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Toril Johannessen

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In Search of Iceland Spar

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From the mid 19th century onwards various optical instruments made use of the mineral Iceland spar. The project “In Search of Iceland Spar” is a quest to trace pieces of this mineral originating from a specific site on Iceland, the Helgustadir quarry. The mineral is commonly known as Iceland spar because very fine and transparent crystals were initially mined from this precise site on the island. Its exceptional characteristics – polarization of light – made the crystal central in the development of the natural sciences, i.e. petrographic microscopes used in mineralogy originally had Iceland spar as a basic component, which led to great advances in the field of geology. During the 19th century, the Helgustadir quarry alone supplied scientists, museums, lens-producers and others with Iceland spar. The quantities in the quarry were limited, and by the early 1880s there was a shortage of Iceland spar in Europe, a situation referred to as a “spar famine”, and at the turn of the 20th century the quarry was eventually depleted.

I have traced pieces of Iceland spar originating specifically from Helgustadir by sending a letter to people worldwide via e-mail, asking for pictures of the mineral, both in pure pieces and in instruments. The request is targeted towards scientists, curators, museums, diverse scientific institutions, mineral clubs, lens manufacturers and others who are likely to hold a sample. The resulting installation contains images of Iceland spar specimens and instruments including it exclusively from Helgustadir.

For image contributions or any inquiries about the project, please contact me at: to.johannessen[at]gmail.com. 

Thanks to all contributors

 

>>>> INSTALLATION VIEWS: Documentation of the installation
>>>> IMAGE ARCHIVE: All collected images of Iceland spar
>>>> LETTER OF INQUIRY: NORSK/ENGLISH/FRANÇAIS/DEUTSCH/ESPANõL/CHINESE: