Northern Exposure

An artistic journey in Iceland

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When Bellingham artists William Canepa and Jen Dranttel landed in Iceland for a one-month creative residency last fall, they weren’t quite sure what to expect.

By the end of their journey—which was primarily spent in the country’s northernmost town of Siglufjörður, but also included a fair amount of exploration via rental car—the couple had seen jaw-dropping green auroras in the night sky, survived a night of not-insignificant earthquakes, intricately explored the expansive landscape, met new friends, kept their young son from falling off cliffs, learned a few Icelandic words and created some of the most interesting art of their lives.

At the opening reception for “NORTH/NORÐUR” Fri., Feb. 1 at Make.Shift Art Space, those who read the couple’s blog (http://www.northtoiceland.tumblr.com), contributed to the successful Kickstarter campaign that helped fund their adventure, or are simply interested in seeing what Icelandic inspiration looks like will be able to not only view the results of Canepa and Dranttel’s labors, but also ask them questions to glean a better understanding of what the art’s all about. 

“A major theme in both of our works for this show is the attempt to reflect how the past, mythology and insular culture of Iceland inform the perceptions of—and the reality of—its very unique present,” Canepa says. “Jen’s work leans heavily on the role of women in Icelandic history and folklore and an engagement in their rich textile tradition. My landscape and portrait photography is augmented with vague Icelandic and English phrases to hopefully give it some meaningful context—place it in a story, like a myth or some bit of history, or even just evoke some specific emotion.”

While the exhibit in Bellingham will be similar to the one the dynamic duo hosted in Iceland in the days before they left, the show has morphed a bit since then—partly because it wasn’t feasible to bring each and every piece of art they made there home with them, but also because they wanted to take some time between the exhibits for revision, and to let their ideas and feelings about the country develop.

“Our experience easily surpassed all of my expectations,” Dranttel says. “The people who organized the residency were so sweet and open and really took us into their lives and their homes, which was a gift we weren’t anticipating. We got to witness real, everyday life in Iceland. We went to dinners at people’s houses, listened to them chant ancient poetry, held their children, ranted with them about American politics over homemade cakes and watched football with them on TV.” 

Whatever stories Dranttel and Canepa choose to share at the opening-night reception, both are clear that it’s difficult to describe, in words, how it felt to actually be in Iceland—although their blog does a pretty good job of giving day-by-day reports that are funny, touching and informative. Words such as “otherworldly” and “vast” make appearances, but, from the sounds of it, it’s a place that needs to be seen to be believed.

For example, at one point in the blog, Canepa describes Asbyrgi Canyon as the most beautiful place he’d ever seen. But regardless of its charms, attendees at “NORTH/ NORÐUR” won’t get a glimpse of it at the exhibit.

“It was one of the only chances I’d gotten on the trip to wander off by myself for a while, and I am sure that my feelings about it had a lot to do with the lack of distraction and the amount of time I got to take it in,” Canepa says. “Not surprisingly, I didn’t get one photo of it that did it justice. So even though I maintain that I’ve never seen a more beautiful place, no one who comes to the show will see it. Guess you’ll have to go there.”

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