Reykjavík airport had been closed for a few days due to the shifting winds moving the ash cloud around. I had intended to fly Sunday, but was delayed until Tuesday. It reopened in time for a flight that would put me in town the opening day of their arts festival, in which I have two series of photo works. There would be no time for me to oversee the installation… but, Danielle, who manages my studio, flew in earlier in a noble attempt to get some of the work to Reykjavík at least one day in advance. In order to accomplish this she had to fly to Glasgow, and then double back to Iceland. At first only a small airport in the north of Iceland was open, so there was a chance she'd have to fly there and then take the arranged bus service across the center of the island nation — along a very scenic road that passes by glaciers and barren rocky landscapes. But after all that traveling, I doubt too many would be looking at the lava fields and ice.
While stopping over in Glasgow, Keflavik airport in Reykjavík reopened, and the work got in OK.
Cindy was showing in this festival as well, so we decided to make the trip, ash cloud permitting. After we arrived on the morning of the 12th and had a jet lag nap, I went to view some of my work before the festival officially opened. One series, Moral Dilemmas, is a series of 15 — at this point — multiple choice questions placed on info kiosks around town. Each question is accompanied by a picture I took of a CCTV camera. I did a few of these some years ago, but never as public pieces, and never so many of them. These have new questions tied to the banking and financial crises such as Iceland has just had.
Here is one:
In the background one can see the big new concert hall that is being built. All work stopped when the country’s economy collapsed. The city came to the rescue, and it’s started up again. Ólafur Elíasson, the Icelandic artist who did the waterfalls in NY and the sun in the turbine hall in London, is doing the windows. They’re being fabricated in China.
Here are some more info kiosks:
And here is a link to some close-ups that are easier to read.
The festival is partly photo-oriented, though there are musical acts, and I saw a show of fabric works as well (with “wool” spun from moss!), so the festival format is somewhat loose. Both my series have photo elements in them, so they qualify.
The second group of images consists of photos I took of old-style curtains (and one of doors, from Belsay Hall near Newcastle) stuck on the windows of Reykjavík's modern art museum. These are printed on the same material that is often used for ads that cover, for example, the sides of busses, including their windows. The parts that cover the windows have thousands of tiny holes in them, so they are a bit like two-way mirrors. People inside can see out fine, and to them the windows just seem slightly tinted, but from the outside it's very difficult to see in — one sees only the image.
It's not like I had this idea and was just waiting to place it somewhere. The festival had offered the windows a while ago... though what could one do in this situation? To make something physical, one would have to be in Reykjavík for quite a while, and probably assemble a group of local helpers — not likely to happen within their newly frugal budget. So dioramas and the like — objects to be viewed through the windows — were out. I also didn't want to completely obscure or kill the light coming through the windows with an image or material... that would seem cruel to those inside, who would then be enclosed in a dark space with only artificial light. Iceland is dark enough for much of the year!
It occurred to me that there was a material I'd photographed a number of times that might be perfect. I'd taken lots of pictures of those ads on busses and trucks that wrap over gas caps, grills and often even over the windows. In the latter cases I noted that the material became different over windows, and wondered if there might be some image that could be applied over these museum windows, printed on that kind of material.
I looked through my archive of photos for inspiration. Maybe something I had taken over the years — I'm constantly taking pictures with no idea where they'll end up — might unlock this puzzle. At first I thought of using some phone pix I'd taken recently. I'd reversed the color and I thought that blowing up an indecipherable lo rez phone image might be strange and beautiful. There were also a couple of pictures of frilly curtains on file, and one of curtains in a fabric store in Mérida, Mexico. One was taken in a hotel meeting room in Easton, Pennsylvania, where my last tour started. I didn't have enough for all the museum windows though — I'd have to take a few more. The resolution on some of the older ones wasn't high enough, as these would be enlarged to the size of the full windows, about 6 by 8 feet. So, on recent trips to Providence and elsewhere for my bikes and cities events I made time to seek out some more curtains. There were some nice big fancy ones at the Biltmore.
Danielle did a Photoshop mockup of these images on the museum windows, and it looked perfect. But would the printing be rich and detailed enough? The advertising company in Iceland that produced these did tests of both a curtain image and a reversed phone image. They both looked a little washed out — the phone pic even more so — so we went with the curtains, and asked if they could make the colors more saturated. We sent a paper print as a sample to follow for color intensity. They did one in which they hit the plastic twice with the ink... and that came close, but for some reason it still looked washed out. I was about to give up. Meanwhile, the Moral Dilemmas images were being printed by a lab (Griffin) in NY which does fine art prints, and we knew they'd get the hot day-glo style colors on those... but the window pieces had to be done remotely, and the situation was looking doubtful.
Someone pointed out to me that maybe the fact that the white backing paper — which is removed before application — was showing through all the tiny holes might dilute the intensity of the color. Duh. So, I peeled off the back of the double hit sample, and slapped it onto the window of Cindy’s apartment. She has a balcony, so I could view it from both inside and out. It worked! It wasn't as saturated as the original image, but it had holes in it, so what do you expect — even the ads I’d seen on busses were less rich when the images passed over windows.
So it was a go. The company in Iceland knew how to attach these things — there’s some skill involved. They stretch a little, and if the installation was screwed up, they would have to be reprinted. The sticky reverse side, like contact paper, was a bear to get right. (They did have to reprint one in the end.)
Ultimately I was thrilled with the result. In contrast with the minimal modern exterior of the museum, the frilly old-fashioned curtains were pretty funny... and the trompe l'oeil effect worked too.
The Moral Dilemmas looked good too, but were scattered all over town, and initially we were misinformed as to their exact locations. But I managed to find most of them eventually.
Now we had two days before the opening of Cindy’s show of her famous film stills — the first time seen here, I believe. We rented a 4 x 4 and headed towards the volcano. On the map it seemed like one of the dirt roads that leads into the interior might allow us to sneak around behind the gal (volcanoes are female here), and as the ash cloud was blowing south and out to sea we might get sort of close by using that approach.
We did find that road — the same one that leads by this waterfall... a waterfall you can hike behind!
But further up, the road was blocked by a man in an emergency vehicle, and he was making cars turn around. He seemed mildly annoyed at the volcano tourists... we weren't the only ones to be turned back.
So on then to the little town of Vík, where I had reserved a hotel room... and despite a recent BBC News video showing the town covered in ash, the hotel was still open. Volcano eruptions are common here.
On the way we stopped by a pasture at the base of a mountain behind which lay the glacier and volcano. One could see a massive black cloud rising from one corner in the distance.
Driving on, the sky looked dark ahead, as if we were about to drive into a thunderstorm. It was no thunderstorm. Below the dark sky was a kind of brown fog, and when we entered it we had to slow down. It was as if night had suddenly descended, and the ash was so dense that one could hardly see ahead.
Everything was covered — barns, cars, mountains and the lava fields. We stepped outside and were instantly covered — it was finer than sand but not quite as bad as the talcum powder fineness I'd heard it was at first. Our clothes were coated and I could taste it... yuk. Dove back in the car and moved on, not really sure how much further it would extend.[Link to video]
After maybe 30 km we began to see the sky becoming slightly lighter ahead... we were coming out the other side. It wasn't much cleaner, but at least we could see. Looking back one could see the big black thing stretching out across the sky, heading for the north Atlantic and Europe.
A little further on, we stepped out and looked back towards the mountain, and now we could see the actual volcano. It wasn’t spewing lava (which was the “tourist volcano,” as the Icelanders refer to it), but throwing up a constant, billowing plume of dark gray ash from the mountain peak —
enough ash to cover Europe.
Onward. Past Skógar, where we would eventually return, and where, we were later told, access to the “tourist volcano” could have been had in the early days of the eruption. One would drive a monster truck up over neighboring Mýrdalsjökull glacier and onto Eyjafjallajökull. At that time there was none of the ugly billowing ash, as the glacier water hadn't yet melted, and that's what makes the ash plume — when the water gets superheated and explodes as steam.
Around a mountain promontory and we were in Vík, which still looked pretty filthy.
A shop window was almost covered in ash.
Two men stood with hoses trying valiantly to wash the ash off their cars and houses. Another man wore a protective mask. Maybe not a good idea to stay here. We moved on, across a great, endless, sandy desert that soon became an endless lava field. The guidebook warned of sandstorms that could strip the paint off a car. We saw one in the distance.
End Part One