Discovering the Power of the Ocean Through Icelandic Culture
December 29, 2021
By Ely German

Ely is a multi-year Ocean Awareness Contest participant and alumna judge. Her NES Artist Residency in June 2021 was supported by Bow Seat, and she brought Bow Seat student art with her for inspiration.

The ocean is powerful. I knew this logically, but I truly learned this after spending over 12 hours at sea with Halldór Gunnar Ólafsson, a local Skagaströnd fisherman, in Iceland

The human body needs many tools to survive out on the water. It needs time to adapt, countless machines for navigation, and a deep understanding of the ocean as an ecosystem. Having none of these under my sleeve, I became severely ill after three hours at sea, and I stayed sick for 8 hours, barely recovering near the end of the adventure. Experiencing the effects of my disconnection from the ocean, I admired the way Halldór actively surfed the ocean. It was clear that he had navigated the sea his whole life.

Halldór’s connection to the sea was inspiring. Having been introduced to the ocean by his parents at a young age, he holds a deep respect for it. He knows the all powerful engulfing capabilities of the ocean and told me frightening stories that many would label “near death experiences,” but he seemed calm as he narrated these stressful and dangerous moments. His perspective is full of knowledge and deep understanding. Instead of catching fear, Halldór catches joy (and many fish).

This sentiment is echoed in the way of life the people of Skagaströnd lead. Everyone is deeply respectful, inspired, and knowledgeable when it comes to the sea. While I was living there for a NES artist residency, Harborthe first and only restaurant in townopened. This brought great pride to the locals, so I was very honored when the owners asked me to paint a mural on the interior. They wanted golden fish painted around the walls, and I said yes right away.

My favorite part about the process of creating the mural was seeing how much joy the fish I painted brought to the locals who saw me working. I will never forget when a man who was walking by the mural yelled with joy, “Atlantic Herring!” Many people in Skagaströnd knew the kind of fish I used for reference before I even told them. It was clear to me how much the people of Skagaströnd adore and hold such knowledge about the ocean and its beings.

To me, art is an opportunity to really consider surroundings and allow cultural influences to take over. My front row view of the close relationship between the people of Skagaströnd and the sea informed not only my understanding of Icelandic culture and the art I made during my residency, but the way I considered my environment and my creative practice as a whole. It encouraged me to explore my own connections to land and water, and to deepen them through my work.

This blog post is one of four that Bow Seat alumna Ely German wrote about her artist residency in Iceland, supported by Bow Seat. Read her previous blog post about her residency here, learn about additional murals she painted here, and explore her photo essay here.

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Discovering the Power of the Ocean Through Icelandic Culture

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