Stephen Benediktson, the grandson of Stephen G. Stephansson, has created, jointly with the government of Iceland, the Benediktson Fellowship for Icelandic Artists.
The fellowship allows Icelandic artists to attend The Banff Centre visual arts or literary programs.
The fellowships may also be used to develop and further projects during a residency. Stephen created the fellowship to celebrate the life and writing of his grandfather and to build a strong relationship between Alberta and Iceland.
W.D. Valgardson interviewed Kristín after her residency was over.
WDV: What do you think of Banff? How does it compare to Iceland?
Kristín: My homeland and Banff are two different places. The sea, the beach, the naked light, no trees, a lot of cats on the streets and seabirds in the air, I have in my hometown, and in Banff, where I had the studio, the place was furred with trees, the light was dim green, or that I felt, and instead of being surrounded with the ocean I was surrounded by mountains and animals: deer, martin, squirrels, eagles, singing birds, bears.
WDV: You have described your process of writing as like that of a robot. Can you describe what that is like? In America there was a movement called automatic writing. Is it like that?
Kristín: No, it is not an automatic writing. I can tint my language with different kinds of influences, but its core is that of a person born in 1962, brought up in a x-place, taught by this and this people, a person who heard and listened to the music and stories and news of his or her youth - in the sixties and seventies, and that of a person who is also in fact still growing up. But I also try to free myself from the environment which made me who I am - also because we people are constantly changing from one day to another, one moment to the next - and I try to experiment a little bit, hopefully, with this packet of a robot which I shield myself inside of.
WDV: Many writers only write one genre: poetry, fiction, drama. You have mastered a number of forms. That is quite an accomplishment. How have you done that?
Kristín: Because of curiosity and perhaps because of some little tiny grain of greed.
WDV: Your subject matter is also diverse. How would you describe it? Is there any particular link or theme that runs through it?
Kristín: Yes, a long road I am travelling, and every now and then I leave behind a book, a play, a poem, on my way futher - I am looking for something, but perhaps I will not find it.
WDV: Many writers live quite isolated lives. They are afraid of collaboration. Yet, you have no trouble working with other artists. What about your personality or work habits makes this possible?
Kristín: I live an isolated life, very much so, for the last decade, and like every three years or so I work with f.ex. the visual artist, Gunnhildur Hauksdóttir. Actually we made our first exhibition together in Winnipeg in May 2008. Before that we had worked on a performance. Yes, and again we worked together this year. I also work in the theater from time to time. Last year I worked with other people on a radio play - a collaboration that gave me very much, also because I was working with people who know the theater inside out, and have also worked in films. But most of the time I work alone. I do enjoy working in theater and with visual artists, but I am a writer, and I don’t have skills to become something else. I can write the manual for a machine that will possibly work and possibly not, but I cannot build the machine. I do enjoy working with the magicans I have met from the other genres, and who give life to the words I have written. I hope that my personality has patience to rewrite and repair my texts, and humility and gratefulness to receive criticism.
WDV: Do you think that your stay in Banff will change your writing in any way?
Kristín: Yes, that I think for certain. I have been inside of a fairy tale world - in the forest where I had my studio. Now I have breathed the same air as bears and cougars and shared the same rain with squirrels.
WDV: Before you came to Banff, what was your impression of Canada? Has your visit changed that impression?”
Kristín: I met so many wonderful people - I expected to meet very strange people and I was very surprised to meet people who had so much to tell me and teach me and show me, and I was also very surprised to meet people who were dealing in their lives with the same issues as myself, and I love everybody I met during my stay in Banff.
WDV: Are Canadians more or less than you imagined?
Kristín: They are very lovely people. Very much. I do adore Canadians.
WDV: Were you aware of Icelandic Canadian culture before you received the Fellowship? Do you have relatives in Canada?
Kristín: Yes, a little bit, because I had spent some time in Winnipeg, like I mentioned here above, in the spring of 2008, and then I met people of Icelandic origins. Yes, my father has some distant relatives. The grandfather of my mother went to Canada, and learned to become a saddler. But he moved back to Iceland. My grandfather was a great admirer of Stephan G. Stephansson´s poetry and his views on things and his pacifism.
WDV: When people have read or viewed your work, what message or view of life is it that you want them to take away?
Kristín: To treasure the joy.
WDV: Iceland has a very diverse and rich cultural life in spite of a tiny population. Why do you think that is?
Kristín: Because the verb in the Icelandic language is the center of the sentence - and that is way Icelandic people are so active: they like to do, to do art, more then to sit and enjoy the art as the spectator.
Stephan G. and the Banff Centre
The influence of Stephan G. Stephansson is continuing to be felt in a very practical manner with the establishment of the Benediktson Fellowship for Icelandic Artists. The Fellowship was established in 2008 by Stephan and Adriana Benediktson, the grandchildren of Stephan G. The Fellowship will pay for one Icelandic artist or writer to attend a Banff Centre residency every year. The Government of Iceland provides support.
The Banff Centre is world famous. Icelandic artists and writers in residence at Banff will have an opportunity to work in world-class production facilities, to be mentored and to network with other artists from around the world. The interchange between Canadian Icelandic artists will help to create personal and professional bonds and artistic collaboration.
The first recipient of the Fellowship was Ragnar Kjartansson, an artist who works in visual art, music, and theatre. In 2009, Kjartansson represented Iceland at the 2009 Venice Biennale with the work he created at The Banff Centre as a Benediktson Fellow.
This support will help great Icelandic art projects happen. I think great works are going to come pouring out of the artists that come here. Banff is very much like the Reykjavík scene. Theatre, music and visual arts all come together in one glorious cacophony, or let’s say a harmony. It is a relaxing and homely environment for Icelandic artists.
This (Fellowship) is a very important thing for artists’ careers to meet people in Banff and test their dreams and practice on people who are different from the folks back home or “heima”. The scholarship will also help to create a bridge between Banff and Iceland.
This year’s Benediktson Fellow is Kristín Ómarsdóttir. She is a poet, fiction writer and dramatist. Her work has been nominated for and received a number of awards in all three genres.