Over five weeks, we’re featuring the story of Matthew Cicanese, a CochlearTM Baha® recipient, National Geographic Young Explorer and photographer, who went on an expedition in August 2016 to Iceland with the National Geographic Young Explorer program. Matthew shares the sounds and sights of his amazing experience with us. Read part one of the blog here; part two below:

“A National Geographic Young Explorer Grant funded my expedition in Iceland. The funding was to facilitate fieldwork expenses for my field assistant and myself. Our goal for the expedition was to travel around Iceland’s ring road and document lichen species, the landscapes in which they existed and culture surrounding them. We were in Iceland for a little over three weeks.

As the plane landed, I saw the morning sun sweep across the southern coast of Iceland. We had been traveling for the past 18 hours, and I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane. After going through customs and getting our baggage, we took our first steps outside the airport terminal.

An almost eerie sense of quiet filled the air, with only the sound of the wind and busses way off in the distance. The air was brisk, clean and replaced the stale void of recycled air that had been in my lungs from the past three airports. We walked over to our car rental, drove into the capital (about an hour away) and promptly fell asleep in our bed at the place we had rented. It was 10 a.m. Iceland time. We woke up that evening, ate ‘dinner’ and prepared for the journey ahead. Tomorrow we would drive to the north where the first week of work would take place.

The first stop was for an artist residency I secured with the Light Grey Art Lab. It was an experience of a lifetime. Over the course of the week, I got to know 12 amazing fellow artists and four staff that led the program. We were working 18-hour days, using every drop of summer sunlight that Iceland had to offer.

We would wake up at 6 a.m. when the birds and city were still asleep, to head out to some really interesting spots which normally they would be bustling with people later on in the day. At night, we would share the history of our practice with each other, and each lead a mini-workshop on a skill. Our lodge was outside the edge of town in a northern city called Akureyri (pronounced: ah-coo-rey-ree). We saw many different areas of central northern Iceland that week, including thunderous waterfalls, mysterious forests, steaming geysers and so much more.

Each of the places my art residency group took us to held a different soundscape, smell, light and visual plethora of beauty. When we visited a forest nestled in a canyon, late-summer flowers were in full bloom, birds were singing, and a wind that crept from the surrounding rock cliffs danced between the branches of the trees to create an entrancing aura of peace.

In the geyser lands, huge plumes of superheated sulfuric gas hissed out from beneath rock towers on the mud flats. Gaseous bubbles gurgled up through the hot muck that was roped off for safety, and there were path signs to keep you from walking where your boots would melt right onto the ground.

The lava fields covered in moss offered a life-sized labyrinth that further dampened the sound of the surrounding atmosphere and teemed with a variety of small life forms (lichens, moss and flowers galore).

Overall, my artist residency with the Light Grey Art Lab was a huge success. I learned a lot about the other artists, including painters, illustrators, motion designers, etc., and I feel like my creative family has grown as a result. The hardest part of the residency for me was saying ‘goodbye’ when my fellow artists were heading home, but my journey was only beginning…”

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Renee Oehlerking
Renee Oehlerking is the Public Relations Manager at Cochlear Americas where she is responsible for the region’s public relations and consumer marketing social media. Renee enjoys uncovering, telling and showcasing the inspiring stories of hearing implant recipients. As a recent transplant to Denver, Colorado, Renee enjoys exploring all that the state has to offer outdoors.