How Bow Seat Alumna Ely German’s DANDA Murals in Iceland Came to BeSeptember 21, 2021
By Ely German
When I found DANDA, it was 3 a.m., and the sun still lit up the sky. I could see the wind brushing the long grass-covered hill from my desk in the studio. Going outside for a break was an offer I couldn’t pass.
I walked up a dandelion-sprinkled hill that ended in a small cliff looking out over the Iceland Sea. There, I took my shoes off and let the wind-brushed long grass surround me.
My toes went numb and the tips of my ears followed. I reacted to this by taking my hands out of my pockets and placing them on my ears, and then I took them off and on, and off and on, and off. This repetition made me notice the lack of noise and presence of sound. Birds, waves, and wind sang together with no other.
Before I left this entrancing spot I gathered a bouquet of dandelions with the most vibrant yellow and wide stems Ive ever seen. Intuitively, I placed the flowers on a long piece of paper. My eyes were glued to them as little bugs crawled out of the petals and into the space. With no intention, I arranged the dandelions into different patterns. Eventually, they came into an asterisk-like formation on one of the extremes of the long paper. Without hesitation, I drew the figure of a body attached to this cluster of yellow.
Today, when I think of this moment my heart softens because it is the moment I found DANDA.
During the month of June, I was fortunate to travel to Iceland for a NES Artist Residency program with the support of Bow Seat. As an Ocean Awareness Contest alumna, current alumna judge, and friend of the Bow Seat community, I wanted to integrate Bow Seat artwork in my experience. Transporting and amplifying student voices by featuring Bow Seat artwork, I created a two-part mural in the small fishing town of Skagaströnd accompanied by the beautiful Icelandic landscape.
The two-part mural features DANDA, a character born out of my love of the dandelions in Skagaströnd and the wish to connect with the land. In part one, DANDA stands with a raincoat on. In part two, DANDA sits bare skinned.
The two parts show the flexibility of the weather in Iceland and the permanent visibility of the radiating sun.
Part one highlights the ease with which the people in the town allow time to flow. Part two highlights the connection to the land palpable in Skagaströnd. The murals are each on walls that face each other and stand 10 steps away from one another.
Part one lives in front of the ocean on a strange structure, which is a bit of an eye sore and stands alone seemingly with no purpose. When I asked about it, I learned that it was originally storage for trash bins. Somehow design-wise it was unable to fulfill its purpose, so it became trash itself. In response, the town’s maintenance guy moved it where it is today. The mayor of Skagaströnd suggested jokingly that it was a waiting spot for bus pickups (in a tiny town there is no need for that). People now know it as the spot you go to wait. If you ask, “Wait for what?” the response is, “For time to pass.”
I have lived in large cities my whole life. Somehow, in cities it is practice to waste everything but time. In Skagaströnd it seems like nothing could ever be wasted (there are five recycling bins) except for time. I admire how Icelanders allow time to gracefully flow by them like the clouds that glide around the mountains.
Part two lives on the wall by the entrance of the NES Artist Residency. The design connects itself with the real landscape, where the mountain on the mural ends and the real mountain on the land begins.
While in Iceland, I continuously reflected on the lack of connection I had to the land. I admired how the shore of Skagaströnd connected to the ocean, which connected to the land, which, in turn, connected every being. The relationship between elements in the environment felt magical to me, and I wanted to represent that in this mural. Continuing the edge of the mountain on the wall to connect the artwork with the landscape was a way for me to honor the inter-relatedness of my surroundings.
Throughout the process of designing these murals I referenced Bow Seat student artwork and drew inspiration from their voices. My backpack was full of creativity and energy from the student artwork awarded by Bow Seat. I was inspired to interpret and amplify Chelsea Tang’s stunning mountain designs and Rachel Oh’s emotional yellow rain coat design. I would recommend any artist looking for inspiration to surf the Bow Seat gallery. It was a joy and an honor to engage with their 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 more about her residency here, learn about Icelanders’ deep connection to the ocean here, and explore her photo essay here.