Yst Ingunn St. Svavarsdottir is a visual artist based in Öxarfjördur in the north-east of Iceland. Bragginn Yst is her studio space. Yst´s distinctive dome shaped home ‘Vin’ was designed by architect Einar Thorsteinn, who during his lifetime regularly collaborated with the Danish-Icelanidic artist Olafur Eliasson.
The structure of Bragginn Yst was built in 1964, originally as a sheep shelter. Now it houses an exhibition space, artist studio, carpentry workshop and residential facilities. Yst opens Bragginn to the public and holds an exhibition of her work at least once annually. For the last few years an exhibition and open studio has been held alongside the summer solstice festival in Kópasker.
Before developing her artistic skills, Yst had a career spanning two decades as a psychologist and community manager. Yst wanted to test the extent of her visual art skills and explore her interest in forms and colours. She went on to study fine art in Newcastle University and graduated in 2008. She now has two main focuses in her art practice, one focused on drawing and painting, and another on sculpture and installation.
An active member of society, Yst has been involved in local politics and community groups. Through her art, she also connects with the community. Her projects have brought people together and mobilised local resources to create projects of artistic and wider cultural value. Support provided by the Cultural Council of North East Iceland has been vital in the development of some of Yst’s art projects.
One of Yst’s artworks is the sculpture ‘Dance’. The piece is located near Kópasker and is inspired by a local poet and an inventor. The project took about two years from decision to completion but the idea had been simmering for over a decade. Yst gained local financial sponsorship and voluntary help from the community to bring the concept to reality.
Yst also works with other artists. She is a member of SIM, the Icelandic Visual Artists’ Organisation and Mhr, the Sculptor Organisation in Reykjavik. She served a period as treasurer of Myndlistarfélagið, the Visual Artists´ Organisation in Akureyri. As part of the group ‘Súpan’ or ‘The Soup’ in the context of the financial crash, Yst and other female artists reflected on identity. The group developed the exhibition ‘self-portrait’ which was shown locally in Kópasker and Akureyri, as well as nationally in Reykjavik. Another cooperative project involved working with a local poet exploring the theme of transparency.
While Yst is motivated to continue to work with other artists and organisations such as SIM, her peripheral location can hinder this. Living in central areas where there are more artists provides greater opportunities to discuss ideas and develop collaborations. Öxarfjördur is about 190 kilometres from Akureyri and 570 kilometres from Reykjavik. Being remote brings pros and cons as Yst explains: “It has given me a lot to be isolated. I can focus on my artwork…I like being here too because it is so bright…but I have not gotten many people to come here. I am so far from Reykjavik”. But artists in remote areas can effectively develop their practice by exploring ideas and approaches that work in that place.
She points out that a key issue for artists, especially in remote locations, is reaching a wider audience. An intermediary between the artist and the consumer, helping to identify new places to exhibit and facilitate the logistics of exhibiting work, would help connect artists at a distance. Yst explains: “An organisation that could take care of promoting and marketing for people like me would be great. For example in Iceland today we are building a lot of hotels. They could be places to exhibit art, but I hardly know anyone doing it! It takes a lot of work for the artist to do this themselves and not everyone has the guts to do it!”.
If Yst was to give advice to a young, developing artist she would say follow your instincts and develop ideas that inspire you, as well as have self-belief and determination. Yst says: “You know what, I have only one advice, to follow their conviction…Those who believe in themselves, they succeed…never give up if you want to be an artist”.