The name Afangar refers to a number of things: "destinations"; "stops on the road"; and "to stop and look: forward and back." As we continued to walk, the title more and more defined the piece for us. Thoughts of CorTen steel, lead, and rubber—materials that give identity to many of Serra’s other works—soon faded.
Each pair of stones frames the island landscape differently. From any given vantage point, the spectator variously takes in one or two sets, sometimes three. At only one stop on the island does one see all nine pairs. Whether taken individually or in groups, the stones are also portals framing the monumental mountains of the surrounding islands, the cityscape, the working harbor, and the open sea. At other times, the stones draw one’s focus back to the island itself.
Here, where Serra has further abstracted an already unearthly landscape, I had the bewildering experience of losing all sense of scale. The height of the columns is difficult to judge. There is no other frame of reference, not even a tree. The terrain is no less disorienting. Tall, dusky grass is laid flat in swaths by the winds off the sea. Clouds move fast, playing with the constantly changing light. Seabirds appear and disappear, lightly touching down and taking off from the grass.
Moving through the landscape seemed an everevolving experience, which, like music, unfolded over time; and like dance, over both time and space. Serra is known for the exacting nature of his sitespecific installations; he studies topographic maps, elevations, and geology, and for this project, he made more drawings than for any other. But here on this remote island, the hand of man seems to have left only a modest mark. After a couple of hours, as my daughter and I were about to leave, we stood and took in three sets of the columns, like musical bar lines on the horizon, writing a silent ode to the peculiar and mysterious elements that form the Icelandic landscape.
Gabriella De Ferrari is a T+L contributing editor.