SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — If the door of a rental car is blown off due to the 65 mph winds that commonly blow through Iceland, insurance won’t cover it. That’s what Matthew Runciman and Danielle Galietti have learned during the last four months they’ve been in the Nordic island country, and they have to take turns holding the door for each other while the other gets out of the car. The two are driving around Iceland as part of an artist residency.
Runciman, a musician, and Galietti, a visual artist, were in the 800-person town of Olafsfjordur at the Listhus Artspace Residency for the Skammdegi Mid-Winter Festival from December to February, and for the last month have been in Skagastrond, a town of 500 people, at the NES Artist Residency. The partners have been using the Icelandic environment to create music, performance art and installations, working to convey the relationship between artistic languages.
“We’ve been really inspired by the Northern Lights,” Galietti said in a phone interview on March 11. “But they only happen when the conditions are perfect. When two things come together it creates a third thing, so we want to create that third thing and have it be art.”
Runciman, who grew up in South Orange and attended Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, was playing solo music gigs when he and Galietti collaborated for the first time in Vermont at the Vermont Studio Center last July. They teamed up to apply for the Iceland residencies, and have been putting their talents together for almost a year. Galietti, who grew up in West Paterson, has a master’s degree in fine arts and a background in yoga and figure skating, which has come in handy in Iceland.
“We both skated at South Mountain growing up,” Runciman said, referring to Codey Arena in West Orange. “I played hockey, so we’re both skaters who have become artists. We wanted to be in the skating scene and use the rinks as art.”
A lake in Olafsfjordur has given the duo a chance to do that. With music by Runciman and Galietti on the ice, the two made a video showing the quiet and misty area, which the town’s tourism board bought to use for marketing. Runciman said the team wanted to embody the serene location.
“It feels like the closest you can get to being on a different planet,” Galietti said. “I wanted to try to tune into what I’m doing and translate movement into sound.”
Going from highly populated northern New Jersey to towns of only 500 and 800 people is a big jump, and Runciman said he and Galietti have gotten to know everyone in the towns where they’ve stayed. Locals are friendly and accepting of the work, and the duo has led workshops with area students and become friendly with one of the four police officers in Skagastrond.
Aside from the wind, which has been known to blow away buildings in the past, Runciman said the weather is more temperate in Iceland than most realize.
“A lot of people think it’s colder than it is,” he said. “But Iceland is surrounded by the Gulf Stream, and that pushes water around the island and makes it a little warmer. It’s been about 25 to 50 degrees while we’ve been here.”
Parts of Canada can get colder than Iceland, Runciman said, although in Olafsfjordur, the town doesn’t see the sun for approximately nine weeks each year. He and Galietti didn’t see the sun for about 60 days, and only had about two and a half hours of twilight each day.
“Much of our experience was defined by the complete lack of daylight and the basis of our work functioned around that experience,” Runciman said in an email on March 11. “The sun would rise around noon in December and January, and then it would be completely dark by 3 p.m.”
In addition to the performance art they have been creating, Runciman and Galietti have been working on visual art in Iceland as well. They’ve made marks in the black sand of Hedinsfjordur and in the snow in Olafsfjordur. Ecological surveys have been done in Olafsfjordur and they created pieces on the ground with shells. Light installations that include music are on display at the gallery in Olafsfjordur. More of Runciman and Galietti’s work can be found online at www.thebullandarrow.com.
Runciman and Galietti have also gotten a chance to perform in Iceland.
“Dani had the opportunity to perform for a gong healing sound bath with Iceland’s only gong master, Arnbjorg Kristin Konradsdottir. She played Tibetan singing bowls for that event and she also taught yoga in Olafsfjordur,” Runciman said. “I played my music also at Kaffi Klara, Menntaskollinn a Trollaskaga, both in Olafsfjordur, and performed live on a national radio station called Trolli FM.”
At the end of March, Runciman and Galietti will leave Iceland and head to Orquevaux, France, for a few weeks as part of the Chateau d’Orquevaux residency. When that ends they’ll return to New Jersey and work at home through the summer, before deciding where they want to go next. Until then, there is still more art to make.
“We want to see what happens when two people who speak different artistic languages collaborate,” Galietti said. “I speak in movement and Matt speaks in sound and music. We’re able to have a conversation and use those things as stand-ins for talking. It’s thinking of sustainable ways to depend on each other and the relationship between different types of art that can coexist.”
Runciman said that being in Iceland has inspired him to make more music along with the art he’s already making with Galietti. He’s been using 432 Hz, a tuning method that is mathematically consistent with the universe, known as the “universal frequency.”
“It’s inspired different songs and I’ve been working with tuning at the universal frequency,” Runciman said. “Supposedly the Beatles used it. But the music has been reflecting that peaceful state that we find when we’re talking about the light projections.”
Photos Courtesy of Matthew Runciman and Danielle Galietti