On the first day of this year’s Icelandic summer, I found myself on a yellow bus, slowly rolling into the Grafarvogur district in Reykjavik. I was heading to Korpúlfsstaðir, an old dairy farm that had been converted into artist studios, to undertake a month-long residency.
I had eagerly applied for this opportunity two months after graduating from Honours at Adelaide Central School of Art, curious as to how my practice might respond to an unfamiliar environment. I was drawn to Iceland’s notably active landscape, and was excited to spend more time more deeply considering the ways in which people and geological forces relate to one another. The residency program supports eleven artists each month, with eight residing in the CBD, and three staying in the converted farmhouse on the outer skirts of the city.
I felt it was important to prioritise research and experimentation over resolved outcomes, in an effort to remain open to chance experiences. I was wary of the potential pressures one might feel for their practice to undergo a significant transformation during a residency, even over a relatively short period of time. It has now been three months since arriving home, and I am still processing the experience and how it might influence my future work.
During my final year at art school, my sculptural practice focused on the contrasting dimensions of human life span and deep time. In a playful effort to relate to the vastness of time, I began considering the potential for sculptural processes to become analogous to geological activity. This involved attempting to work alongside non-human materialities. I investigated how acts of gathering, casting and walking become integrated with geological processes, such as weathering, warping and erosion. These works remained in ongoing processes of formation, as they operated in dialogue with sites beyond the gallery. Continuing to develop my practice without the guidance of art school was daunting, however I felt the structure of a residency would perhaps facilitate this transition.
I tend to generate or resolve ideas whilst in transit, so I spent much of my time on the residency walking. I began sketching small maps of my unplanned walks, investigating the parallels between the acts of walking and drawing. This mode of map-making also became a way to situate or embed myself within this unfamiliar city.
In the shared studio space, I encountered an accumulation of volcanic rocks that residents before me had gathered. I imagined the small depressions that might have been left in the earth when they were first collected. My next thought was regarding the possibility of recording these negative spaces, as I considered the dialogue between absence and presence. As a means to suggest this imagined positive/negative space, I began casting the rocks through a process of pouring cement into rudimentary clay moulds. I positioned these cast forms within a series of sculptural assemblages that I was continuously re-configuring in the studio, as I experimented with the physicality of weight and tension.
I had also started collecting small metal fragments that I came across within the city (a habit I began in Adelaide). I was mining the streets, extracting small articles from the city’s surface. I began to consider these metal remnants in the same light as the rocks, both handled by unknown people and ‘misplaced’ in some way. After spending time with both of these small collections, I began to intuitively meld the objects together by embedding the metal into the rocks. Finding interesting solutions for setting nails, pull-tabs, broken spoons, padlocks and bottle caps into the casts was a playful sculptural exercise. This project soon evolved into a performative process, as I decided to return these hybrid objects to the city, placing them back out into the world. Before doing so, I presented these objects in the residency’s group show. The rocks were displayed on a white square sheet, which was knotted in a manner to suggest its folding up to become a carrier, alluding to the future mobility of the work.
Paying attention to quiet objects or things brought me the most joy, as I continued to document unassuming moments that caught my eye, such as lively weeds, broken pavers and lost items. Perhaps this approach relates to the way I often enjoy experiencing art; being compelled by particular materials and forms, without necessarily knowing the previous histories and processes embedded within them.
Over the course of the residency, I sometimes felt restless within the studio, knowing there was so much to see outside. To alleviate this unease, I found myself frequenting galleries. On one of these days, I was visiting Reykjavik’s i8 Gallery, a space that represents artists such as Olafur Eliasson, Roni Horn and Ernesto Neto. It was here I first experienced Alicja Kwade’s work. Her practice deals with time and space through meticulously crafted objects, such as a light-bulb pendulum that demonstrates the rotation of the earth as it swings, or stones that she has collected from the city that are then carved and polished by a gem cutter (who is instructed to treat them as if they were diamonds). In this particular show, there were five vessels held within glass cases, their surfaces glittering with metal shards. Each vessel was cast from a pulverised household object, including a lamp, table clock, laptop and iPhone. The cavity of each vessel reflected the same volume as that of the original object. The play between positive and negative space appealed to my recent line of thinking. Connecting with Kwade’s work in person was an invaluable experience, and two months later when I was at the Venice Biennale, I was once again captivated by one of her installations. Beautiful cast boulders face themselves in mirrored surfaces, and as one traverses the space, it soon clicks that at specific viewpoints, the reflections and physical objects align perfectly, becoming a third manifestation within the space.
Towards the end of the residency, a few friends and I drove along the Snæfellsnes peninsula, situated on the west coast of Iceland. The earth and surrounding mountains were intensely orange, and it was an unusually clear day, resulting in a strange moment when I felt like I could be back in Australia. Later, we arrived at a charming port town named Stykkisholmur, where Roni Horn’s Library of Water is permanently installed. The installation is housed in a humble and serene space, occupied by twenty-four columns filled with water from individual glaciers. Accompanying these pillars, words relating to the weather playfully scattered the floor, alongside a map that reveals the coordinates to each glacial source. One of the glaciers represented here had already vanished, adding to the poetic weight of the work.
I had started reading a text that focused on the current geological, economical and environmental situation in Iceland. It referred to the potential for humans to be classified as ‘geologic agents’, regarding the realisation that our industrial activity of shifting geological matter now has a ‘greater order of magnitude’ than any other non-human force on the planet. This idea has stuck with me, as I continue to attempt to draw out the entanglements between people and geological forces on an intimate scale. I think back to those unsettled rocks from the studio, and the way even this humble collection reveals our human tendency to shift and handle material according to our own will.
I would like to thank Adelaide Central School of Art for supporting this trip, as it was made possible by the Major Travel Award, which I received in 2016.
Bernadette Klavins is an emerging artist working primarily within the field of sculpture. Through her practice, Klavins playfully engages with the potential for sculptural processes to become analogous to geological activity, as she considers the contrasting dimensions of human lifespan and deep time. In 2016, Klavins graduated from the Adelaide Central School of Art with a Bachelor of Visual Art (First Class Honours). During her Honours year, Klavins received a Major Travel Award and a Study Support Grant from the school. She also exhibited at FELTspace Gallery in 2016, and has since shown at Adelaide Central Gallery and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in group exhibitions. Klavins continues to develop her sculptural practice at Floating Goose Studios. In June 2017, Klavins completed a month-long residency at SIM, The Icelandic Association of Visual Art, in Reykjavik, Iceland.
 Bruce H. Wilkinson, 2005, ‘Humans as Geologic Agents: A Deep Time Perspective’, Geology, Volume 33, 161-164