The Water Library cover

The Water Library

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“Big enough to get lost on. Small enough to find myself. That’s how to use this island. I come here to place myself in the world. Iceland is a verb and its action is to center.”
American artist Roni Horn, who works extensively in Iceland, uses these words to describe the island and its influence in her art practice.
As a geologist, Iceland had been near the top of my places to visit for a very long time. And as someone with artistic inclinations drawn to the stark and dramatic places of the world, Horn’s words echoed in my mind as I stood atop Eyjafjallajökull (still warm enough to melt the chocolate in my pack), trekked across glaciers, and explored the remotest parts of the island this summer.





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The Water Library

Iceland

“Big enough to get lost on. Small enough to find myself. That’s how to use this island. I come here to place myself in the world. Iceland is a verb and its action is to center.”

American artist Roni Horn, who works extensively in Iceland, uses these words to describe the island and its influence in her art practice.

As a geologist, Iceland had been near the top of my places to visit for a very long time. And as someone with artistic inclinations drawn to the stark and dramatic places of the world, Horn’s words echoed in my mind as I stood atop Eyjafjallajökull (still warm enough to melt the chocolate in my pack), trekked across glaciers, and explored the remotest parts of the island this summer.

The Library of Water

The Library of Water

The Library of Water, Stykkishólmur, Iceland

Photo Courtesy Johanna Kieneiwicz

Ever-Present

Ever-present on Iceland, whether falling from the sky, as rushing streams, tied up as ice in glaciers, or looming as a presence in the mind

as clouds illuminated by low angle high altitude sunlight rush across the sky, is water.

Perched atop a cliff in the charming town of Stykkishólmur, is the Library of Water. Located in the town’s old Library building, this art installation by Roni Horn brings together water, words, and weather reports.

Each From A Different Glacier

A veritable constellation of 24 glass columns confronts us, each of which contains water from a different glacier in Iceland.

Reflecting and refracting the light entering the building through the panoramic windows, we perceive the columns to be illuminated by different colours of light at their base. Kneeling down, we realise that we are simply looking at the sediment that has gradually settled from the water. On the floor of the installation are English and Icelandic words pertaining to the weather. Bright. Dull. Crisp. Suddalegt (disagreeably damp, soggy, muddy). Hamslaust (untamable, wild).

Columns of Glacial Water

Columns of Glacial Water

View of columns of glacial water, The Library of Water by Roni Horn, Stykkishólmur Iceland.

Photo Courtesy Johanna Kieniewicz

Weather

Linked to Horn’s interest in water, is the weather, and the ways in which we experience it. Ever changing, its mutability is visible on our faces and the ways in which we perceive it.

Horn says that ‘weather is a metaphor for the atmosphere of the world, for the atmosphere of one’s life; weather is a metaphor for the physical, metaphysical, political, social and moral energy of a person and a place.’ To this end, she has started an oral history project, collecting Icelanders’ stories about the weather. What are their memories? How does it affect their lives? In the UK, we are notorious for our commentary on the weather, whether winging as the temperatures drop or disrobing at the first glimpse of summer. In Iceland, I learned that the only thing constant about the weather there is its utter changeability.

Bright

Bright

Weather conditions: Bright, Library of Water by Roni Horn, Stykkishólmur Iceland.

Photo Courtesy Johanna Kieniewicz

Advance and Retreat

As I padded around The Library of Water in slippers issued at the door, I peered through the columns of water, contemplated the words on the floor and reflected on what I had seen of Iceland thus far.

In Iceland, geological processes are in one’s face like nowhere else on Earth. From the parting of the North American and European plates and Bárðarbunga’s ongoing eruption, to the convergence of Arctic and Atlantic air masses, to the advance (and now) retreat of glaciers, they are inescapable.

Poignant Archive

As someone with an eye for the interaction between science and culture in the broadest sense, Horn’s use of the word Iceland as a verb makes sense to me.

The island’s geology infiltrates everything from the way that hot water is delivered to homes and businesses, to Björk’s music. In capturing water from glaciers across Iceland, Horn has, in a sense, bottled the forces of nature. With news from the British Geological Survey that Iceland’s glaciers are retreating rapidly, Horn’s Library of Water becomes a poignant archive.

Originally posted to PLOS At The Interface

(CC BY 3.0)