March 16th Presentation at UVA

LANDSCAPES OF POWER Embedded in Iceland (ers)
Howland Fellowship Presentation: March 16th, 12:30, Rm. 325, UVA.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING- in person or on the blog!

Images from the presentation:

 

INTRO+MAPS:

THE BENJAMIN C. HOWLAND TRAVELING FELLOWSHIP provided the incredible opportunity to pursue research and in-situ investigations on the topic of geothermal ‘landscapes of power’ in Iceland. This work is by no means complete. The research, experiences, and thinking generated by this fellowship were transformative and will continue to contribute to and inspire my future work and life.

DEFINITION: Originally I defined landscapes of power as both landscapes that physically transport power, as well as landscapes that derive power from a community’s social, political or economic structure. The duality in this definition was both intentional and important in working to understand the narrative within which this powerful landscape exists. After immersing myself in ‘landscapes of power’ it became clear to me that I must expand this definition to include, landscapes which exude and impress power.

WHY ICELAND: On a global scale Iceland is a ‘hot spot’ on a ‘hot seam’. Seven primary plates create the underlying tectonic jigsaw puzzle of the earth. These plates are in constant motion, the edges of these plates, where they move against each other- rubbing shoulders- create an incredibly dynamic seam of intense geologic activity. Iceland lies astride one of these major fault lines where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are diverging. Along this tectonic joint, the bowls of the earth rise to the surface and put on a magnificent show, revealing an astonishing presence, power, and impact. As one of the only habitable moments along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, with a strong history and culture in utilizing and living with its geologically exceptional characteristics, Iceland was THE place to study.

IDENTITY: The sublime and raw geothermal environments of Iceland are overwhelmingly affecting. The impressions left by this extreme landscape deeply infuse all senses and elicit a new-found respect and awareness of the Earth and its dynamic qualities. It became apparent that a terrain/country/people embedded in, and emerging from, a place of such highly perceptible geologic flux induces a tremendous respect for the land and nature from which it is derived. In this line of thinking, personal, national, and global identity became an essential factor in informing this exploration on landscapes of power.

EVERYWHERE: Iceland’s dynamic ground, its associated infrastructure, places, communities, culture and identity is apparent across a large range of scales. Eloquently nested from one scale to the next, this deeply rooted geologic activity creates a powerfully rich, strikingly unique and extremely complex environment. From the international context to the material joint ‘landscapes of power’ is essential to, and embedded in: ICELAND(ers).

THANK YOU: This work would not have been possible without the great kindness and assistance of MANY people. In particular I would like to call attention to some of those who were most influential.

Howland Family

Nancy Takahashi
Bill Sherman
Roxie Thoren
Jóhannes Þórðarson
Sigrún Birgisdóttir
Kristín Þorleifsdóttir
Halldór Eiriksson
Andri Snær Magnason
Oddur Hermannsson

There are SO many more people who helped make this the incredible journey that it was, THANK YOU ALL!!!

ÞHINGVELLIER- PLATES DIVERGE:

Þingvellir is THE place which epitomizes the history of Icelandic people and the Icelandic Nation, exemplifying the remarkable connection Iceland has had, and continues to have, with the active geologic rifting of continental plates. At Þingvellir the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates break apart, one of only two places on Earth where this is visible, creating a massive rift valley. This stunningly impressive graben (rift valley) lies between the Almannagjá and Heiðargjá faults spanning almost 4.5 miles in width.

Iceland’s first parliament, Alþingi, amazingly, commenced at this very site, where these two major land masses/plates are actively separating and the Öxará river flows into the largest natural lake in the country, Þingvallavatn. Every summer from 930 A.D. to 1798 A.D. Icelandic people, including all the Chieftains, would journey a few days, or a few weeks, to Þingvellir, for the two-week national assembly and festivital. Choosing this momentous rift valley as their convergence point demonstrates Icelander’s strong ties, respect for, and understanding of this uniquely dynamic ground from the beginning of their history. Here they discussed issues of national politics and law, making important decisions that would shape Icelandic society.

Not only were celebrations held at Þingvellir in the early stages of Icelandic society, but large gatherings and festivities continue to this day. In 1928 Þingvellir became the country’s first National Park, reserving for eternity this spectacularly important rift valley as a place to celebrate Iceland’s geology, culture, and heritage. In 2004 Þingvellir National Park was also added to UNESCO’S World Heritage List for its “outstanding universal value.” This park continues to be an important social venue for national celebrations and serves as a remarkable context/landscape to recall their people, land, and culture.

Entering the massive rift valley, the passage cools and becomes a tight downward slope between the 130’ tall, towering basalt walls of the Almannagjá rift, creating an incredibly powerful experience. These enormous basalt walls visually confine the view and focuses attention on the detail, feel, and environment created between these natural rock walls (continents splitting!). After a few hundred feet the eastern wall descends into the ground and an expansive view of the Öxará and its tributaries flowing toward Þingvallavatn prevail. As this panoramic view of the rift valley opens up the parliament site and significant historical aspects are revealed. For example, the Lögberg (Law Rock), a natural rock platform, which was the focal point of the commonwealth assembly, has signs as well as an Icelandic flag flying above to mark its location. Along the path markers indicate remnant foundations from past festival booths/dwellings which were temporary constructions made for the two week assembly camping period. These remnants with the past historical story that is unveiled, along with the incredible natural geologically stunning and active condition of this site leave a sense of wonder and amazement.

It was impossible not to consider my own size and age in comparison to this enormous, phenomenal, growing landscape – I felt solemnly humbled.

(I have changed some of the photographs from my original presentation. A few of the images I used were taken by  Mats Vibe Lund who gave me permission to use his impressive aerial photographs for my print presentation.)

HVERAGERÐI- GEOTHERMAL TOWN FORM:

Typical of Iceland’s communities, Hveragerði is an example of a town which grew up, around, and from geothermal hot springs. Positioned atop an old volcanic magma chamber in a 5,000 year old lava field, Hveragerði lies along the dynamic geologic seam of the country in geothermally volatile ground creating a unique history, culture, form and identity.

Centrally situated, a raw geothermal/hot spring area create the compelling heart of the town. The river Varmá forms the warm liquid spine of the town. These two geothermal elements are essential to the connective tissue and driving forces of this municipality.

This geothermal ground at the center of town has become a geothermal park, “Hveragerði’s most precious gem,” and has, over time become consolidated, contained and protected. A deadly incident in 1906 when a traveler fell into one of these hot springs during a storm resulted in the addition of electric lights, making Hveragerði the first countryside area to have electric lights (powered by hydroelectricity, from the river Varmá). Another incident in the 1970’s, when a local boy lost his life to the hot springs, prompted the town to establish a fence around the park’s perimeter. Bursts of steam and vapors attract attention from miles away as the ground loudly and excitingly exhibits its powerful presence. Signs name each sputtering hole or fissure and describe associated historic events, from the bacterial genus that lies within to traditions such as cooking hverabrauð (hot springs bread) in a particular hot hole. Remnant rusty pipes and enormous fittings demonstrate past technological experiments. Opportunities exist to boil an egg in the geothermal waters/steam or experience submerging your feet, hands, or face in a natural volcanic clay/mud bath.

The Varmá (warm river) winds its way along the eastern edge of the town. Flowing from the Astaðajfall, Kloarjfall,and Reykjafjall mountains, channeled into the Reykjadalur (steamy valley) and through Hveragerði this waterway attracted the town’s first industrial factories and farms. Hveragerði’s industrial seeds were sown in the early 1900’s with a wool factory and milk pasteurizing plant along the banks of this warm water corridor. The Varmá also drove the country’s first hydro power plant which powered the original street lights. Traces of these old sites remain along the river, left to be explored today. Currently the Agricultural University, Laugaskarði the community swimming pool, and the HNLFI health clinic aggregate along the Varmá. Hiking paths and horse trails also exist along this warm river, connecting Hveragerði to the Reykjadalur environment and extending as far as the Nesjavellir power station and Þingvellir National Park.

In Iceland, “the pool became the center for everyday gathering…the daily meeting place…one of the most frequented locations for social get-togethers.” The pool is an essential component in an Icelandic community; the culture goes as far as suggesting that without a pool, there is no town. Hveragerði is extremely proud of its pool Laugaskarði which opened in 1938, and at that time was the largest swimming pool in the country.

Hveragerði is also renowned for its thriving commercial greenhouses providing fresh produce to Reykjavík, neighboring towns, and its own community. In the most recent master plan space has been allocated for industrial greenhouses directly adjacent to the major national highway, as a method to “showcase” the important horticultural aspect of the town.

GEOTHERMAL POWER STATIONS:

Iceland’s five geothermal power stations are not only, technologically impressive nodes of extraction, but also sublime reminders of the unique geological forces that continually shape the land, culture, and economy of the nation, directly influencing the personal and national identities of its citizens.

The large scale and high visibility of Iceland’s geothermal infrastructure provides inhabitants and visitors alike with both a visual and tangible connection to the country’s dynamic nature, powerful landscape, and highly impressive infrastructure, and leaves an incredibly lasting impression in one’s consciousness. Massive, cathedral-like structures are linked to extensive systems of vast, hissing, metallic arterial pipes which reach deep into the earth, accessing, harnessing, and then distributing this resource to all of Iceland. It is important to note, however, that these stations are not simply highly advanced and functional structures, but also integral parts of the community – hosting events such as gallery openings, stargazing at planetariums, offering hiking opportunities along groomed trails, all in addition to informational tours.

Each power station is situated along the active volcanic zone above the most promising locations for extracting the earth’s energy. Years of research, study and dedication have lead to these complex and thoughtfully positioned structures and their carefully constructed connective counterparts. These geothermal power stations, along with hydropower stations create the massive country-wide electricity circuit. This massive energy loop connects and distributes power to the entire nation. Iceland is very proud to be a world leader in renewable energy; nearly 100% of its electricity is produced from indigenous renewable resources. Even when energy consumption is considered on a broader scale, Iceland’s energy can almost always be connected to its own land, 85% of primary energy in Iceland is derived from local renewable sources (63% geothermal, 22% hydropower.) When you switch on a light in Reykjavík its glow is produced by either a geothermal power station or a hydroelectric power station. One of two types of electricity is in use, but always, WATER is the driving factor that illuminates the room! This direct connection to a tangible element places the dynamic ground and landscape from which it is derived into the mind of its user.

Currently the powerful energy riches and associated landscape of the nation are of great political controversy. Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation (the number one best-selling book in Iceland in 2006) is a powerful novel on this political controversy. Author Andri Snær Magnason poignantly describes his entrance to the Nesjavellir geothermal plant. “ The road runs straight and flat with, running alongside it dead straight lines, electricity pylons and hot-water pipelines like an umbilical cord reaching out from the belly of the earth to feed the city. The clouds of steam that hang over the place give it an aura of mystery, something powerful and majestic…It is a wonderful construction, like a cathedral to energy…and I find it all indescribably beautiful…But does it mean I therefore have to give my unqualified support of every new power station anyone proposes to build? Magnason raises heated questions about the Icelandic government’s energy position and potential ‘energy exploitation’ with insightfully provocative local and world observations. His senses are attuned to and resonate with the significance and power of the unique Icelandic ground. Along with his creative thinking and solutions he brings into the equation hard statistical figures, such as, “Of the twenty high-temperature geothermal areas in Iceland, sixteen have already been damaged by drilling and road building, the laying of pipes and power lines, power stations and overflow lakes, most of it solely to serve the demands of the aluminum industry.”

While the power of these landscapes affects every person in Iceland, it does so in a uniquely individual manner and is often the source of great controversy.

SENSORY EXPERIENCES RESONATE:

The sublime and powerful landscape of Iceland is embedded in the minds of Icelanders through multiple sensory experiences; it has become a part of every person and every individual’s thinking, integral to their design language, their culture, their story and their collective identity.

Not only is this raw, intense, and geothermally active landscape one of incredible scenery, it actively challenges one’s sense of scale, sense of place within a greater context, as well as familiar established relationships with the ground. It explodes and hisses, continually conveying its dangerous presence. It leaves your nostrils tingling with sulfur, your body saturated with steam, intense heat emanating around and through you, and even a strangely acidic taste on your tongue. These sensory experiences aid in embedding both an image and perception of this geothermal landscape, and for many, lead to an immense respect and awe for this powerful environment.

Before the technology existed to safely harvest the ground’s energy, geothermal areas were perceived as both a nuisance and hazard. However, its many positive aspects were recognized and often became the essential component of a community- serving as the focal and gathering point for early Icelandic societies. Today, the perception of geothermal ground has evolved to that of treasure; the geothermal landscape and the energy derived from it are: Iceland’s national jewels.

Icelandic unique landscape and its thermally heated water infiltrate ALL of the senses and direct attention to and awareness of this dynamic landscape. A ‘geothermally activated’ sense of place is created, whether drawing together communities and towns, creating therapeutic pools and spas, illuminating the country, powering geothermal greenhouses, or providing the hot water used in the shower every morning.

Making the connections between energy and the tangible conductive element- water, was transformative. It stimulated an inquiry into the vast web of connections that exist between a number of highly stimulating experiences and the incredible Iceland geothermal landscape. This tangible and recognized connection between source and energy, and conveyance prompted a major shift in perspective from my energy use experiences in the United States. Before venturing to Iceland, when I flipped a switch in Maine, no landscape entered my mind. In fact, how and where this energy originated and was derived from was a source of great confusion, if and when these thoughts arose at all. Was this energy being produced from coal, petroleum, natural gas, wind, solar, tides, or geothermal resources? Was it sourced from my home state, my home nation, or from somewhere across the globe? Iceland’s local and renewably sourced energy provoked extremely different thinking and connections as I used the country’s power I became incredibly mindful of how closely linked Iceland’s energy was to the landscapes and ground I experienced on a daily basis.

This attention to the landscape and deep-seated regard for the power it generates permeates everyday consciousness. It is also a constant, and often heated, point of conversation for locals as well as political figures as they determine how to direct and shape the country’s future. There is simply no escaping landscapes of power.

Making the connections between energy and the tangible conductive element- water, was transformative. It stimulated an inquiry into the vast web of connections that exist between a number of highly stimulating experiences and the incredible Iceland geothermal landscape. This tangible and recognized connection between source and energy, and conveyance prompted a major shift in perspective from my energy use experiences in the United States. Before venturing to Iceland, when I flipped a switch in Maine, no landscape entered my mind. In fact, how and where this energy originated and was derived from was a source of great confusion, if and when these thoughts arose at all. Was this energy being produced from coal, petroleum, natural gas, wind, solar, tides, or geothermal resources? Was it sourced from my home state, my home nation, or from somewhere across the globe? Iceland’s local and renewably sourced energy provoked extremely different thinking and connections as I used the country’s power I became incredibly mindful of how closely linked Iceland’s energy was to the landscapes and ground I experienced on a daily basis.

This attention to the landscape and deep-seated regard for the power it generates permeates everyday consciousness. It is also a constant, and often heated, point of conversation for locals as well as political figures as they determine how to direct and shape the country’s future. There is simply no escaping landscapes of power.

Making the connections between energy and the tangible conductive element- water, was transformative. It stimulated an inquiry into the vast web of connections that exist between a number of highly stimulating experiences and the incredible Iceland geothermal landscape. This tangible and recognized connection between source and energy, and conveyance prompted a major shift in perspective from my energy use experiences in the United States. Before venturing to Iceland, when I flipped a switch in Maine, no landscape entered my mind. In fact, how and where this energy originated and was derived from was a source of great confusion, if and when these thoughts arose at all. Was this energy being produced from coal, petroleum, natural gas, wind, solar, tides, or geothermal resources? Was it sourced from my home state, my home nation, or from somewhere across the globe? Iceland’s local and renewably sourced energy provoked extremely different thinking and connections as I used the country’s power I became incredibly mindful of how closely linked Iceland’s energy was to the landscapes and ground I experienced on a daily basis.

This attention to the landscape and deep-seated regard for the power it generates permeates everyday consciousness. It is also a constant, and often heated, point of conversation for locals as well as political figures as they determine how to direct and shape the country’s future. There is simply no escaping landscapes of power.

Making the connections between energy and the tangible conductive element- water, was transformative. It stimulated an inquiry into the vast web of connections that exist between a number of highly stimulating experiences and the incredible Iceland geothermal landscape. This tangible and recognized connection between source and energy, and conveyance prompted a major shift in perspective from my energy use experiences in the United States. Before venturing to Iceland, when I flipped a switch in Maine, no landscape entered my mind. In fact, how and where this energy originated and was derived from was a source of great confusion, if and when these thoughts arose at all. Was this energy being produced from coal, petroleum, natural gas, wind, solar, tides, or geothermal resources? Was it sourced from my home state, my home nation, or from somewhere across the globe? Iceland’s local and renewably sourced energy provoked extremely different thinking and connections as I used the country’s power I became incredibly mindful of how closely linked Iceland’s energy was to the landscapes and ground I experienced on a daily basis.

This attention to the landscape and deep-seated regard for the power it generates permeates everyday consciousness. It is also a constant, and often heated, point of conversation for locals as well as political figures as they determine how to direct and shape the country’s future. There is simply no escaping landscapes of power.

Making the connections between energy and the tangible conductive element- water, was transformative. It stimulated an inquiry into the vast web of connections that exist between a number of highly stimulating experiences and the incredible Iceland geothermal landscape. This tangible and recognized connection between source and energy, and conveyance prompted a major shift in perspective from my energy use experiences in the United States. Before venturing to Iceland, when I flipped a switch in Maine, no landscape entered my mind. In fact, how and where this energy originated and was derived from was a source of great confusion, if and when these thoughts arose at all. Was this energy being produced from coal, petroleum, natural gas, wind, solar, tides, or geothermal resources? Was it sourced from my home state, my home nation, or from somewhere across the globe? Iceland’s local and renewably sourced energy provoked extremely different thinking and connections as I used the country’s power I became incredibly mindful of how closely linked Iceland’s energy was to the landscapes and ground I experienced on a daily basis.

This attention to the landscape and deep-seated regard for the power it generates permeates everyday consciousness. It is also a constant, and often heated, point of conversation for locals as well as political figures as they determine how to direct and shape the country’s future. THERE IS SIMPLY NO ESCAPING LANDSCAPES OF POWER.

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