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SÍM Residence in Reykjavík. Photo: SÍM

Artist Residencies in Iceland 0

Linda Ruciņa, emerging artist from Brooklyn

No doubt, Iceland is one of the most beautiful and geologically interesting places on earth. The perfect place for any creative person to get inspired, also Iceland holds quite few impressive residency programs for artists working in different disciplines. If I had to pick a residency and location to break away from daily routine and work on my art it would be Iceland, no second thoughts! I have heard so many amazing and inspiring stories from my friends who have had the great opportunity to do so.

Residency – what is that?

Artist residencies are organizations offering artists substantial opportunities to develop their art practice further and the ability to network with other artists, writers, performers, etc. In short, residencies provide studios, and depending on the funding they have, they might sponsor the artists stay. Some residencies will give the artist a chance to pay part or all the cost of it by offering a teaching position or involvement for community that surrounds the residency, for example host a crafts, design, arts workshop on weekends for children living in the area.  The length of the residency can be discussed with the organization, but it usually varies from one month to three months, and the residencies you find most inspiring you can always return to. With most of the residencies, artists will be responsible for their own travel, food, and personal expenses. However, residencies are opportunities for artists to travel and get inspired from other environments, also it is a great way to learn new techniques from other artists. 

To participate in one, first of all, choose a residency (great websites to research that I find the most helpful are and, follow their application process, which for most part will ask images of your work, artist CV/Resume and a brief proposal of the project you will work on during your stay at the chosen residency. It is always very helpful to include a link to your website, however that is not mandatory. Some residencies will charge an application fee, this is very common.

Residencies in Iceland

SIM residency located in Reykjavik is one of the most popular in Iceland, but there are many more other exciting residencies, for example, The Textile Centre Residency in Blönduós for textile field of art and design, it collaborates with Neslist Artist Residency in Skagaströnd. Many others such as Herhúsid in Siglufjördur and Gullkistan, Residency For Creative People located near the village of Laugarvatn, welcomes all artists working within various disciplines and all of them have amazing and motivating views of Icelandic landscapes.

To gain more detailed information about the residencies in Iceland, I was very excited to ask few questions to very talented and diverse artists that have participated in SIM, Reykjavik, an international residency run by the Association of Icelandic Visual Artists. Andrew Zarou Brooklyn based artist, whose work is two dimensional and he works mostly with paper, spray paint and found objects, participated in the residency in 2008. Sigbjørn Bratlie, Norway, installation, painting, video and performance, took part in the residency twice, first time in February 2007 and second time in January through February 2011. Fiona Kelly, Ireland, usually all her art pieces start with a drawing then emerges to whatever medium fits best and her work is process based, partook in SIM residency in February through March 2007.

SIM residency in Reykjavik: three different stories

SIM provides the artists with studio and a separate bedroom. Andrew Zarou found it more convenient to work in his living space as it was more comfortable and convenient for his process and the room was spacious enough to do so, also he admits that being able to have such a spacious working area had improved his palette.  Sigbjørn Bratlie mentions that some studios were private but some had to be shared with one or more artists. Bedroom is private so it can easily function as a studio, however there are common areas such as living room (in SIM residency it is supplied by TV) and kitchen where artists can mingle. Andrew Zarou indicated how from his experience the SIM residency was the most “hands off’ in comparison to the other ones he has visited, meaning the artists are allowed to work freely with no strict rules and unreasonable expectations. 

The landscape of Iceland is an inspiration on its own and for all of the artists it was an unforgettable and impressive part of the residency. Andrew Zarou described it as magical and unique, Fiona Kelly remembers it as absurd: beautiful and cruel at the same time. “The kitchen area has a beautiful view of the fjord outside Reykjavik, and on a clear day you can see the glacier at Snæfellsnes in the horizon”, remembers Sigbjørn Bratlie when I had asked him to describe the setting of the residency. Both Andrew Zarou and Sigbjørn Bratlie rented a car with other participants of the residency and made trips to explore more of the Icelandic landscape sights.

All of the three artists also have participated in other international residencies and intend to do so in the future. Unanimously they find residencies to be a great travel and networking experience. Sigbjørn Bratlie as the most meaningful experience recalls all the interesting artists he met with whom he still keeps in touch. He met Fiona Kelly at SIM in 2007, and when I reached out to her for this interview she immediately said that she knows another artist that would gladly share his Iceland experience with me. She considers herself very lucky to have been able to be in residency with Sigbjørn Bratlie because she was able to learn from him and she greatly respects his work. Andrew Zarou remembers that most of the participants during his stay at SIM were from Brooklyn, New York and one of them even lived just around the corner from him, which he still finds ironic, but great friendships were bonded regardless.

How to choose a residency?

There are so many residencies, so what are the criteria to choose from? For Fiona Kelly SIM residency was the first one she did right out of university and now when picking residencies she bases her search on country and locations that attracts her the most, facilities of the residency and what subsidies they offer. For Andrew Zarou the deciding factor is very similar as he chooses the locations he finds most inspiring. Sigbjørn Bratlie applies for residencies that offer financing to the artists, as he explains further: “Nordic and Baltic artists can apply for a grant through Nordic Culture Point, a grant I was lucky enough to get.” And he already has residencies lined up for this year including residencies in Finland and Estonia.

Why to do that?

Being a very big fan of residencies myself, I wanted to hear reasons why these artists participate in them.

Fiona Kelly: “These residencies are amazing opportunities, they allow you time and space to reflect and refine your work and working processes. Residencies constantly challenge you and force you to solve problem and evolve. They push the boundaries of your artistic practice.”

Sigbjørn Bratlie: “I enjoy being in different locations, I think my work benefits from being in a new and unknown environment. Very few artists can make a full-time living out of their art, so residencies that give artist the opportunity to work full-time on their art, over a period of a couple of months, are very important to artist working with conceptual, contemporary art.”

Andrew Zarou: “Each residency has its own character, it’s a new environment and great networking tool, also the ability to have unlimited studio time.”

One would still question, what it is about residencies that is so important for the practice of making art. First of all, it is the time spent and focus on your work, the development of it and direction the artwork takes upon after relentlessly spending large amount of energy physically and mentally. Fiona Kelly and Andrew Zarou both mention the confidence they gained as a person from the experience at SIM which then translated into their artwork. “It was the first major thing I had done out of university. It gave me such confidence in myself, in my work and that there were good prospects for emerging artists”, explains more to detail Fiona Kelly. Also only two weeks in she and Sigbjørn Bratlie (they participated at SIM in 2007 together) were approached by the director of the residency and offered to exhibit their work for the Reykjavik Winter Lights Festival. They agreed and it was her first time of being given such short time frame for a deadline. She created and still is very fond of The Common Trap Series. She admits to have enjoyed the pressure and learned key lessons to be certain in your skills and concept. Sigbjørn Bratlie plans out the projects he works on and he does not think residencies take his work in a new direction; however he states he did gain input about his work after many interesting discussions with all the different participants of the residency.

All three artists are looking into other residencies all over the world, but experiencing residency in Iceland has been memorable and extraordinary for all of them. Fiona Kelly has a real longing to return. Sigbjørn Bratlie recently returned to the residency in Iceland, earlier this year. Andrew Zarou also admits to be willing to visit a residency in Iceland and relive the adventure and the beautiful landscape once more.

Photos in courtesy of Andrew Zarou