thinking up a public art project

i am going to iceland next year for an art residency.  it will be for a month, in the small fishing village of olafsfjordur, in north iceland. i talk about the planning of that here.  in this post i will discuss some ideas for a public art project that i hope the city planners and townspeople will find interesting.  and i hope for some response to my ideas, so that i can work in cooperation with the people who live there, in order that they can have something they will like.

i’ve done some public art before.  several years ago i got to paint and embellish several fibreglass turtles for a local fundraiser, and a few years ago i got to paint and embellish several fibreglass dolphins for another fundraiser.  i have also volunteered on several civic mural projects, supervising and directing kids and adults in painting murals.  also, i have designed several public and private gardens following the principles of the golden mean.

i am not interested in doing sculpture for this project, because i don’t have the means to arrange for life-sized fibreglass sculptures to make their way to iceland, so i’ll scrap that idea right away.  but i can work with both paint and seeds, so let me see what kind of ideas i can sketch out in this post.

things about the town to consider:

northern iceland gets very cold, windy, and snowy coastal weather for 6 months of the year, and in the summer (the other 6 months) it rarely goes above 20C (around 70F).  so any outdoor projects will have to conform to these constraints.

the island in general has an erosion problem, and they have various reforestation programs in the country.  maybe i can do something in line with their larger goals.

the people of olafsfjordur and siglufjordur were formerly very isolated until various roads and tunnels were built, and only in the last several years have the two most northern towns joined into one unit, called fjallabyygd, which means mountain town, kind of.  they’ve got a nice municipal emblem which would make a good image to use.  i particularly like the emblem on the left.  it’s very complicated, and must have lots of meanings.  it would make a great mural (or t-shirt. or tie.).


in these changing times, the people of Fjallabyggð no longer rely solely on fishing for their living.  tourism is important, skiing and hiking, whale watching.  there is probably some knowledge-based economy in the town, but i don’t know about it.  and there is a growing arts scene in this part of the world.  both siglufjordur and olafsfjordur have art residency programs, and there are several festivals thru the year.  at the moment of writing, there is an art project involving a very large mural stretching over the main warehouses on the docks.  it might well be that in years to come this part of iceland will be very important in the worldwide arts community.  which brings me to the webcam.

olafs has a very nice webcam that scans the whole town and the breathtakingly beautiful countryside around the town.  i have been watching the webcam daily ever since i decided to go on a residency there, and i have seen the snow melt and the daylight stretch longer and longer every day.  i have come to love the town thru their webcam.  the people of olafsfjordur probably aren’t very aware that i am watching, and they probably don’t think of their town as something to watch from afar.  but for me, watching them, i would love to see some sign that they are watching back.  i would love to see some public art that addresses the webcam directly; some sign to the rest of the world.

finally, there is in iceland an appreciation for the wee folk that they share with the people of ireland.  there are still fairies in ireland and iceland, where people are sensible enough to believe in them.  i have no trouble believing in them; i have a harrowing story of being chased one night thru the barrows and mounds of the boyne valley, and have since learned a few methods of retrieving items the house fairies have borrowed.  it seems to me that it would be good public art to do something for, and maybe with, the fairies.  if they like.

so, out of this musing comes several ideas.

1. a wall mural of some sort.

2. planting of some sort.

which is pretty vague.  so let’s do some narrowing down.

the first thing that comes to mind about a mural is that there are new paints to use, experimental paints.  some that turn colors at different ambient temperatures.  so, for instance, we could do a painting on a wall with a layer of special paint on top of it.

– say, the outline of the mountains in black and white, with the special paint (that is only visible when the weather is warm) showing the grass and flowers and trees that come out in the valley in summer.

– or a mural showing the path of the sun thru the year, a painted sundial of some kind, with all sorts of hidden figures becoming visible in the warm weather.

– or we could paint the emblem of fjallabyggd on a wall.  with or without special paint.  facing toward or away from the webcam.

if a planting is desired, there are many things we could do.

– we could design a small planting that could be seen from adalgata, on the way thru town.  a typical raised bed of flowers in a pretty design, several meters square.

– or, and more to my idea, we could take a field that is not used for anything else, and put down seeds that would come up in a giant pattern of flowers that you could see on the webcam.

– we could put a troll’s footprints in a field, in wildflowers.  i like the idea, but it might not please the trolls.

– or we could plant wildflowers around the tunnel openings.  or imagine a town emblem large enough to see on google earth.

i might like to do some kind of project with fairy gardens

– one idea is to give wildflower seeds to people who live in the town, and they could plant them in a spot in their yards that fairies might like to visit.

– another idea would be to go around town and plant fairy gardens in odd places.

i lean toward wanting to do a planting, rather than painting.  they both have their issues – it’s a harsh environment for an outdoor mural, and it’s probably quite difficult to establish plants in this environment.  but i think the land needs plants more than the walls need paint.

if done right, and with luck, it might be possible to establish a wildflower area with perennials and self-seeding annuals, and if tended just right in the following years, this area could be growing woody perennials and bushes, which would then, twenty years from now, shelter trees.

this would need an area with the right attributes for a wildflower field, not being used for something else, not too salty, not too steep, etc.  then we’d need to get a lot of seeds, which we could get from europe without too much trouble.  above all, we would need the help of an expert in growing things in iceland, and i’ve sent preliminary emails to several people who might be interested.

so, for ideas:

– large-scale wildflower planting in a field

– small scale wildflower planting along the main road in town

– tiny fairy gardens scattered thru the town

– wall mural – a clever design using thermo paint

– wall mural – welcome to fjallabyggd

i would like to share these with the town planners to see what they think of these ideas.


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