exhibited in Iceland and Europe. These installations have usually also contained sound, and sometimes video. During these investigations Ingadóttir got acquainted with a nearly ninety-year-old local farmer, Svandís. The two women formed a friendship and Ingadóttir started recording Svandís doing everyday domestic tasks while they engaged in a conversation with each other. In the gallery Ingadóttir's installation consists of two components, an arrangement of multiple wool fleece, and a video projection with selected scenes from the recording sessions with Svandís. Alongside, there are a two sculptures, made out of wool, thread and rocks, spread around the space.
Shortly after starting his previous residency stay Richard Skelton started an online journal blogg of his observations and findings entitled "Towards a Frontier." Later he made collages and a book with the same title, that displays an array of imagery and texts from various sources, collected during the residencies in Skaftfell. His interest in water related phenomena lead him to the making of his short film, "In Pursuit of the Eleventh Measure," where reflections on Scandinavian ideas about water, folklore, religion and Iceland’s hydro-electricity industry were explored. "The New Red List" is a text-based work, inspired partly by Icelandic artist Birgir Andrésson, reflects on artifice of taxonomic systems. Skelton randomly combines genus and species names from the IUCN Red List of Critically Endangered Species and a new list of impossible hybrids emerges. In 2016 the Centre for Alterity Studies came to existence. The centre, CFAS, is the artist’s attempt to create a network and engage with other artists and researchers who are looking into non-human otherness, encompassing animal, plant and mineral alterity. The newest artwork by Skelton, and perhaps the most personal one, is the short film "No Frontier." The film is an audio-visual exploration of the psychological effects of travel, climate change, remoteness and isolation.
"While borders draw divisive lines, frontiers are transition and contact zones. Diversity is always richest in areas where different ecosystems meet: this is the edge effect. An encounter never leaves one unaffected." -- Tinna Guðmundsdóttir
In the five-year international collaboration project Frontiers in Retreat (2013–2018), seven residency sites at the edges of Europe have been approached using various artistic and multidisciplinary methods. These remote sites are seen as frontiers where entanglements between human and other life forms become tangible. They allow insight into the entwined processes of ecological, social, and economic change – in their local manifestations and across a planetary scale.
The project has mapped out artistic practices that respond to ecological concerns, and explored the diverse ways in which ecology can be perceived and approached. In total 25 artists have been invited to conduct research and produce new work in response to particular ecosystems. Their research has ranged across fjords, forests, islands, villages, towns, cities, and mountains in Iceland, Finland, Scotland, Latvia, Lithuania, Serbia, and Spain. Throughout the project, the participating artists and organisations have challenged the initial premises of the project – productively, towards increased diversity. Rather than a fixed set of theories, concepts, and methods, there are multiple voices and views, positions and practices: the edge effect, indeed.
In 2017, Frontiers in Retreat organised the exhibition series Edge Effects. Its seven satellite exhibitions weave together the geographically dispersed processes and key discourses developed during the past four years. Besides reflecting the differences and resonances between the particular Frontiers sites, these discussions migrate into a new context via a group exhibition at Art Sonje Center in Seoul.
Through creating a platform for shared inquiry, Frontiers in Retreat has brought seven geographically dispersed sites closer to each other on the world map. Instead of conventional cartography, the process has resembled a kind of deep mapping: while engaging with the unique characteristics of each site, the participants have also learned about the complex co-dependencies and forces shaping habitats, human and non-human life trajectories, and migration patterns globally.
In the ethos of Frontiers in Retreat, the 2017–2018 Edge Effects events pose critical questions about the constitution of frontiers and boundaries. Another focus is the search for a new paradigm beyond the fossil-fueled modes of living that are inevitably coming to an end. These focal points are being kept in mind while acknowledging that art should not be instrumentalised for the purposes of finding simplistic solutions. Instead, it can reveal conflicts within our values, formulate questions that challenge the status quo, and create a space for discussion and debate. As the Frontiers project continues as an open platform that branches out to new contexts, further edge effects can be expected.
Curator, Frontiers in Retreat; HIAP – Helsinki International Artist Programme
Curator, Project initiator and curatorial advisor