Roni Horn

Maeve Hanna
  • Roni Horn, VATNASAFN/LIBRARY OF WATER, 2007. Photo: Roni Horn, © Artangel
  • Roni Horn, VATNASAFN/LIBRARY OF WATER, 2007. Photo: Stefan Altenburger, © Artangel
  • Roni Horn, VATNASAFN/LIBRARY OF WATER, 2007. Photo: Stefan Altenburger, © Artangel
  • Roni Horn, VATNASAFN/LIBRARY OF WATER, 2007. Photo: Stefan Altenburger, © Artangel
  • Roni Horn, VATNASAFN/LIBRARY OF WATER, 2007. Photo: Stefan Altenburger, © Artangel

Archived Glaciers at the Library of Water

In Stykkishólmur, on the coast of Breiðafjörður in Iceland, is VATNASAFN or “water museum,” a small library that moves and shifts. The objects archived there are not those that hold words, lines of poetry, or neat sentences that stitch together a narrative, but instead water. The water kept here is drawn from glaciers in Iceland and was created by the American artist Roni Horn. Horn has had a long and intimate involvement with Iceland through its geography, geology, climate, and culture. In 2007 the artist was invited by Artangel to create the installation VATNASAFN. It was their first international commission in the former library.

In VATNASAFN, glacial ice has been captured and transformed into an altered state. Twenty-four large glass columns full of glacial water stand in the space, resembling soldiers, figures standing in a formation that represents Iceland. In his article “To the Lighthouse” in the Guardian, Gordon Burn notes that some of the columns are translucent, while others are opaque with bits of ancient detritus floating in them. These remnants of the past speak to the time when the glaciers were formed, as well as the fact that they are currently melting at a rapid pace due to global warming.

It is intriguing to contemplate the idea of archiving a glacier. As we know, ice melts and from that transformed state as water, it evaporates. Housing melted ice in a library posits an interesting conundrum: water causes ink to run and wrinkles pages in books. If a library were flooded, the books within its walls would be destroyed: no longer in existence. Glaciers too, will one day no longer exist and be nothing but a memory. However, environmental implications were not Horn’s only consideration. The installation also acts as a space for reflection and observation. The columns are lit from below, while windows on opposing sides of the library face the sea and the town. VATNASAFN becomes a place where visitors are library-goers, as well as witnesses who read the landscape and the water. The installation offers the opportunity to transform the experience of the library.

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