The Library of Water 

I visited Roni Horn’s Library of Water yesterday while in Iceland, and then while wandering around town I found the regular library, and a very helpful librarian who was fantastic in finding me all the books they have on her and useful infomation around the subject.

The project is a interesting one, seemingly simple, but steeped in emotional resonance for anyone coming from a climate in which the weather informs your way of life in any small way. 

Roni Horn collected water from glaciers around Iceland, as ice, which she allowed to melt and then encapsulated them in clear columns, which after standing in this form, the sentiment of even the cloudiest water sunk to the bottam leaving clear tubes of water. 

The water reflects and distorts everything around it and moving through the space, and from outside the large bay windows reflect the sea and ships, becoming invisible save shimmers of refractions on the columns. It’s stunning and poignant. 

It’s combined with words that all describe the weather on the floor, both in Islandic and English, some of which don’t translate- although those that don’t are the most telling, I think, in terms of how we react to the weather culturally. 

 Roni Horn has consistantly come back to this in her work, how the weather affects our emotions and how our faces are our own emotional weather reports.  ( see her work You are the Weather). 

In a country in which the weather changes so suddenly, it’s a interesting correlation to make, and also one that personally resonates. As a sufferer of Seasonal Affective Disorder, when living in London I needed to make sure I was living in places with ample amounts of light, without which the damp grey fog would descent into my brain and render me incapable of surfacing without extreme struggle. I never felt like myself in winter, even with hour walks in the morning to try and instill as much sunlight in me as possible. The weather was a weight, a damp that got into my bones and my brain, infecting/ affecting my daily routines and relationships with others. 

Roni Horn has also written and documented extensively her trips through Iceland, in the books On Place, from motorbiking and hitchhiking through in the seventies and documenting hot springs- both as images and also written work describing the thrill of quietly undressing in the dark to lower herself into the water that creates and is Iceland; the start of portraits and You are the Weather Series, documentation of all the natural phenomenon of lava and rock formations in Iceland, and also written about the emotional journey through Iceland. She describes finding Jules Vernes’ entrance to the center of the earth and it’s nearby labyrinth remains both as a physical and also psychological journey, the weather a constant and influential passenger in a journey of self discovery.  


There is something about traveling in this small island with only yourself, and the weather, and an invisibility of yourself within the landscape that occurs. I brought books, but barely looked at them, the scenery taking over my emotional landscape.

 Roni Horn did a lot of her traveling in winter and so survival became a paramount concern. Even in summer, storms can sweep in, and traveling under the midnight sun, you can forget the time and your own lack of sleep as you negotiate the windy roads (the lack of sleep alone has been putting my emotions dangerously close to the surface). But the Island doesn’t care about your survival; awareness, alertness and intutivity are needed to traverse the landscape and a oneness with the weather can create an emotional Walden traveling with you around the island. 

All photos taken from Roni Horn’s Iceland 2, from the series On Place.

Roni Horn is an American Artist who describes Iceland as her open air studio. This project was mounted by Artangel in 2007, in a former library building overlooking the ocean in Stykklisholmur and is ongoing.

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