Philagrafika Brings Art Focus “Due North”

See video



News Courtesy of Peter Chawaga -- Barren expanses of dark granite, thermal vents spouting curls of steam, summers of constant sunlight and winters with barely any. On the surface, Iceland is a place unlike any other on earth, with unparalleled natural beauty and an isolated geography that has fostered a unique national culture and identity. It’s an uncontaminated environment that inspires creativity and is now drawing international attention from artists like Marianne Bernstein.

After seven trips to Iceland over the last three years Bernstein has curated “Due North”, an art show featuring a variety of works by 13 Icelandic and 13 American artists that will occupy Crane Arts’ Icebox Project Space in Kensington from January 9-26. It is presented by Philagrafika, a local organization dedicated to the promotion of printmaking through annual portfolios, lectures and, in this case, special events.

Bernstein’s inspiration for the show stemmed from a desire to capture something of the Nordic island’s mystique and share it with the wider world.

“When I first got to Iceland, I visited the Blue Lagoon at night and it was beautiful, everything looked magical,” she said. “Right away, I knew that I wanted to curate a show about my experience because it was so visceral. I wanted to include other people in that experience and encourage them to go.”

In part, “Due North” captures the international experience by featuring the works of American - mostly Philadelphia-based - artists who visited and worked in Iceland. One such artist is David Scott Kessler, who spent a residency in the small fishing village of Skagaströnd last February, drawing and shooting a film that will be projected onto a wall of the gallery.

“I think there’s something peculiar that happens when you get yourself into the unknown,” he said. “What I wanted to do was encapsulate that naive wonder you have when you visit a place for the first time.”

While conceding that the works largely reflect the initial impressions of visitors in a strange land, Bernstein is adamant that she and the other American artists sought deeper experiences than those of typical vacationers.

“One of the things people are taking note of in Reykjavik about the show is that we weren’t tourists,” she said. “We drove, we didn't do the tourist circuit, we actually went and made friends and stayed there for a substantial period of time. This wasn’t a fly by night thing.”

John Heron, an artist who visited Iceland last spring, noted that this deep immersion had a direct impact on his work, a collection of sculptures that will be featured in the show.

“Before I went to Iceland, I was doing really tiny drawings,” he said. “I didn’t really know how it was going to affect me. I started using a lot of organic materials that were laying around. I got some volcanic ash and other things. I went there and I changed, just from being there for a month.”

The Icelandic artists whose works comprise the other half of “Due North” came from their home country to seek inspiration stateside, many of them working in Philadelphia. Participating Icelandic artists include Hrafnhildur Arnardottir, a close friend to Bjork whose bright-yellow sun sculpture hangs from the gallery ceiling, Rúrí, whose “Future Cartography” prints illustrating the potential topographical effects of climate change occupy the space’s anteroom and Ragnar Kjartansson, an award-winning performance artist whose solo exhibitions have been featured all over the world.

Bernstein believes that this city has been the ideal place to host the visiting artists, seamlessly bridging the gap between the two countries.

“I think Reykjavik and Philadelphia are similar in a lot of ways,” she said. “They both have a similar vibe, there’s a lot of creative people in both places. I love this dialogue that’s going on between the two cities now, I think it’s really great for Philly. The combination of a literate, interesting, funky and creative group, there’s not a lot of places that have that mixture and I think that’s why it’s such a great fit.”

In addition to showcasing Philadelphia’s aptitude for fostering international arts collaboration, the show will serve as a platform for a nation of unduly overlooked artists.

“This is one of the first shows that spotlight Icelandic artists and have this back and forth,” Bernstein said. “There are all of these visual artists there but a lot of them are not known here. Iceland is sort of this new territory, this island that has kind of been doing its own thing.”

Ultimately, “Due North” is an attempt to bring a shrouded country to light. While a group of outsiders gleaned inspiration from its other-worldly beauty and mysterious atmosphere, the natives left their homes to work and present in the United States, many for the first time. By playing host to this show, Philadelphia can consider itself an early participant in what Bernstein hopes will be a newfound international reverence for one of the world’s most inspiring places.

“The work that you see here is just a small window into all the things that were experienced during this project, all the work that’s come before and all the work that will come after,” she said. “I’d love to have this shown in Iceland, to have the dialogue that this group in Philly did. We will probably see more of a spotlight on Icelandic artists after this, that’s what makes it really special.”

“Due North” can be seen in Crane Arts’ Icebox Project Space, 1400 N. American St., Philadelphia, PA 19122 from January 9 to January 26. For more information, visit

View the "Due North" teaser video here: