Farewell to February; crumpets, and a horse-meat lasagne

Poppets, lovlies and dear ones,

Here’s your Sunday Icelandic fix from my strange little fjord. A new month- how did my first residency changeover happen so fast?! A week of farewells to my unconventional and wonderful February family and new friends to find as March marches on and I continue my adventure.

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The February Factory family

After a Sunday evening filled with songs of Grænar Baunir (iconic tinned Icelandic peas- the Christmas lunch equivellant of brussels sprouts for Brits), uncontrollable fits of laughter for no particular reason and some Twin Peaks, time was beginning to feel really short. Keen for us to spend as much of it as possible together, Yang had suggested a breakfast of mashed potatoes, peas and rice for Monday morning (27.02.17)! I wasn’t sure this was something I could stomach quite so early in the day, so politely requested lunch instead.

We all worked the morning in the studio, a real sense of urgency in the air. I attempted to do a memory drawing of Samuel, the story teller we had met on Saturday.

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We ate together- strange concoctions and combinations- everyone else beginning to use up last bits and pieces.  Yang seemed to be holding on to every moment- cooking frantically, wanting to cater for the whole family. This was to be the foodie pattern for the next couple of days! As my contribution we ate the Bolla I had bought from the children the previous day, as it was Bolludagur! On the first Monday before lent, traditionally the day begins with children waking up their parents with loud screams and spankings with special “bollluvendir, or “bun paddles”, shouting  “Bolla, Bolla, Bolla” (translation, bun, bun bun). For every spank they can get in before there parents get up, they get one cream bun- a little like a large profiterole. What a great holiday!

In the afternoon I finished off my first knitting project, a hat that almost became a snood that wouldn’t fit over my head, so became a different type of hat. I think it was beginning to feel a little anxious about people leaving so knitting provided a welcome mindful distraction.

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The evening was another one spent together, more Bolla, and a final Icelandic lesson from Brynja. We learnt colours, food, how to buy stamps, and some slightly complicated grammatical stuff that was far to advanced for me, but Jonathan was picking things up particularly quickly so I think he found it useful. We all remarked that we hoped the next Icelander who joined the residency would have the patience and interest to continue our lessons.

Later on, having already got in my pyjamas I had a really strong feeling I should get up again. I headed outside and was treated to 15 minutes of my own personal light show- slow moving and green once again. Such a treat. Little did I know that later on in the week I would understand just how differently the lights can behave…

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Difficult to get a good picture without a tripod in howling winds- but at least the lights look good!

The last day of the month, and Tuesday (28.02.17) felt really edgy- the others were finalising travel plans, and packing up the studio- realising just how much they had to take away with them. I worked on some memory drawings- fairly unsuccessfully. I tried to draw the artists who had already left the previous week. I think spending more time with people, and getting to know them, adds more of a pressure to get it right- and therefore they seem all the more wrong.

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We decided to have a mini open studio later in the day, just for ourselves, as a chance to review a month of work. It was also Shrove Tuesday/Pancake day in the UK, and Sprengidagur (in Iceland- “explosion eating day” as Brynja had translated!)- so I decided we should have an extra meal in the form of a pan based afternoon tea. Not pancakes- but crumpets! As we had previously had lengthy discussion about them and there was much confusion about what a crumpet actually was.

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Not bad for a first attempt

We set up in the studio and gathered with Una, Vinny and Rosa, for the last time as a (slightly diminished, Sara and Ina having already left) group. We ate crumpets and date cake (Vinny was particularly excited about the crumpets being one of the only people in the room familiar with this British delicacy!), and we showed our work. Always so busy and focussed, it was lovely to really look at what the others had been doing. Nicole had so many tiny objects and constructions I hadn’t had a chance to look at on her desk, (and a box full of ceramics to get home unbroken to Denmark!), Yang a series of watercolours and ceramics, and Brynja played the song she had written here (mixing to be completed). Then it was time for everything to be packed away- I left the studio before this happened not really wanting to feel the emptiness of the space.

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Selected works from February (including hat at Yang’s insistence!)
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Selected works by Nicole Cecile Bitsch Pederson
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Selected works by Yang Xiaolv

With everyone so busy and not wanting Nicole and Brynja to get hangry (hungry/angry for those of you not familiar with this word) I made some rice and vegetables. We came together for one last meal, on Explosion Eating Day. One last lot of Yang’s pancakes. One last Chinese hot pot. We shared beer. I did very well out of the food they were all leaving behind, and decided I wouldn’t even need to go shopping this week! Soon it was time to say goodnight- but not quite goodbye, as I had said I would get up to see them off in the morning.

Heading out in to the dark on Wednesday morning (01.03. 17) to say goodbye felt strange.  Poor Peter had to pack 3 artists (one being a very frantic Yang!), and a ludacris amount of luggage, art and instruments into his hired Toyota Yaris- it was quite the game of car Tetris. I had originally wanted to come along for the ride to Seydisfjordur, where Nicole was getting her ferry, but I could see now it was entirely impossible. I had not banked on feeling so close to these people- and although I always knew this was part of the deal- it felt like they were leaving too soon  and I suddenly felt a little sad to be the only one staying behind.

With the new artists not arriving until later on, and with all the available rooms empty, I had decided that I would like to move houses. The yellow house felt cosy and homey, but I really liked the sociable open space and light in Lingholt. So decision made I packed up my room and moved two doors down.

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New home accompanied by familiar faces
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New view

I now know that perhaps change over weeks will feel somewhat unproductive from a creative point of view. I didn’t want to work in an empty studio, so distracted myself with cleaning, baking and creating some Icelandic crib sheets from what I had learnt so far. Then it was a case of waiting to meet my new house and studio mates- my family for the next month.

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The dyslexics guide to learning Icelandic
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Essentials

Susan, a visual artist from the UK, and Claudia, a choreographer from Germany, arrived early in the evening and moved in to Lingolt. They settled and got to grips with their new surroundings, whilst Peter, Jonathan and I started to get to know a little about them. It was a different vibe from the previous weeks crazy sociable evenings and I knew this month may be a quieter one. Just different- as every month will be.

Predictions were that this night would be a good one for the northern lights. Unfortunately, whilst feedback from friends in Reykjavik was that of incredible dancing purple skies, we were one of the only parts of the country covered in cloud. My aurora app kept buzzing- “if the skies are clear, you may be able to see the aurora in the next hour.” Helpful.

Three times I got up and got redressed. Twice meeting Nisa, slightly disappointedly. But on the third attempt I messaged her. “OUTSIDE NOW”. The clouds had parted and the lights  were dancing- bright, clear and colourful. Green and pink/purple and in all directions. We met between the houses and danced below the light show. Much more frenetic than the slow waltz I had seen before- this was a nightclub. Two of the new artists from the yellow house wandered  out- perhaps dazed from a days travel, they looked up, remarked how nice it was, but they were cold so wanted to go back inside…after so much waiting in February, I don’t think the new artists realised what a rare treat and spectacle they were witnessing. But Nisa and I were over the moon. (*No photos, I was too busy looking with my eyes!)

On Thursday (02.03.17) I got back into the studio, and it was reassuring to see desks claimed and to know I had company. We had a welcome meeting for the new artists, I got to properly meet the artists in the other house; Daniel and Annie, two performance artists who work together from Germany, and Lilly, another visual artist from the UK. Lilly and I performed a British bonding ritual by discussing tea and marmite at length. I told her I was fearful I was about to run out of tea, she said she didn’t have enough marmite- so we agreed to pool resources as a matter of survival- and I knew we would get along just fine!

I had suggested it may be nice to all sit around a table and share food that evening. I prepared a leek croustade of sorts (thank you Mum for teaching me the resourceful art of adapting to what’s in the fridge!), and once everyone had arrived from the other house and we sat down I suddenly felt really sketchy and out of sorts. Maybe it was feeling like I was home, but at the same time like I was sharing the space with strangers. I knew it would pass and I just needed time to settle in to the new month like everyone else- like I had last month. It turned out to be really lovely evening, and new friendships felt like they had begun to be forged by the time we went our separate ways- but Peter clearly had the measure of me, and perceptively suggested maybe we should go for an early morning walk the following day.

We were out of the door by 7.30 (03.02.17) and walked to what I had walked passed before, but had not realised was a fish drying shed. Peter explained, and showed me where and how they were stored. We had a really nice walk, as he talked about some of his many adventures. Peter has done and seen so much in so many places- it really is a joy to spend time learning about his life.  On our way back he said that he knew I was out of sorts, but reassured me that things would settle again and that by choosing to be here for a long time this was part of it, and I would get used to the change.

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Fridays are print day, so after another morning of cutting, I spent all afternoon printing. Reseting the press I was able to get more even prints from my blocks from last week, and I also printed a new mountain one and attempted a trial two block print with colour. At least I felt I had something to show for a weeks’ work.

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Recuts and a proper registration sheet required

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The residents of the yellow house invited us over for drinks in the evening. My former home felt cosy and warm and I really enjoyed the company of the others. We formed a strange impromptu knitting circle (Peter, who had hopefully brought his deck with him, disappointedly remarked that maybe this would be the month of knitting, rather than the month of cards!) We talked politics, strange documentaries and birthday songs, and I was able to really laugh again.  Change is always tricky, but I ended the working week feeling happier again.

The following morning I prepared a brunch again- it feels like a happy Saturday ritual, reminds me of home and my Mum, and whether I’m making pancakes for two or ten I feel relaxed and content. I also made a big batch of crumpets, as I had promised to deliver some up the hill to Una and Vinny as it was Una’s birthday (later in the evening we would all be going to their place for supper).  I took them their stack  of crumpets which were very gratefully received! In the afternoon I baked a banana cake and went for a walk with Peter and Jonathan in the sunshine.  Jonathan regaled us with the entraining tale of the one time he caught a fish. We must look a strange and unconventional trio, but I really do enjoy their company!

For the first time in a month I put on a shirt, did something with my hair and put on some makeup for the evening. It felt strange seeing the other Kimi in the mirror- the Kimi from home, who went to work every day with a full face of makeup. I like how little I care about my appearance here- it just doesn’t feel important. Day to day I feel confident, and my work feels important- what’s outside feels important. As I was applying the newly opened mascara I had bought in Heathrow, I just wondered why and what I performing this odd ritual for really!

We had a really fun, cosy time all together in Una and Vinny’s beautiful quirky home eating, laughing and listening to old Icelandic vinyl. Their home is filled with music and art- and on this evening, delicious food. We ate the most incredible lamb I had ever tasted- people are not wrong when they Icelandic lamb is some of the best. Everyone had brought delicious accompaniments; Turkish mezze, yorkshire pudding, and Jonathan made spaetzle- a type of German dumpling/pasta- yummy and completely  comforting. Along with my cake I brought the obligatory crown- Una’s featuring some of Nicole’s space blanket that she had left behind- acting as golden light on the mountains- just right for Una. Like wands in Harry Potter- seemingly the mountain crown choses the person!

Una had  made a lasagne as she was concerned there may not be enough food. And for the first time in my life, I knowingly ate horse meat. It was hard to put ones British affection for horses to one side (and trying no to think of Black Beauty…that music!), and I will not go in to too much detail for the squeamish, ethically opinionated and vegan amongst you- but…it did taste amazing. Sorry!

Una and Rosa talked about working in the Fish Factory when they were teenagers, and the village before the Creative Centre. It was nice to feel something of the history and the people of the town.

The whole evening was super and really special. I hope Una enjoyed her Birthday- because I (and I think the others) certainly did!

So here we are up to date again. A sedate Sunday in my new home with new friends. I am hoping this week will be more creatively productive and I feel ready to hit the studio again tomorrow.

TTFN, much love,

Kimi xxx

PS. A little update. As I look ahead, I have now had it confirmed where I will be in June. I have the opportunity to do a one month residency on a tiny island close to the arctic circle,  off the north coast of Iceland called Hrísey, approximately 35 miles north of Akureyri (the second largest town after Reykjavik, considered to be the northern capital). I will be living and working in Hrísey Old School. I hope this will be an amazing opportunity to consolidate my work from Stöðvarfjörður, become part of a different community in another part of Iceland with a different history and the perfect place to enjoy the midnight sun. But not yet!

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