The exposition is a documentation and dissection of the performance Eyja - Island, performed in Hrísey August and October 2020 as a part of the artistic research project How Little is Enough? 



Video Essay

Voice over transcript


Photo slideshow

Video interview with Gréta Kristín Ómarsdóttir co-creator


with Gréta Kristín Ómarsdóttir co-creator and collaborator


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a site specific 

and human specific performance 

about what it means to belong


You are a bird of passage,

A migrating bird.

You are flying.

With others, many others

You are one of them.


You fly between continents, south and north, west, and east. Over land and sea. 

On your way from home, on your way home.


Now you are on your way to the island. 

You are in a flock of birds. 

You fly together.


On the island there is enough food, there is ample space and few threats. 

It is good to raise your young on the island.

But the conditions are changing.

You do not know if you will be back next year.


You are a bird of passage.

In migration.

You fly.

You do not own a land.

No land owns you.

For you, the land is necessary.

For the land, you are necessary.


You fly,

You are a bird of passage



Passing through

In transit




Where do you come from?

Where are you going?

What are you seeking here?


You fly 

To the place where the conditions are favourable

But the conditions are changing...






Hi, I am Steinunn. I will be guiding you,

you can see my reflection in the window with a camera.

Welcome on this journey


Steinunn Hildigunnur Knúts Önnudóttir 

Theatre maker 

Artistic PhD candidate


Now we are embarking Sævar, the ferry that sails to Hrísey, an island north of Iceland. We will be travelling through my work IslandEyja in Icelandic, that was performed in August and October of 2020 on the island. The piece started here on the boat. 


Eyja is a participatory performance situated in Hrísey, a settlement that has been categorised as being vulnerable, where life and livelihood is fragile. The challenges of the island reflect the global challenges of current times, and in the performance, guests are invited to critically investigate their own ideas about what it means to belong, in a playful setting. 


Like in the performances I create, in this film, there is a host and there are guests. I am now your host, and you are my guest in my revisit to the site of the performance a year later. 


This is my project and these are my thoughts. 


While the boat rocks you gently I will draw you into my motivation for making this work, like I drew my guests of Eyja into the realm of migrating birds and into the mind frame of the performance.


It all started in 1983 when I spent a summer in Hrísey working in a fish factory. As a typical 18 year old, I was exploring my identity and sense of belonging. As a child I moved constantly, between countries, towns and houses with my parents and 4 siblings. The fifth sibling I got to know, that summer, on the island. An older sister, that had been brought up in Hrísey with her mother and stepfather but had now moved away. I got to know her sister, and like me she was seeking her identity and sense of belonging. She felt oppressed by the island and was struggling to cut the cord and move to a bigger community. 

On the island I had a crush on a boy who was physically handicapped after a severe accident. He had been paralysed from the waist down and now against all odds he could walk with the help of a single crutch. Like me he was a guest worker and during his stay on the island he managed to hike to the top of Kaldbakur, a magnetic mountain that many believe has a spiritual power that can be felt on the island. He was a true hero to me and I was drawn to his spirit.



Thirty years later I got to know Gréta, a talented student of mine that was from Hrísey. In 2017, after her graduation, I invited her to work with me on a site specific performance project called The Last Supper in four socially deprived towns in Iceland. While we were working on the project, a tragic accident happened in Hrísey that shook the whole community, exposing the islands challenges. We both felt an urge to bring a project to the island. 


This seed became the beginning of Eyja, and in fact to my research project where I am looking at the very instrument of performance and exploring its capacity to respond in a meaningful way to the current global crisis in a sustainable manner. I call it How Little is Enough? Sustainable Methods of Performance for Transformative Encounters.



In the performance, the children of Hrísey were the local guides. They waited at the harbour for their guests, that brought with them Eyja-passports to be stamped in different stations on the island. The first stamp they got from Gréta, in her role as a toll guard. She also provided the guests with a map and a personal secret mission. 


The children had two to four guests that they guided through the work and each group had their specially designed route. 


Here you see the ruins of the fish factory of Hrísey, that had burned down only a few months prior to the performance. Yet another challenge to a community already struggling to create jobs and keeping the inhabitants from leaving. 


In 1990 the inhabitants of Hrísey were 270 and now they are around 160. There are also additional house owners that are seasonal villagers, they are called the migrating birds by the islanders. 


All the islanders were invited to contribute to the performance process. 


At the core of my artistic method is working closely with a local host, collecting stories and testimonies before creating the dramaturgical frame for a piece. The research question „how little is enough?“ refers to the level of production needed to create a performance that has transformational potential. Here we already have a site, multiple stories and concerns. The place has resources and infrastructure that can be mobilised. I recycle, reorganise and reframe. In Hrísey, Gréta was my close collaborator and we shared the responsibility of the creation process. As an islander she had a strong motivation to do the work and a close connection to the community that was valuable for the project. 


Prior to our first arrival we sent information letters to each household and on arrival we held an open meeting where we presented our idea. Then we interviewed around 20 people about their lives on the island and ideas on belonging. The primary school was our main collaborator. We invited the children to participate in the creation process and act as the guides during the performance. We had all the 15 students contributing to the process as a part of their schoolwork, and we also invited some seasonal village children to participate in the performance. 


The guests all visited the same four stations on the island. At each station there were assignments that were anchored in a particular theme and after completing the assignments the children would give the guests stamps in their passports.


Here we are at our second station called Sæborg. Together with the children, we had anthropomorphized four birds. The guests were invited to read the descriptions we had created and asked to identify with one of the birds. It was important for us to have a more-than-human perspective present in the discussions to counteract an anthropocentric viewpoint.


The combination of the child perspective and the bird allegory was an overall strategy to provide a mind frame for the dramaturgical structure to evoke positive images of the complex societal challenges related to belonging. According to questionnaires and interviews with guests the approach worked. Negative sentiments such as entitlement and exclusion that are imbedded in the theme were overridden by sentiments of responsibility, empathy and recognition in the open and playful settings the children intuitively created. 


Guests expressed how they were drawn into the mode of the children. Their participation was on the children‘s terms. They were not only invited to the child‘s perspective, but also to the child‘s energy, tempo and way of engaging with the environment.


Like moving around between stations as a group of birds, in a V formation. 



The children took pride in contributing to the descriptions of the birds and also by using their own stamps for the passports and providing the cookie jars that were placed at each station. A kind of cookie jar you will find in any home in Iceland, a recycled Quality Street tin jar, an iconic item for Icelandic Christmas. They had ownership and agency in the performance. Telling their stories, walking their secret routes and showing the guests their island. They expressed being empowered. They felt that they had an important role to play.


But how do I then define my role in this context?


With my practice I am joining  UN´s AGENDA (2030) on sustainable development. Responding to a global crisis, the philosopher Timothy Morton calls the 6th mass extinction in his book All Art is Ecological (2021)


How can an artists respond to an event of that magnitude? 


I have been inspired by artist activists like Marina Zurkow and Una Chauduri ( with their Dear Climate project and Annie Sprinkle ( with her ecosexual project. They are bold enough to use humour, imagination and playfulness in their artistic response to the global crisis. Their performances are addressing the eco-grief, eco-anxiety and the state of denial that we know all to well. They invent possible futures and nurture hope. Stimulating their spectators’ imagination and creativity. 


In my practice I create situations where my spectators are invited to dwell on profound questions on what constitutes quality of life. I provide a mirror that reveals our deepest values.


I take departure in the WHO´s definition of Quality of Life being the 


… individual's perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns (WHO 2012).


My mission is to find the happy objects (Sarah Ahmed 2010) to shed light on the positives and fight suppressing emotions of guilt and exhaustion when faced with the global challenges. I am driven by love. A love for my children and the future generations of all species. A love for a world in transition, transforming in a daunting speed. To love is an act of will, something you choose to do like bell hooks points out in her book All about Love  (hooks 1999). Love is an action, a participatory emotion. To love means to pay attention, to commit, to care, to recognise, to show affection, to support, to trust, to value, to respect. 


If you do not already love the world you live in you need to fall in love with it in order to save it. 


We urgently need to change behavioural patterns, politics and belief systems if we want to sustain our planet. Morton favours love over efficiency (Love not Efficiency)) and states that one needs to apply less efficient measures to respond to the crisis. Efficiency is to blame for the state the planet is in. The ecological society to come, he claims, must be haphazard, broken, lame, twisted, silly and sad. You do what you can, and sometimes you fail and sometimes you succeed. Every action counts and no ONE action does the trick. Art is definitely one of the measures. As Theresa May that coined the term Eco Dramaturgy puts it:


Theatre practices the crucial climate- change-  skills of knowing ourselves as permeable, inter-connected, mutable, and multiple. As we map alternative ways of being and relating, theatre can move us from the terrifying facts through the necessary transformations of self...


The performances I make are both site specific and human specific. For the performance Island, the specific site is Hrísey and the specific humans, are those participating; hosts and guests. I use a porous dramaturgical method (porous dramaturgy) that leaves spaces for multiple narratives to filter through a structure that is based on series of encounters that happen in different temporalities in different dimensions; geological, historical, political, societal, personal. The linear route in Eyja, is between stations on the island that the guests travel through in small groups guided by a child, starting and ending on the ferry.

I use direct questions as a dramaturgical tool to move the guest’s gaze inwards in combination with assignments that invite the guests to open their senses and their awareness for their surroundings.  


In my research I am looking at the affect the work has on its participants. In a previous work within my research, No Show, that was performed in private homes in Reykjavík, I gathered knowledge about the affect of my artistic methods. My findings revealed the transformative qualities of the genuine exchange in the host – guest relationship, the enriching impact of the tactile,  embodied and immersive experience and how a caring atmosphere creates trust and thus possible change. What is added in Eyja is the continuous verbal and sensory communication that the dramaturgy brings forth. In each station there are tasks, that lead to dialogue in different formats. The content is driven by questions drawn from a Quality Street tin jar at one point in a private home, where a local host invited the guests for a coffee in their kitchen or living room for a genuine exchange on what it means to belong.


In an interview, one of these hosts described a moving encounter with one of her guests, an immigrant that had lived a few years in Iceland. They exchanged stories about their challenges and he became overwhelmed by gratitude towards his community and was moved to tears in her kitchen. In her account she felt surprised by the affect the visit had on her. Other hosts expressed similar experiences.


In the church the guests wrote down their own questions and contemplations and shared them with each other in a silent ritual and left them in a tin jar inside the church. 


And if the guest had finished their personal mission, they would have the last stamp by the harbour before embarking the ferry to leave the island. 


After revisiting the work, going through interviews with participants and guests, written feedback and my own notes, I realised how profoundly the work affected the collaborators, especially the children. 


In an interview, a teacher told me that the youngsters had been influenced by a rising discontent of the islanders toward the town council of Akureyri, their municipality. The youngsters felt neglected. Their self-esteem was under attack and they had been building up negative sentiments and expressing them in public. She already saw a shift in their attitude that she believed was an affect of the project.


Gréta expressed how the project enabled her, a queer, vegan artist, to enter a dialogue with her community in a constructive manner about otherness, acceptance and belonging. She also created a connection to the children, the future of the island - and in her they found a role model. A girl from the island that had worked her way to the National Theatre of Iceland as an artist and a curator for a queer stage.


The work also left strategies for the tourist council, that got inspired by the way the work represented the life on the island. They kindly asked permission to use elements from the performance in their future campaign, such as the bird descriptions. 


My interviews with the guests confirm my previous findings about the power of genuine exchange, embodied experiences and caring atmosphere. I also got affirmative feedback on the dialogue as a potent dramaturgical element to enable transformation. A few guests described how the experience created a special bond to Hrísey and many described how the work evoked a sense of timelessness and wellbeing. But the exchange with the children and the home visit turned out to be the heartbeat of this performance.


In terms of impact it is impossible to separate the creation process from the actual performance because the work is already potent and performative in the early stages. The artistic method relies on encounters from the very beginning of the process, all these encounters are potentially transformative. It is even hard to predict when the affect ceases. 


A few months after the performances, I received a letter from a woman we interviewed in our first visit to the island. The affect of our dialogue stayed with her, it made her aware of how much the island meant to her and she expressed gratitude for her privileges. She was a seasonal islander, a migrating bird.


Me too, I am migrating, a guest in my own work, and I never forget my privileges that stem from my social and cultural background, my nationality, whiteness, age, and general normativity. 


I feel gratitude for being trusted to do this work and I am confident that the many encounters that emerged through this project created a connection to the island, whatever island people have in mind. 



It all started in 1983 when a friend of mine reached the summit of Kaldbakur against all odds...












 Ahmed, S. (2010). The Promise of Happiness. Duke University Press, Durham, NC.


May, Theresa. (2016). Radical Empathy, Embodied Pedagogy, and Climate Change Theatre. Theatre in the Age of Climate Change. Retrieved from


hooks, bell. (1999). All About Love: New Visions. William Morrow. (Kindle Edition). (p. 197).


Morton, T. (2021). All Art is Ecological. Penguin Books, Milton Keynes, UK. (pp. 15, 17).


World Health Organization. (n.d.). WHOQOL. Retrieved from


CNN. (n.d.). Ecosexuals. Retrieved from


The Ecosexuals. (n.d.). Ecosexual Manifesto. Retrieved from


The Dear Climate Project. (n.d.). Retrieved from




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