The enchanting silver light of Iceland, or coming north for a month of textile dreaming

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Visible on the white wall facing us is a long row of windows – into the studio where I and other artists will work in felting, stitching, dyeing and weaving.

I am in Blönduós, Iceland, a small community of 2500 people who live and work in the country’s northwest, where the Blanda River meets the Arctic Sea. I have come for the month of June to the Textilsetúr Íslands, a place for textile research, education, and making – where artists from around the world have come since 2005 to connect with each other, this Icelandic community and textile practices, both historical and contemporary. In the image above, the Icelandic Textile Centre is the tallest building on the left, white stucco with a red roof. Taking this picture, I am standing looking up the mouth of the Blanda River, with my back to the sea – or at least to that long finger of Húnaflói, the 100-kilometre long bay that connects us to the Arctic Sea.

This is my third day in Iceland, arriving on May 29th to spend three days in Reykjavik before heading north 350 kilometres. I have come specifically at this time of year to live the experience of the 24 hour daylight. Now, there is always light in the sky, with the sun setting today at 11:52 p.m. – midnight! – and rising again at 2:38 a.m. By the time of the longest day on June 21, the sun will not touch the horizon. I have come to my work of walking and mapping within this place of perpetual light. What will this mean to my sense of place, to my ability to come to know a terrain that never ‘disappears’ into darkness but remains always visible and accessible?

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Looking across the 50 km span of the bay, with the structures of Blönduós on the dark peninsula to the left. I am standing on a small pier – a fishing dock? When I first reach this spot, no one is around, but I am soon joined by other walkers, photographers, a father, his dog and two children. Up on the ridge behind us, Icelandic horses watch us, hear the sheltie bark, watch this other creature dart and run.

I set out for my first walk about 9 p.m., heading away from the Textile Centre up the east side of the bay. The overcast sky was a fleece-like billow, with the light dancing in the distance through openings in the cloud cover. What a feast for the eyes, the ever-changing patterns of light and shadow, painted in a palette of blues, mauves, greys and silvers. The matte softness of the sky played beautifully against the irridescent shimmer of the sea: wool and silk, the fibres that I have brought to work with. The light is mesmerizing, so beautiful and changeable it is.

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Others love this view: a bench has been set facing the water. I perch there to take this shot of the light piercing the clouds. Now, I am wearing wools and a windproof coat. The summer’s bushes and flowers are still coming into bloom, the flashy purple of the invasive lupine among them. I can only imagine the fierceness of winter, which (it seems) starts to creep back as soon as September.

How will I work in textiles, a static medium, to capture this shimmer and change? How will I bring together the movement of the sun above and of my feet below, map earth and sky as one? These are just some of the tasks I have set myself this month. I’ll discover more as I go. What joy to have this time, place and community for such exploration and growth!

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