Within the converted building (originally constructed in 1950 as a small library), Horn has created a long-term installation which connects the inside to the outside and incorporates many of the Horn’s abiding concerns with weather, water, words and identities. The artist has described the place as “a lighthouse in which the viewer becomes the light”.
Where there was once a library of books, there is now a series of collections gathered by Horn and her collaborators in Iceland. These include Water, Selected, a constellation of identical floor-to-ceiling glass columns containing water originally gathered as blocks of ice from twenty-four glaciers across the country. All the glaciers have receded since the ice was collected and one of them, Ok, has now disappeared.
Horn also instigated Weather Reports You, a collection of weather reports from people living in Stykkishólmur and the Snaefelsness peninsula. This collection was published as a book in 2007 to mark the opening of Vatnasafn/Library of Water.
Vatnasafn/Library of Water was conceived by Horn to accommodate a range of community uses - meetings, concerts, weddings, chess, yoga etc. It is open to visitors through the summer months and is used by the local community throughout the year. The basement of the building, formerly used to store books, is now a studio where writers are invited to live and work. The 2020 Vatnasafn/Library of Water writer-in-residence is Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir.
Image: Roni Horn's Library of Water (2007). Photograph: Roni Horn
A constellation of 24 glass columns containing water collected from ice from some of the major glaciers around Iceland. The glass columns refract and reflect the light onto a rubber floor embedded with a field of words in Icelandic and English which relate to the weather. The sculpture installation offers a space for private reflection whilst accommodating a wide variety of community uses.
Image: Roni Horn's Library of Water (2007). Photograph: Stefan Altenburger
Weather is the prime force in Iceland and its unique characteristic as well. All movements take place by virtue of its effects. No one changes mood and personality so often. Sometimes it makes life easier for the residents and sometimes tougher, but it is everywhere a participant, and a whimsical one.
A list of words is different when read from the page and when embedded in the floor, high up on a cliff. Such a list can never be complete but I felt it was important that it should be capricious like the weather with all its harsh and gentle nuances. Some of the words I choose do not refer directly to the weather but to the conditions of the sea or air. In other cases the descriptions apply to seasonal farming conditions but hint at the weather at the same time, such as tame and bounteous. Several instances enlist poetic diction, for example frisky or playful to describe the spring breeze.
The visitor to the installation walks on a surface of disparate forces and with each step over to the next tile the weather changes. “He/she” – for the weather in Icelandic is often personified in this way – continually shifts character.
Margrét H Blöndal selected You are the Weather's Icelandic words.
Thanks to: Magnús Þór Jónsson, Sölvi Magnússon, Steinunn H. Blöndal, Guðfríður Lilja Grétarsdóttir, Oddný Eir Ævarsdóttir, Haraldur Jónsson, Trausti Jónsson and Tómas R. Einarsson
Image: The floor of Roni Horn's Library of Water showing details of words embedded into the flooring (2007). Photograph: Stefan Altenburger
I don't want to read. I don't want to write. I don't want to do anything but be here. Doing something will take me away from being here.
In May 2017, to mark the 10th anniversary of Library of Water, Roni Horn read from Weather Reports You and from two pieces of her own writing about Iceland.
Filmed by Ívar Kristján Ívarsson
I want to honour Roni, because Roni is from America, I’m going to play some really depressing American songs. Mostly made by White Christian males down South.
In May 2017, to mark the 10th anniversary of Library of Water, Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson gave a solo concert. He performed surrounded by the 24 columns of water collected from glaciers across Iceland that form Horn’s long-term project.
Filmed by Ívar Kristján Ívarsson
But that damn fog is the worst because you don’t know where you are. You can’t locate yourself in the fog. – Guðmundur Lárusson
The site of Library of Water has a particular history with regard to the weather. The first attempts to methodically record meteorological conditions in Iceland were initiated on the site of the present library, in Stykkishólmur, during the mid-19th century.
An important aspect of Library of Water involves an alternative kind of weather reporting. Horn has recorded about one hundred people from the Snaefelness region talking about the weather. These “reports” form a kind of collective portrait of Iceland, mediated by the distinctive voices and experiences of individual Icelanders.
Known collectively as Weather Reports You, the reports include descriptions, reflections, memories and stories based on specific experiences of the weather. The testimonies range from the ordinary to the remarkable, the mundane to the marvellous, the provincial to the worldly, the philosophical to the didactic. The different nuances and usages of language, along with the idioms and mannerisms of each individual, suggest that the weather is more than simply a state of the atmosphere with regard to meteorological conditions. In Horn’s words:
weather is a metaphor for the atmosphere of the world; weather is a metaphor for the atmosphere of one’s life; weather is a metaphor for the physical, metaphysical, political, social, and moral energy of a person and a place.
More than 100 reports were collected and published in a publication, Weather Reports You
The following text extract, written by Agnieszka Gratza in response to her residency, originally appeared as an online exclusive in The White Review, November 2016.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
–Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Aurora chasing is a favourite sport up in Iceland, one of the main draws for visitors. Northern Lights come in all sorts of hues, apparently, but more often than not they are a glowing green – the colour of the equally elusive meteorological phenomenon that gives its title to a lesser-known Jules Verne novel and to Eric Rohmer´s 1986 film Le Rayon Vert. The dreamy final sequence of the latter, as I recall, dilates the moment when the green flash briefly appears just as the sun sinks below the horizon, contemplated from afar by the mesmerised heroine Delphine and her newfound love, Jacques. Earlier on in the film, the troubled protagonist portrayed by Marie Larivière overhears a conversation at the beach in which Verne´s Le Rayon Vert is discussed. Whoever sees the fleeting green ray, the story goes, gains an insight into their own and other people´s thoughts and feelings. A clarity of vision.
Image: View from the Library of Water, Roni Horn, Library of Water (2007). Photograph: Roni Horn
Everyone has a story about the weather. This may be one of the only things each of us holds in common. And although it varies greatly from here to there - it is finally, one weather that we share. Small talk everywhere occasions the popular distribution of the weather. Some say talking about the weather is talking about oneself. […] In this century, as young as it is, we have merged into a single, global us; with each passing day we can watch as the weather actually becomes us. Weather Reports You is one beginning of a collective self-portrait. — Roni Horn
The weather reports included in this book were collected throughout 2005 and 2006. Reports vary in length and voice and are accompanied by snapshots taken at the time and place of each interview.
Co-published by Artangel/Steidl
Paperback / softback
Languages: English / Icelandic
140 x 205 mm
Language and writing have been a core element in Horn’s work over the past two decades. Icelandic literary culture is unique, as a predominantly oral tradition persisted until much later than in other Western cultures. It therefore seemed apt that the activity of creative writing be integral to Horn’s vision to give the library building a new life as Library of Water.
An annual writers’ residency program has been established at Library of Water. A modest but comfortable apartment and writing studio was constructed in the basement of the existing building. Writers are selected by a distinguished panel to receive funding and living space at Vatnasafn for a period of three - six months (from May through October). They may come from the fields of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or screenwriting, or from the natural sciences. The residency alternates between Iceland-based and overseas writers, and began with Icelandic author Guðrún Eva Minervudóttir in 2007.
The residency model is one that has been well developed in the United States and in Europe but until this point there were not any operational programs in Iceland. 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.
Find out more about all the writers in residence and hear some of them read what they wrote whilst in Library of Water:
The texts completed during the writers' residency at Library of Water can also be found on the dedicated blog.
Anne Carson reads her poem Cage a Swallow Can’t You But You Can’t Swallow a Cage, written with Bob Currie during their residency, in honour of Roni Horn. The music: is by Sigur Rós member Kjartan Sveinsson who composed a musical response to the poem, which was performed at the Church of St Paul the Apostle in New York last year, by The Hilliard Ensemble. A clip from this performance, courtesy of Q2, introduces the piece. Additional performers are Michael Clemow and Penelope Thomas. Produced by Iain Chambers, Icelandic field recordings courtesy of Ulfur Hansson and Arnþór Helgason.
This reading is also available to hear via Soundcloud.
by James Lingwood
My ﬁrst experience of Roni Horn’s work came through her books of photographs and drawings and writings made in Iceland. And it was these books that offered me my ﬁrst experience of the place. I came across Pooling Waters in 1994. The book has two volumes, one with a sequence of photographs of natural hot spots and modest swimming pools from around Iceland, and the other has an extensive collection of writings inspired by the artist’s experiences in different parts of the island. Then I found a copy of Verne’s Journey, published a year later. The book begins with aerial photographs of a glacier, Snæfellsjökull, where Verne’s travelers began their journey to the center of the earth, and eventually immerses the reader in the fury of a mælstrom.
The books are part of an ongoing work, sometimes called an encyclopedia, which has the title To Place. Conveying the quiet intensity and subtle energies of a long communion between an elemental island and an enquiring mind, they bring proximity to a distant place. Made by someone deeply committed to the uniqueness of the island, its geography and geology, climate and culture, they have something of the quality of a secular devotional, embodying a relationship to a place at once intimate and selfless. It is these very same qualities that lie at the heart of Roni Horn’s conception for Vatnasafn / Library of Water.
My ﬁrst meeting with the artist who made these impeccable books took place a few years later in London. Roni had been working in the city on a series of photographs of the changing surfaces of the River Thames. There was some talk about a project in England. But in time the talk turned from England to Iceland and the possibility of Roni making a speciﬁc long-term project on the island…
This text appears in the book Vatnasafn/Library of Water.
Image: Collecting glacial water (2007). Photograph: Roni Horn
Every year musicians and performers are invited to perform in Library of Water. Past events have include Ragnar Kjartansson's performance in 2017, Nordic Affect in 2014, Laurie Anderson in 2010, and Jon Proppe, Megas Band, Gudmundur Ingolfsson and Dadi Sigurthorsson in 2007.
See Now / Soon for forthcoming events.
Image: Prior to Nordic Effect's performance in Roni Horn's Library of Water (2014). Photograph: Magnús Elvar Jónsson
The following text extract, written by Guðfrídur Lilja Gretarsdóttir, President of the Icelandic Chess Federation, is an introduction to a special space in the Library of Water dedicated to the most popular and understated of pastimes in Iceland: chess.
It is easy to think that everything in Iceland is related to the weather. And in one way or the other it is. Even chess.
The biting cold, the storm, the dark: it is the perfect climate for a game of chess, the ultimate indoors hobby, appropriately intellectual. And indeed, for a people beaten by the weather into being a people of few words - rather too few than too many, please, always, without exception - chess is the perfect form of communication. Never having to utter a single syllable you still communicate with your partner: you make a move, you share ideas, you attack, you defend, you challenge, you respond, you ponder, you lose the thread, you find it, lose it again, you continue: yes, you converse, albeit in silence. Weathering the storm, inside and out.
The story of chess in Iceland is quite remarkable. For the longest time Iceland boasted more grandmasters of chess than all the Nordic countries put together. Over the years this small remote island has produced an astounding number of world grandmasters and geniuses of chess. When Iceland´s first grandmaster, Friðrik Ólafsson, competed in international tournaments in the fifties and sixties local schools and movie theatres came to a halt. Every activity was put on hold to announce Friðrik´s results in the latest game. When he won, wild applause could be heard in every corridor of society. Chess became a national pastime.
Image: A chess board in the window of Roni Horn's Library of Water (2007). Photograph: Cedric Schonwald
This publication is available to view in our archive. Book a research visit.
Big enough to get lost on. Small enough to find yourself. That's how to use this island. I come here to place myself in the world. Iceland is a verb and its action is to center. — Roni Horn, Island and Labyrinth
This book, edited by James Lingwood and Gerrie van Noord, explores the themes and inspirations of Library of Water, and Horn's long-standing fascination with Iceland through images and written contributions, including texts by Briony Fer, Adrian Searle, James Lingwood and the artist.
These are weather reports of the emotions. You are the weather, Horns work announces. We report the weather and the weather reports us. The words tell me that I am the weather here, sometimes clammy, frequently cold, occasionally stormy, bad now and then. — Adrian Searle, Modern Painters
It’s a place to document where weather and humanity meet. — Morgan Falconer, The Times, 8 May 2007 (paywall)
Calm, says the floor, breezy, it states, causally. The words are scattered like fallen leaves. Bad, threatening, clammy. Words in English and Icelandic, words I don't understand. These are weather reports of the emotions. You are the weather, Horns work announces. We report the weather and the weather reports us. The words tell me that I am the weather here, sometimes clammy, frequently cold, occasionally stormy, bad now and then. — Adrian Searle, Modern Painters, May 2007
Today the translucent pillars stand in groups around the room, each one a subtly different texture and colour. […] Some are milky, with sediment pooling at the base; others are pale green or soft, dove-egg blue. All refract the rich golden light that comes flooding through the building whenever the snow-heavy clouds recede. […] Even when the wind rants outside, Vatnasafn has a serenity that recalls the building's former incarnation as a library. — Alastair Sooke, The Daily Telegraph, 25 May 2007
The very title Library of Water is a poetic paradox, and the act – as Horn said on the opening night - of "archiving" this most universal and ungraspable of elements is a bizarre thing. […] The point is that water is finally unknowable, like – well, like ourselves. — Martin Gayford, The Independent, 11 July 2007
Horn's idea in many ways simply extends the notion of what a library is: a place of reflection, cataloguing, community activity and learning; book readings, meetings about environmental issues, yoga, music classes and women's chess sessions. As Horn put it, she wants it to be 'a lighthouse in which the viewer becomes the light.' — Jennifer Higgie, Frieze, July - August 2007
Artist Roni Horn first collaborated with Artangel on Library of Water, a permanent work on the south-west coast of Iceland, a country she had been making regular visits to since the mid-70s. Returning to water as well as to Artangel, she contributed a piece on London's River Thames for the Hearts of Darkness series as part of A Room for London in 2012 and then to Inside in 2016.
Since her first visit to Iceland after college, Roni Horn’s artistic practice has been deeply nourished by her experiences on the island – both solitary and communal ones. This relationship has engendered an extended series of books and exhibitions based on photographs made in Iceland. Amongst these books, which have the generic title To Place, are photographic series based on folds for sheep (Folds), swimming pools and hot pots (Pooling Waters), rivers and waterfalls (Verne’s Journey), and the face of a young Icelandic woman. All of the books, as the title suggests, share a precise sense of Iceland’s distinctiveness, its special sense of place.
Over recent years, Horn’s involvement with Iceland has deepened further. She has contributed an extended series of writings published in the daily broadsheet, Morgenbladid, which reflect on pressing issues for Iceland’s present and future. More recently, she has donated and installed Some Thames, 80 photographs of the surface of the River Thames, to the University of Akureyri. Prior to conceiving her most ambitious work in Iceland, Library of Water in 2007, Horn created many projects and artworks specific to country, including You Are The Weather (1995), Pi (1998), Some Thames (2000), Her, Her, Her And Her (2003) and Doubt By Water (2004).
Water runs through the body of Horn’s work. It is present in her photographs of clouds, rivers, and the sea; in her writings and recordings about the properties, histories, and associations of water; and in her glass sculptures which are – like water – sometimes completely transparent, sometimes entirely opaque. Flowing, reflective, and unfixed, water is the medium through which Horn generates her poetic meditation on the elusive nature of identity.
Image: Roni Horn in Library of Water (2007). Photograph: Anna Melstead-Stykkisholmsposturinn
Who made this possible?
Commissioned and produced by Artangel with the Town of Stykkishhólmur, The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, The Ministry of Communications, Icelandic Parliament. With generous sponsorship from FL Group, Olíufélagið, Straumur-Burdaras Investment Bank.