My year as Visual & Performing Artist in Residence at Lady Margaret Hall is drawing to a close, and this month the building was transformed by the appearance of Icelandic snowscapes: my new work, Vantar | Missing. Rather than turning one of the grand function rooms into a conventional exhibition space, Vantar | Missing was installed in the winding corridors at the heart of the college, which corresponded to the zigzag paths of the avalanche defences featured in the work.
The avalanche is a subject that has haunted me since I first spent time in Iceland in 2012. Avalanches caused 198 deaths in Iceland during the twentieth century, but it was not until 1999 that avalanche defences were built around Siglufjörður, the small town at the northernmost tip of the island where I was living. Now, these subtle feats of engineering Stóri-boli (Big bull) and Litli-boli (Little bull) have become part of the mountain landscape, a barely perceptible human intervention dividing the town’s remaining inhabitants from the wilderness.
This project has led to the publication of a new book and a print series, in which diptychs record changes in mountain snow cover and domestic interiors. The Icelandic word ‘vantar’ refers both to a lost object or person and to the experience of loss. People lost in the mountains are a frequent trope of Icelandic literature, from the sagas to contemporary crime fiction. I wanted to consider this theme from the angle of the people left behind.