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Iceland Writings

by Roni Horn

Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-691-20814-5
Publisher: Princeton Univ.

An American visual artist collects her writing from four decades of sojourns to Iceland.

Horn first traveled to Iceland in 1975 at age 19, and she has been drawn to the island ever since, as reflected in this combination of poetry, short essays, oral histories, architectural reviews, and environmental jeremiads. In the book’s first section, featuring pieces published in the 1990s, the author writes about what has kept her coming back: wild weather, uninterrupted horizons, and solitude—a holiday from “the friction of seeing and knowing.” Traveling by motorcycle, she camped in outbuildings and lighthouses, and she notes how Iceland’s lack of violence, reptiles, and large mammals was liberating for a traveling single woman. “Relief from fear is freedom,” she writes. Horn trains her artist’s eye on the country’s fantastic volcanic landscapes, black beaches and white surf, and hot springs found in every corner of the island. Sensually arresting, these passages are solitary meditations in an empty landscape; at times, readers long for someone else to show up. In the second section, the author offers a series of oral histories about the weather. These short installments, three pages at the most, are eloquent descriptions from ordinary people, testaments to the intricate dance between the islanders and their wild weather conditions: obliterating blizzards, relentless wind, and even incidents of freezing and drowning. A government commissioner calmly reports seeing spirits on his long walks through the lava fields, and older citizens express a generalized unease about climate change. The final sections feel padded: reprints of Horn’s environmental opinion pieces and meditations on specific island locations accompanied by images of previously published photographs that fail to illuminate the place. The first sections of the book will stoke the desire for a more in-depth study of Iceland; the others will interest veteran Iceland-watchers.

A sometimes vivid yet uneven portrait of an artist’s many years traveling to and observing Iceland.