An Interview With: Sarah Flynn
Who are you and where did you study?
My name is Sarah Flynn and in 2016 I graduated from the Dublin Institute of Technology with a BA(Hons) degree in Photography.
What is your artist statement for the body of work?
Every country presents an idealised version of itself to the wider world. In this the Icelandic are no different from anyone else. Útlendingur provides a critique of the idealised version of Iceland from the point of view of an outsider. As a response to the mythic, Útlendingur focuses on the familiar and the banal.
I am drawn to simple shapes and patterns and the ordinary events within the landscape that often go unnoticed. I wanted to play with and subvert familiar motifs and give an alternative representation of Iceland that goes beyond the clichéd images often used as promotional material in tourist brochures and such like.
The body of work was made during an artist residency in Skagastrond, Iceland. How did you initially perceive Iceland, and how did this change during your residency?
My initial perception of Iceland was obviously influenced by the way Iceland is presented to other countries in the media and popular culture. There is no way of avoiding it – a romanticised landscape, northern lights, glaciers, volcanoes, elves and Bjork come to mind. I knew that there were many different versions of Iceland not portrayed here so I went with quiet an open mind. It was the ways of living, the quirks of Skagastrond and the colloquial sayings that took me by surprise. For example, the local supermarket face-lift is a very big occasion and the whole community should celebrate it with coffee and cake!
Tell us more about how you approach a new project.
Once I have a vague idea for a new project, I generally spend a good deal of time researching and looking at other artists' work who have explored similar issues. While in college, I took a very formal approach to my work. However, the process of making Útlendingur was completely different. I simply went out everyday, for a cycle or a walk and photographed anything that caught my eye along the way. I did not follow any rigid plan and that gave me a lot of freedom when creating this project which I really enjoyed.
There is a great use of colour in the project which is playful and interesting. Are your diptych's created in the editing process or do you find yourself deliberately searching for subjects that would work together?
I was never searching for anything in particular. If a colour stood out to me or I found a pattern interesting I photographed it, and moved on. It was only during the editing process that I began placing different images side by side and I observed that the landscape, be it natural or man-man, repeats itself so often and I wanted to play with that. The diptychs are also utilised to create a narrative that hints at local oddities, which also plays with notions of myth versus reality.
Is taking part in a residency something you would recommend to our readers?
I would encourage artists from all fields to take part in a residency. I spent a month at the NES Artist Residency in Skagastrond, Iceland, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable and immersive experience. It was refreshing to share my time and work with photographers, artists, writers and poets from different backgrounds with diverse perspectives on the world. The residency provided me with the time, space and freedom necessary for creative development.
Being an artist in residence also gave me the rare opportunity to live an create an intimate relationship with a remote and beautiful village in North West Iceland. It was a strange feeling. Living there for a while and hanging out with the locals, I was simultaneously an insider and an outsider.
Is Iceland somewhere you would return to for future projects?
Iceland is a welcoming, safe and inspirational environment for artists and I hope to return in the near future. I found the Icelandic to be progressive and creative people, who value their culture. Given their small population, it is impressive that there are galleries dotted all around the capital and several well run residencies within the country.
What would be your best advice to our readers who will be graduating in the coming years?
I think it's important to make work for yourself apart form your college assignments, where you can experiment and find you own artistic voice. It is vital to develop your networking skills and use contacts in your other areas of interest in order to get work and also to keep applying for different opportunities.
What are your hopes for the future?
I'm still figuring that out...