Far From Home

Faculty Guest Blogger: Laura Duerwald Alexander

Laura Duerwald Alexander: This past July, I was an artist-in-residence in the arctic village of Skagaströnd, Iceland. A residency can be an invaluable gift of time and space for creative work. This particular retreat was especially well timed – it not only allowed me a much needed opportunity to focus solely on my work while preparing for an upcoming solo show, but it thrust me into an alien, otherworldly landscape of constantly shifting atmospheric conditions and unfathomable contrasts of space and light.

The NES Artist Residency is located in a tiny, remote fishing village on the northwest coast of Iceland. I was provided with clean, comfortable accommodations in the village a short distance from the studio. Each morning I would breakfast with my housemates, a sound artist from Norway and a photographer from Israel, then I would head out our back door to the cliffs that overlooked the ocean. This daily hike among the birds and wind driven, misty landscape served as a kind of solitary walking meditation. I never saw another human being on those early morning walks. Because the sun never sets in July when you are near the top of the world, I felt a strange sense of timelessness, a kind of remove from the concerns of everyday life which gave me a focus that was sharper, yet more expansive. After an hour or so, I would head for the studio, walking a half-mile stretch along the harbor that took me past fishing boats, cottages, sheep and horses.

The studio building sits right on Húnaflói Bay, where it is especially windy, damp and cold, even by Icelandic standards. It houses a large communal studio that accommodates twelve artists. Working in an open shared space with no physical barriers, was a new experience for me, but in the end it was perfectly manageable despite my initial reservations. The roiling sea was in full view from each studio window. As I worked, the drama of the weather, the ever-changing light and atmosphere unfolding in real time on a minute-to-minute basis, inevitably found its way into the small paper pieces I was making in the studio.

I will forever cherish my time in Iceland, of being in that exotic environment far from home, with full support, interacting with other artists. But the most important thing this residency gave me was simply the freedom to just do my work. To take time to think. To look. To just be.

And as expected, my adventure didn’t end once I left the windswept arctic landscape of northern Iceland, but instead continued back in my home studio, where I am now armed with a sense of renewed excitement, energy, and ideas.

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