The Library of Water is a long-term project that has set out to capture the spirit of Iceland through its waters, weather, and words.
Roni Horn has spent more than three decades visiting Iceland from her home in New York before setting up her permanent installation, Library of Water, or to give it its Icelandic name Vatnasafn, in the small coastal town of Stykkisholmur, three hours from Reykjavik in 2007. Housed in a building that stands on a promontory overlooking the ocean and the towns and the collections reflect Horn's intimate involvement with the singular geography, geology, climate and culture of Iceland. The piece consists of three distinct parts: One area collects reports of Icelandic weather by local people around the town of Stykkishólmur. Accenting this display is the floor of the main room which is made of rubber etched with both English and Icelandic words pertaining to the weather. The centerpiece of the site is the Library of Water which is kept in floor-to-ceiling clear cylinders.
Each of the 24 pillars standing throughout the main room is filled with water that was melted from one of Iceland’s glaciers. Some of the columns are clear, others are opaque, with traces of ancient debris drifting in them, a sign of global warming and the glaciers receding. The Library of Water has already began to serve a preservationist purpose as it contains the melt water of the Ok glacier which has since disappeared. Therefore, a lot of information about historical climate, atmospheric and geological conditions is trapped in the columns of ice from the glaciers which leaves little choice but to look at them in a preserved and catalogued form, like antiquated books in a library. Yet this did not begin as a primarily ecological/political work. The glass columns refract and reflect the light onto a rubber floor embedded with an array of words in Icelandic and English which relate to the weather - inside or outside. The sculpture installation offers a space for private reflection whilst accommodating a wide variety of community uses.
We never know the worth of water till the well is dry. Thomas Fuller
In a small side room, away from the columns, visitors can look at Roni Horn's ongoing series of books made in Iceland, as well as listen to a selection of people talking about the weather, since everyone has a story about the weather. Through 2005 and 2006, at the instigation of Horn, writer Oddny Eir Ævarsdóttir, her brother archaeologist Uggi Ævarsson and their father, radio broadcaster Ævar Kjartansson interviewed 100 Icelanders from Stykkishólmur and the surrounding area about their interactions with the weather, answering questions including "Can you recall any incident or period in your life when the weather played a major role? Does the weather have an effect on you? What kind of weather makes you feel good?" to create an active archive portraying the country where the weather is so significant in everyday life, particularly for those who either worked on the water, mainly in fishing, or had relatives who worked on the water. The different usages of language suggest that the weather is not just a matter of meteorological conditions. A number of people mention events when the weather changed dramatically and unpredictably (via wind or snow) including "The weather is like that.
The lower floor of Vatnasafn is a private writers' studio where each year writers are invited to live and work there for a period of three - six months (from May through October). The residency has hosted and funded at least one writer per year from 2007 until 2013, with two per year in 2009 and 2010. Most of the writers have been Icelandic, including prolific multi-genre authors Kristín Ómarsdóttir and Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl most recently. There have also been some highly acclaimed international writers-in-residence, including American essayist Rebecca Solnit and Canadian poet Anne Carson in 2008 and 2009, respectively. The writer-in-residence acts as a catalyst for organised readings, both of their own work and that of others: the residency at Library of Water is intended to offer not only a place for reflection but also for sharing the experience of writing. By 2014 the funding for a stipend had ended, but American architect and poet Eric Ellingsen used the free space in this year. Siouxzi Xonnor announced her writer’s residency at The Library of Water in Iceland for August 2018. She has been using the time there for concentrated research and writing for her new project on femininity and nature and its representations in several key texts and films. The focus at the Library of Water will be on the concept of ‘bodies of water’.