Cloud, mineral, satellite, story: Afield at Skaftfell Center for Visual Art

Cloud, mineral, satellite, story: Afield at Skaftfell Center for Visual Art


Cloud, mineral, satellite, story: Afield at Skaftfell Center for Visual Art

Skaftfell’s 2022 summer exhibition Afield (Fjær) is connected to curator Becky Forsythe’s ongoing research-based project that considers land-based practices, materials and themes. The exhibition brings together works by Icelandic and Canadian and American artists, as well as found objects collected in archeological and geological excavations on loan from The National Museum of Iceland and The Icelandic Institute of Natural History. The multidisciplinary curatorial approach tells new stories through art and scientific research. Alongside works by Canadian and American artists Diane Borsato (1973) and Geoffrey Hendricks (1931 – 2018) and Icelandic artist Þorgerður Ólafsdóttir (1985), the exhibition includes minerals collected by the Icelandic photographer Nicoline Weywadt (1848 – 1921) at her family farm in Teigarhorn, in the East Fjords of Iceland, as well as objects excavated from the archaeological dig at Fjörð in Seyðisfjörður, during summer 2020 and 2021. The exhibition is an example of Skaftfell’s importance as a venue for lively artist-led activity and curatorial experimentation. 

The artworks on view by Borsato, Hendricks and Ólafsdóttir, are shown alongside minerals and plastic artifacts found in history and natural history museum collections today. Together they constellate references to the sky, geology, land, and push further into themes of archeological exploration, mineral extraction, taxonomy and classification, and human-led environmental impact. In the exhibition human and environmental ecologies are unearthed in fieldwork, research and performance that in various ways speak to our current position in the Anthropocene.

Installation view. Courtesy of Skaftfell.

Installation view. Courtesy of SkaftfellInstallation view. Courtesy of Skaftfell.

Installation viewInstallation view. Courtesy of Skaftfell.

In A Large Sky for Iceland Geoffrey Hendricks preserves the clouds in the sky. Fleeting and phenomenal, the reference to that which is impermanent invites viewers to look up high and take note of the changes that are happening as quick as clouds, and in doing so, make further connections between the sky and the earth. In his back-to-the-land way and his many interpretations of clouds, Geoffrey’s performances, which often resulted in works like this, incorporated natural materials that, in unison with his body, were a point of reference and closeness to what surrounds us.

Geoffrey Hendricks - A large sky for Iceland

Geoffrey Hendricks - A large sky for IcelandGeoffrey Hendricks, A Large Sky for Iceland, 1984, acrylic and graphite drawing on paper, collection of The Living Art Museum.

In the photograph The Sky Below Seyðisförður, Ólafsdóttir has assembled vibrant blue pottery fragments found at the archaeology dig in Fjörður, in a nod to Hendricks’ paintings of clouds and skies. The pottery fragments were recently unearthed in Seyðisfjörður in an archeological excavation being led by Ragnheiður Traustadóttir’s Antikva project; they are now preserved at the National Museum of Iceland along with other pot shards featured in another photograph, Flowers for Seyðisfjörður. In the assemblage composed of plastic finds entitled Atlas of the Heavens, the found objects are shown against found prints of the heavens as if to evoke a distant place, with the plastic performing as potential satellites in a near-future sky. Not all of the synthetic objects found at Fjörður, arriving from our everyday lives, have been turned precious. Rather, as documented in photographs reproduced as risographs entitled Almost Artifacts, some objects have been discarded again, placed back into the ground. Time Capsules, a work based on photographs of core samples serves as an cyclical archive of time as it disappears.

Þorgerður Ólafsdóttir, Himinkort / Atlas of the Heavens Þorgerður Ólafsdóttir, Himinkort / Atlas of the Heavens, 1950 / 2022, offset print, excavated plastic artifacts (detail). Courtesy of the artist.

Plastic RemainsÞorgerður Ólafsdóttir, Riso print, excavated plastic artifacts (detail). Courtesy of the artist. Documentation by Rannveig Þórhallsdóttir. Discarded plastic remains found in the excavation dig in Fjörður.

Þorgerður ÓlafsdóttirBlóm handa Seyðisfirði / Flowers for Seyðisfjörður and Himinninn undir Seyðisfirði / The Sky below Seyðisfjörður, 2022, photographic work. Courtesy of Skaftfell.

Borsato’s video Gems and Minerals speaks to some of the world’s oldest geological resources: the rocks and minerals found in the Teck Suite: Earth’s Treasures galleries at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. In the video, museum guides use American Sign Language (ASL) and site-responsive dance to illuminate and focus a critical lens on stories that are not usually told about the social impact of mining and extraction, and of the seductive beauty of the materials we mine. The work asks us to pay close attention to the curiosities found in natural history collections, and to push further to consider their less-impermanent objects to the stories that are told through them — by whom and at what cost? Sometimes with humor, but more often disturbing and complex, the performed stories shed light on questions of personal attachment and reliance, of land theft leading to loss of Indigenous spiritual traditions, and the environmental and economical impacts of mining and resource extraction.

Diane Borsato - Gems and Minerals

Diane Borsato, Gems and Minerals, 2018, video, 25 mín. (video stills). Courtesy of the artist.

Gathered, organized and assembled in response to works by Borsato and Þorgerður, minerals collected by Nicoline Weywadt (1848-1921) demonstrate the human desire to collection and classify. Weywadt, who studied mineralogy in Copenhagen in the 1870s (and, significantly, was Iceland’s first professionally-trained photographers) collected minerals at Teigarhorn, in Dúpavogshreppur, in east Iceland, a mineral-rich area where Schoolite, stilbite, epistilbite, mordenite, laumontite and heulandite, seladonite, opal, chalcedony, rock crystal, calcite and Iceland spar are found. Although the region was declared a natural monument in 1976, for over 200 years the zeolites here were used in various geological studies and, in the 18th century, specimens were sold to museums around the world. 

Taken together, the objects in the exhibition ask the view to consider the many ways we attend to land and its beauty, but also the equally many ways we extract what is precious from it. In Afield, ethereal hand-painted and found skies, collected gems and minerals, performed stories and archeological finds counter notions of decay to become catalysts for memory and the experience of the the passage and suspension in geologic time. By considering human desire and its impact on change in the natural, non-human world, the exhibition asks: how can the ritual of heading out into the environment, newly navigating our relationship to it, move us closer to knowing this changing world?

Becky Forsythe

Afield / Fjær opened on June 4th and is currently on view at Skaftfell Center for Visual Art until September 4th 2022.

The exhibition is curated by Becky Forsythe, with the support of staff at Skaftfell.

For more on the artists and their work:

Skaftfell — myndlistarmiðstöð Austurlands / Center for Visual Art
Austurvegur 42, Seyðisfjörður –

Confronting Surfaces

Confronting Surfaces

Confronting Surfaces

A bright colored tracksuit hanging from the ceiling is slowly turning as if an invisible air stream were spinning it around. When moving closer to the work I realise that the tracksuit’s print is an actual print of the tracksuit itself laying flat on a wooden floor. A meta-view of a tracksuit. A fashion garment staged as an art piece. This work, together with others, is a part of a new exhibition at Skaftfell Art Center in Seyðisfjörður which brings together works by American visual artist Cheryl Donegan (1962) and Swiss visual artist Dieter Roth (1930-1998).

The exhibition was curated by the director of Skaftfell, Gavin Morrison, who saw a resonance between Roth’s works and Donegan’s contemporary printing methods. A resonance especially apparent in Dieter Roth’s later years which he mostly spent in Seyðisfjörður producing innumerable prints, drawings and books.

When asked, Morrison explains he finds that both artists through experimenting with content and printing techniques engage in self-reflected conversations on the aspect of printing and publishing as a strategy of art.

Donegan‘s fabric pieces are exhibited hanging from the walls and from the ceiling and laying on tables, in-between table displays showing Roth’s books and sketches. In fact, the exhibition consists in full of Donegan’s three tracksuits, four wall pieces made by dyed fabric, one large wall banner which stretches out onto the floor, one video work and three textile works bound together as books. All of Donegan’s works are interwoven with six tables displaying Roth’s heterogeneous works such as books, prints, notes, drawings, diary entries and nine pixelated newspaper cut-outs on a wall.

Cheryl Donegan, Banner (Light Blue Gingham), 2014-ongoing. Photograph: Mary Buckland/Skaftfell

On one of June’s last days I called Cheryl Donegan. She was back in her home in New York after having visited Iceland and Seyðisfjörður to set up the exhibition at Skaftfell. To begin the conversation, I asked her to introduce us to her practise.

When I was in art school, I was always painting. I was determined that I was going to be a painter. It was not until after my second degree that I picked up a camera and that was what I got famous for in the 90’s. The residue of video art is still in my work today in form of digital technology. At this point technology is blended so thoroughly into my work that now I am doing painting, printing and using digital and craft means. In a way I feel that I have found my way back to painting through these interventions.

By mixing digital methods with analogue craft Donegan creates works in which methods and styles from high tech and low tech meet – digital means meets physical craft.

 I have developed a set of methods by combining digitally printed fabrics and craft techniques like dyeing and printing such as primitive forms like resist dyeing and my own adapted methods from batik. This combined with what I call an ecology of images which comes from the world around me: photographs I take, imagery that I am attracted to online, low-end consumer imagery and things I find in everyday life such as clothing and patterns. I am always collecting images and reusing them again and again.

The printing and publishing practice seems to be the common ground between Donegan’s and Roth’s works. In one of the glass displays showing Roth’s works I stumble upon a stack of illustrations very simplistically piled up revealing only the top image. This pile symbolises the quantity of Roth’s works and it might suggest the challenge that the curator had to face when dealing with Roth’s massive production.

On a table, fourteen books titled either ‘dieter roth’ or ‘dieter rot’ and all numbered differently: ‘dieter roth 3’, ‘dieter rot 20’, ‘dieter roth 12’ are displayed. Flipping through the pages of these books I understood that this format was for Roth a way of documenting his own practice, other people’s art, old newspapers articles, cartoons, sketches, prints and geometric figures. One book is even showing a collection of Roth’s own books. A book on books!

Installation view, Dieter Roth. Photograph: Mary Buckland/Skaftfell

When asking Donegan about her specific interest in printing she quickly connects it to her practice as a painter.

The recent history of painting is printing. I see a heritage of especially American artists dealing with reproduction and doing it in a way that is very much involved with “the hand” and the idea that you confront a surface not only by marking it, but by doubling it, repeating it. Working directly with fabric is for me the most influential. For instance with dye, the saturation of the fabric. The colors are not just ON the surface, they are IN the surface.

Walking around in the gallery space Donegan’s interest in colors is apparent and one work in particular stands out in the exhibition. Peels (2018/2019) has the shape of an oversized book and each of its pages is a dyed piece of fabric. The textile is thickly saturated with layers of color and the shapes vary from geometrical figures to freely sketched motives.

Cheryl Donegan, Peels, 2018/19 (Livre de Peinture). Photograph: Mary Buckland/Skaftfell

Cheryl Donegan, Flaps, 2019 (Livre de Peinture) Photograph: Mary Buckland/Skaftfell 

Donegan connects her interest in colors with a childhood memory. Big books of wallpaper samples would be scattered around in the house where she grew up as her mother constantly had plans to redecorate and get new wallpapers on the walls.

My interest comes from the fantasy of getting lost in different worlds of color and textures. As with a page in a wallpaper book, each page in “Peels” represent a possibility, a bigger world, a different world. The pages are samples of possibilities! I remember having a lot of aesthetic pleasure looking through those thick books of wallpaper and feeling their patterns. I have these sensual memories of laying on my stomach in the living room turning these big pages of a book. Talking about low-tech, right?

In recent years Donegan has been working in the cross-field of art and fashion. Working with printing and dyeing of fabric Donegan found herself beginning to create actual wearables and garments. The three tracksuits exhibited in Skaftfell are all in strong signal colors and the prints are made by images of other tracksuits and fabrics. The caption next to the tracksuits informs that an „endless edition“ is available for sale on the website Print All Over Me, an American website to create and order custom printed garments.

Donegan highlights that the time we are currently living in is a time of distribution. From Donegan’s childhood in the 1960’s the world had seen a shift in the distribution structures from being a one-way function to today’s flow of creation, sharing and distribution in-between consumer and creator constantly blurring lines between the two.

One of the positive effects of social media – perhaps the only I can think of – is that today people can make things together and teach each other how to do things by sharing the process. Distribution is not going away, so let us use it to share things instead. I am not the top of the totem. I am a part of a system and that is the motive behind my art. That is what I am interested in!

Nanna Vibe Spejlborg Juelsbo


 Skaftfell Art Center’s website

Cover picture: Cheryl Donegan, ExtraLayer Tracksuit in Cracked, 2016 Print on demand, endless edition and Cheryl Donegan, Flaps, 2019 (Livre de Peinture). Photograph: Mary Buckland/Skaftfell

On display and for sale are also a collection of zines created by Cheryl Donegan and her friends.

As a side to the exhibition, Dieter Roth’s installation Húsin á Seyðisfirði, vetur 1988 – sumar 1995 [Houses of Seyðisfjörður, winter 1988 – summer 1995] is exhibited in Angró – a harbor building close to Skaftfell. This exhibition is made in collaboration with the Technical Museum in East Iceland.

Cheryl Donegan prints are purchasable here:

“Between people and places”: An Interview with Gavin Morrison

“Between people and places”: An Interview with Gavin Morrison

“Between people and places”: An Interview with Gavin Morrison

My first meeting with Gavin Morrison was brief, sparked through his research on Donald Judd in Iceland, and its connection to the Living Art Museum. Morrison visited the museum, via Ingólfur Arnarson, in hopes to collect information related to a group exhibition in 1988 Judd had participated in and what remained of this moment in Nýló´s archives. An article about this history titled “Donald Judd and Iceland” was later published for the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, 2018. The article explores the narrative circulating Judd´s activity in Iceland, what led to those explorations in site, place and expanses, and is not so far removed from the way Morrison (or others) ended up here, working with artists more permanently. 

Fast forward and Gavin is now Director of Skaftfell – Centre for Visual Art in East Iceland. In this interview Gavin considers his relationship to Iceland, and current role through a global perspective, with reflections on the movement of people to places and the connections made in between. For him, these things become a site for placing local or regional contexts amongst an “international vernacular” — a curatorial practice embedded in cultural history.


You are a curator (also a writer, publisher and collaborator). Where and how did this begin?

I can’t say with any great certainty when the beginning was, but while studying philosophy at Edinburgh I somewhat accidentally established Atopia Projects, a curatorial and publishing initiative with an artist friend, Fraser Stables. We’d both been concerned with similar problems, an anthropological understanding of how we inhabit contemporary spatial locations. He was approaching this through art and I through writing. We expanded our dialogues by inviting others to join in, which evolved into publishing a journal of sorts. This was around 1999 and since then we have kept an erratic schedule of releases making books, exhibitions and other published forms. Working this way, in the collaborative approach and realizing ideas in different forms, made me very interested in the ways those aspects affect the ideas expressed. 

This resonates as a key moment and meeting point, how did it translate into making exhibitions?

I think through this I became fascinated in the exhibition format, its ability to present objects and ideas in non-linear, disjunctive and discursive relationships. I love the primacy of the visual medium and to make exhibitions that can only be understood in that form. That is not to say that I am not equally committed to writing and books, I enjoy the luxury of being able to work through various modes of thinking reliant on the particularities of those forms. More recently I have fallen into collaborations with artists. I don’t think of myself as an artist and I’m not sure exactly what those things are that I have made with artists, such as on-going project A History of Type Design with the Scottish artist Scott Myles or a series of prints with the Norwegian artist Arild Tveito, they seem to fall between designations, they are not exactly artworks, more allegorical emblems in a type of thinking, one which can only be expressed through a visual mode.

In what ways do you approach working with different artists?

I try to respond to artists and their work in a way that is consistent with their intentions, and try to avoid using artists to illustrate an idea which I may have. Where it is easy to fall into a didactic approach within the curatorial role, it is undoubtedly more interesting and rewarding to engage with the breadth and the intentions of an artist’s practice. I am fortunate that this approach has resulted in extended relationships with various artists. It is wonderful to be part of a conversation about the work. It is these types of relationships that have led to creating those ‘allegorical emblems’, where discussion of shared interests makes for something new that couldn’t exist with either of the individuals solely.  


Skaftfell – Centre for Visual Art, Seyðisfjörður 

From Scotland, to the south of France, now Seyðisfjörður; what precipitated your connection to Iceland and projects here?

I’d been living around Marseille and on Corsica for a number of years before here. I first came to Iceland in 2001, on a three day stop-over to Houston to undertake a research fellowship at the Museum of Fine Arts there. An artist who I’d been working with in Scotland, Alan Johnston, was a highly vocal advocate for artists in Iceland, and he connected me to various people in town. It was an incredibly brief period but I made connections with artists, writers and curators that have continued to this day. I found there to be a generosity, both personally, and in thinking with those I got to know. That generosity, I think, arose from the concentration of the art scene in Reykjavik. Almost immediately I started to work with the artists I had met and came back to visit regularly.

 In 2010, I finally made it to Seyðisfjörður, I knew of the place through Birgir Andrésson, who had long implored me to make the effort to come here. After his death, I heard that Skaftfell had his former home for artists in residence, so I came to work for a month on curatorial projects. On the way I was stuck in Reykjavik for a few days, waiting for the wind to change, and blow the ash cloud from the erupting Eyjafjallajökull away from the flight path to Egilsstaðir. I had an incredibly productive time and was asked back a few years later as part of a project with Skaftfell, organised by Ráðhildur Ingadóttir. Following which I was invited to serve as the Honorary Artistic Director in 2015 for two years.

There are moments of movement, finding place and connection that sit at the forefront of your experience with art, and no less in your relationship to the island. What would you say were your first impressions of the art scene when you arrived?

I do wonder if I would have the same experience today arriving into Reykjavik as I did in 2001. The people I met at that time were eager to show and talk of their work. I doubt that has changed so much, but with greater connectivity between people and places and how Iceland has excelled in establishing itself within the art world, there is perhaps easier ways to make connections than showing up a studio door. It seemed that during each studio visit the artist would phone someone else, and I would go straight from one to the other not quite knowing who or what I was going to see. I did enjoy that more naive moment, where now the internet provides an avenue for perpetual research and forewarning. But at the heart of it, I think the Reykjavik art scene has retained its vibrancy and excitement. It is small. Small enough that everyone knows one another, more or less. And with that scale it means hierarchies can seem absurd or at least easily circumvented.

Coming from Scotland I was impressed that the museums would show young Icelandic artists. That seemed like a powerful acknowledgement that artists were of value and also that museums were part of culture not merely an accumulated history. Existing alongside this also seemed to be an ambivalence to art history amongst the artists. I don’t mean that there was an ignorance towards history but rather they didn’t seem bound by it or feel it as a burden. Instead there was an ability to quote from it and reinterpret it. This also seemed liberating, it was as if there was a residual spirit of dada, fluxus or punk.

Even though Reykjavik is diminutive in scale it didn’t, and still doesn’t, feel culturally small. I suspect that is due in a large part to its cosmopolitan make up, both that it is welcoming of international artists who spend time there, either short term or for longer periods. But perhaps most notably is the way in which artists studying abroad return and their divergent experiences become braided with one another.

As new Director of Skaftfell, how are you positioning yourself?

I feel the curatorial position of Skaftfell comes with a certain mandate principally related to the context of Seyðisfjörður. It does not restrict the program to being local and provincial but is a point from which the curatorial view originates. In many respects Skaftfell is a custodian of the cultural history of Seyðisfjörður. The art center arose through the initiatives of a group of local artists and there always seems to have been a radical substrata to the art scene here. This history, of a group of artists in a particular place, looking out into the wider world suggests the mode of working — an attention to the local which informs a global perspective. It is a kind of international vernacular. This perspective is written into the material structure of Skaftfell. We maintain three buildings, the Skaftfell house, Geirahús and Tvísöngur: a traditional timber house converted into a bistro, gallery and residency through the design of Björn Roth (that draws influence from Dieter Roth); the diminutive and colourful home of the local outsider artist Ásgeir Jón Emilsson (1931-1999); and the concrete sound sculpture by German artist Lukas Kühne. Each building is a type of artwork, where inhabitation has creative potential. As custodians of this heritage we seek to find ways in which it can be celebrated and discover how contemporary artists can relate to and form their own legacies.

My current inspiration in this role comes from this inception, the initiatives of this group of local artists, through to its relationship with the diverse local community as both audience and collaborators. It is this particular vernacular that underpins the curatorial strategy — the view outward from Skaftfell and Seyðisfjörður, an undoubted international perspective but approached from the specifics of history, locality and geographies.

Still Images from the installation: Dieter Roth, Seyðisfjörður Slides – Every View of a Town 1988-1995, 1995

What is in store for Skaftfell regarding this summer’s exhibition?

This summer’s shows takes on Skaftfell’s  history and potential directly by re-staging an installation Dieter Roth made in a harbour-side building in 1995. The work, Seyðisfjörður Slides – Every View of a Town, 1988 – 1995, an installation of six slide projectors which shows every building in town in the winter of 1988 and then in the summer of 1995. Was first shown in the town wide exhibition Á Seydi in 1995. This exhibition was organised by artists in the town and was an important precursor to the formation of Skaftfell. Our re-staging of the installation offers an opportunity for the town to look back at its history and consider the social changes since it was first shown. In conjunction with this installation we will also mount an exhibition in Skaftfell’s gallery, a form of retrospective of Dieter Roth’s book and published works, with the printed paintings and textiles of New York artist Cheryl Donegan.

Donegan and Dieter’s similar and divergent methods will provide a fascinating way to consider a shared utilisation of printing and publishing strategies between these two artists. For the exhibition, Donegan will present recent work in the form of clothes, paintings, videos, printed textiles, and zines.

What, in your mind, can an exhibition space become — and more specifically regarding Skaftfell?

I think that there is a particularity to spaces, one that can be felt acutely with Skaftfell. The conversion of the building establishes a functional and ethical position for the gallery. The ground floor of Skaftfell houses the bistro, with its library of Dieter Roth books, and from which a staircase directly leads to the gallery space on the next floor (and above the gallery is an apartment to be used for residencies and visiting artists). This arrangement echos the primacy of Skaftfell’s place in the local community. There is a porous relationship of Skaftfell’s function as a space of social interactions, which easily flow from the bistro to the gallery and back, and as a type of town forum, a place where discussions can be arise due to the work in the gallery, or despite of it. It is one of the most socially dynamic galleries that I know. This is the background to making exhibitions at Skaftfell.

Sometimes the purpose of the curator is to create the circumstances to let an accident happen. This type of purposeful ambivalence was partly what motivated our spring exhibition, Collectors. We wanted to create an exhibition in which the outcome was not something determined by curatorial oversight but was the expression of a local vernacular, an exhibition made by the local community. We made a general invitation to the people of Seyðisfjörður, that if they had a collection, irrespective of what it was or whether it was the result of purposeful collecting or accidental accumulation, that we would show it in the gallery. We wanted to create a situation where the town could show something of themselves to one another, something that perhaps was to an extent private. A type of self-portrait of Seyðisfjörður and also a means to consider the role of the gallery for the local population. The gallery does have that ‘power’ as being a part of the conversation in how a town thinks of itself. And it also has the capacity to disperse and re-orientate the curatorial ‘power‘ allowing for a plurality of expression.


Installation view of the exhibition Collectors at Skaftfell – Center for Visual Art.

This thought of a plurality of expression is so relevant to both visual art and curating presently in the world, and although broad in consideration, why was it contemporary art for you?

I am excited that contemporary art lacks a functional purpose, with that it has the ability to change and adapt, to be whatever it wishes within any circumstance it finds itself. This malleability can also be taken advantage of, art being used as a surrogate and chorus-line, being made to fill in gaps of social provision and take on causes. I think my position is in part to help maintain its purposeful purposelessness, to allow for it to have utility as it wishes but always retain its autonomy.


Becky Forsythe

Gavin Morrison is a writer, curator, publisher and current Director of Skaftfell Centre for Visual Art in East Iceland. He previously served as Honorary Artistic Director there between 2015-2016 and was responsible for exhibitions including: Eyborg Guðmundsdóttir & Eygló Harðardóttir; Ingólfur Arnarsson & Þuríður Rós Sigurþórsdóttir; Unoriginal: copying, duplication and plagiarism in art and design; and solo projects by Hanna Kristín Birgisdóttir and Sigurður Atli Sigurðsson. Throughout his career, Morrison has held positions at and collaborated with various international institutions including Kungl. Konsthögskolan, Stockholm; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Osaka Contemporary Art Center, Japan; University of Edinburgh, Scotland; and most recently as Research Fellow at Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University, USA.



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