In May 2015, the first-ever Saga Fest music and arts festival brought artists and other creative individuals from around the world to gather at Stokkseyrarsel farm in Iceland. The festival was initiated by Scott Shigeoka, whom I had the pleasure to meet briefly already during my previous visit to Iceland. Having followed the shaping of this festival, I was interested in going there and seeing by myself how such a bold endeavor would come to life. Finally, when I heard about the artist residency connected to the festival, I decided that this would the best way for me to participate in Saga Fest. The residency was a one-week experience for a group of 11 artists from six different countries. The artists-in-residence created original works of art around the Saga Fest themes of vulnerability, sustainability, community and transformation. As a group, they held a workshop for elementary and junior high school students from the Árborg region.
Following the themes of Saga Fest, we were introduced to Valgerður H. Bjarnadóttir, a storyteller, vision woman, writer and social worker. She gave us a wonderful introduction to the famous Sagas of the Icelanders. Her presentation was enriched by a historical perspective and her experiences and knowledge from other cultures. Later on she invited us to a shamanic workshop. Even though Bjarnadóttir doesn't consider herself a shaman, she uses traditional methods (such as ritualistic objects) in order to create a special atmosphere for the participants. My experience of the workshop was close to meditation, but I believe many in our group might have had a different experience.
This is how Bjarnadóttir describes her relationship to the past and present: "I have been nurtured with the stories and dreams of that (Icelandic) soil, the language of the völva as well as the stories, language and “food” of our patriarchal, scientific, materialistic, analytic, western, international culture. My way of approaching life is necessarily influenced by the paradox of those conflicting parts of me." She has also reflected on her gender identity in a powerful way: "I am a woman. My method of working with information is to gather it into the creative space of my womb, along with the seed of inspiration, carry it and nurture it consciously and unconsciously until it is ready to be born, woven in words and images, movements and magic."
A valuable insight into the reality of living as an artist in Iceland was provided by visual artist and painter Hallur Karl Hinriksson. His story showed the importance of having both international connections and the ability to communicate and create a relationship with the local community.
Saga Fest was all about community building, and many of the people taking part were also literally building everything from the dome-shaped stages to these imaginative on-site wooden sculptures. It was inspiring to see especially so many young people working together to create this unique experience. The weather conditions made everything slightly more challenging. Before and during the festival we experienced dramatic shifts from clear skies to rain, snow and a wind that could be described only by the word epic.
I am happy that I took part in this experience. I met many inspiring people from around the world, performance artists, storytellers, musicians, puppeteers, you name it. Many of these people are also active in their communities, working with young people, elderly people etc. Being in Iceland always seems to get my creative juices flowing too. This time the result of that will be a music piece combined with some natural sounds. The artist residency experience as a whole was more about networking and getting to know the other artists as well as many other people interested in the themes presented at Saga Fest. I was quite surprised how easily and fast a community can be build through shared experiences and especially lots of shared laughter.