Siglufjörður: Avalanche technologies

Today WalkingLab ventured over two mountains and two fjords to Siglufjörður a former herring industry outpost. Our first research-creation walking-with event followed a path that criss-crossed the steep rock faces that so that we could be amidst the new avalanche technologies.

In 1995, a severe avalanche destroyed most of this fishing village and 34 inhabitants died. The Icelandic government began to invest in new technologies, which would prevent such avalanche destruction in the future. In Iceland these fjords and valleys are important places and as such, the idea was not to move humans away from ‘nature’ but find a balance where both could co-exist.

Through our walking-with project we learned about three forms of avalanche technologies. The first are Deflecting Structures: where the landscape is reshaped so that avalanches slide away from the town to open plains. The second are Catching Dams: deep and fortified troughs of earth and rock have been created above the town to catch the sliding snow and debris. The third are Supporting Structures: located at the summit of the mountain where avalanches have the potential to form. Their metal structures stabilize the snow and rocks.

The design of these technologies in Siglufjörður won an architectural award because they neither scar the landscape nor have they been hidden. In fact, part of the tourism of this town centres on walking up to, across, and on the Catching Dams. Heather and lupins fold and grow among the dams along well-tred walking paths.

While walking and tourism conventionally promote pristine landscapes, aesthetic vistas, and the absence of human intervention, Iceland provides opportunities for those of us interested in researching the co-imbrication of humans and non-humans.

Over the past week, WalkingLab has had many interesting conversations with fellow artists-in-residence about these natureculture entanglements including: the dammed lake, avalanche technologies, and geothermal power. While some artists often seek ‘undisturbed’ landscapes, many of the artists at our residency are interested in both visible and invisible human-landscape intersections.

Walking in Iceland supports WalkingLab‘s research efforts to counter the colonial notion of terra nullius.