Our show opens....
As the residency comes to a close, we all have started to think about the title of our exhibition. Because many of us have different working and sleeping schedules, we tend to communicate via a Facebook closed group page. I know, its funny, considering we live in such close quarters.
It seems a few of us really like using the word, "eternize," as our title, which was yesterday's word of the day. The definition is "cause to live or last forever." I realize that a residency is incredibly special- not just for the place it is but for the gift of time it gives one to devote to their studio practice. This time in Iceland is finite but the impact will be ongoing... a cause to last forever. Anyway, while I don't know at this moment that this will be what the name of the show will be, I liked thinking about what this all is.
I also was downtown for a good part of yesterday to run some errands. I had lunch at the falafel shop and read the "Iceland Grapevine," which is a weekly free paper that discusses culture and current events. I read a book review for "Land of Love and Ruin" by Oddný Eir. I liked what I read so much that I wanted to buy the book to read on the plane however I didn't find it at the bookstore. When I looked it up on Amazon, it has some questionable reviews but it seems its because people expected a linear narrative. I'm ok with it not having one... I mean, it is endorsed by Bjork, for god's sake.
The review was peppered with quotes from the book- one reading "Surely beauty must be in motion. Or be motion." This really struck me, as I have replaced the word beauty with art. Not only does a residency eternize the art practice but it creates/is the motion that Eir suggests.
I sometimes really struggle feeling good about working across so many disciplines/mediums. I judge myself harshly as if it implies my practice lacks discipline. I've done that here over and over again as I have been bumbling through learning this video software. My studio is next to another artist who I tease because I never see her unless I catch her when she comes out to eat. She must have piles and piles of work while I know I have spent piles and piles of time trying to figure out Adobe Premiere.
I do try to come to terms with dumping my small and precious time into learning software instead of doing what I know. That quote I came across I am trying to hold onto as a validation- that perhaps learning something new and coming out of this residency with a few minutes of video is a practice in motion.
I also can't neglect the environment of the country. Yule Lads and Christmas Cat aside, I am still so moved by the glaciers. This breaking off and floating away as a concept is still so striking to me- the ice caps as this crust that covers over geothermal activity, violent even, quietly break away with environmental pressure. The relationship brittle.
For more info about the book I read about, check out this link: https://www.amazon.com/Land-Love-Ruins-Oddn%C3%BD-Eir/dp/1632060728/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1482246870&sr=8-1&keywords=land+of+love+and+ruins
On a lighter note, if you want to know what Yule Lad you are, you can take this quiz.
I am Stekkjarstaur
English translation: Sheep-Pen Clod. This is the first Yule Lad to come, on 12 December. He likes to harass sheep but is slightly impaired due to his peg legs.
If you haven't already noticed, I tend to write these posts every morning about the previous day. So this morning, which is December 19, Reykjavik has snow on the ground! Despite what one might assume about Iceland, this month of December has been full of wind and rain, but no snow (although we can see it far in the distance). Just in time for our Icelandic Christmas dinner that is happening this evening at the residence! The SIM staff will be taking over the kitchen to make us the true Icelandic meal- I'll have more to report on that tomorrow.
Today's post is broken into a few fragments as I re-group from our trip and look at wrapping up the residency.
Now for yesterday's thoughts- Being out on the road the past few days, I had a ton of grading to wrap up and post finals. I did spend a lot of the day doing that however I did take advantage of the beautiful light coming through my room to re-shoot some footage that I had been frustrated with prior to leaving for the coast.
Do you know what that means? I'm taking another stab at the last morse code piece with a slightly differently approach. What a difference a few days make. And what seems completely ridiculous is that the resolution to some of my major frustrations was the quality of the imagery. So I'm re-shooting it (and re-shooting it because even yesterday wasn't quite right). Funny how the most obvious of solutions are not obvious at all.
But what I am also contemplating is their life beyond youtube. I'm now considering what their life would be as installed in a gallery. It seemed to be another piece of the puzzle that I had not been thinking about and now I feel I should be so that is on the docket today. Plus it begins to start to feel more like something that I might make and not this somewhat left field "now I use video" nonsense.
We'll see what happens.
Thoughts on Glaciers
I hadn't mentioned what happened when we pulled into our second lagoon (Jökulsárlón of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier) the other day. Friday was an utterly overwhelming day. I mean, so was Thursday and Saturday, but Friday we visited glaciers in probably the most perfect weather ever. I mean it was damn cold but the light was stunning.
We talked a little bit in the car about what actually is a glacier. Have you really thought about it before? I mean I have always just been like "it's beautiful chunks of floating ice" and while that is true, there is something far more poetic about them.
We were at the largest ice cap in Iceland, Vatnajökull (which is a national park of the same name), which covers 8300 kilometers. So we started to discuss that the ice cap rests above volcanos (the largest being Grímsvötn in that region) and in the depths under the ice is geothermal activity cause by the volcano. It's mind boggling to think about the coldness of this ice and the stirring heat that it covers. Over a gajillion years (accurate measurement), the moisture freezes and heats up and freezes over and over again which causes what we see in glaciers. Then, from time to time, volcanic eruptions happen to release pressure the ice caps create.
We saw two different types of ice- bright blue pieces and shimmering clear pieces. The pieces that break away from the glacier and float in the lagoon is a process called 'calving.' The blue pieces are the oldest and have that color due to its density. This is many, many years of accumulation which results in extremely compacted crystalline structure where all colors of light pass through the ice, except for blue, leaving it the color we see. The clear pieces, well, they are the babies of the group.
This is a pretty generalized explanation. If you want more on glaciers, click here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glacier
Now, I had to research some of that for you so I could explain it properly. When we arrived on Friday, I wasn't thinking of any of that (or at least with any amount of depth). At risk of sounding melodramatic, we got the first glimpse of the glacier calves and my eyes welled up. Then we pull around to the lagoon and my eyes bubbled over with tears and to my surprise, I just started to cry and cry. I have no idea how or why it happened like that. I would have thought I could control myself over a bunch of floating ice in a lagoon.
But think of it, it has formed over a thousand years. It's what we based our metaphors on- and oddly correlates with the videos I've been making here- the composure and stillness on the outside that covers over the intensity of turmoil on the inside. And these pieces break off, calves, as children of the glacier and cast away into the water to melt and fall away forever. And with climate change as a reality, it falls away without hope.
I feel as though I watched these pieces of ice, as beautiful as they are, as these tragic figures in their swan song. That, is overwhelming.
I completely get that I am personifying an inanimate object (but as artists don't we do that sometimes anyway).
I wanted to write a bit more today but I'm afraid this took much longer than anticipated so I need to move along. More tomorrow, including a report on Icelandic dinner, menu and all!
I just spent a beautiful few days on the south coast with 2 of the other (lovely) residents. We had a tremendously moving experience together. The three of us traveled without having to speak a word; we often had a hard time articulating the impact of what we saw; and we were moved (a word that hardly sums it up) by the power of the landscape. I have never had an experience such as this. My photos hardly capture the essence of this incredible place.
It's a short post today because I am going to let the photos do the talking.
(Some photos turned slightly blue at the second lagoon, due to fading light and camera settings, but other than that, I tried to keep the color as accurate as possible.
Photos are in order of the trip we took so you get a sense of how fast the day passes due to light and the weather. I will also try and add locations to the photo caption as I can locate the spelling of them.
Click the image to enlarge. Not all photos are square- as much as I would like that).
Oh man, it's a whiney post:
I woke yesterday morning thinking that it was today. The days really run together- it's dark so long and light so short that we end up feeling like we are in this everlasting twilight. And on top of it, it's been so rainy.
But today a few of us begin our adventure to the south coast. We expect to see lots of snow, some glaciers and general otherworldlyness that is Iceland.
In studio news, there are a few things at play here. I tend to have to see something through to the end just to feel as though I've worked through a project to the end and not allow myself to abandon it when it gets hard (a really good metaphor for my life). I have been messing around with the second plea video that it was becoming just stupid to me. I did have some issues that I was trying to address in post-production- such as tremendous camera shake due to wind, even though the camera was mounted on a tripod. The program I am using (Adobe Premiere) is pretty awesome and has infinite capabilities that maybe, one day, I'll be proficient on, but I guess the fact is, I get frustrated trouble shooting less than stellar footage.
So part of just laying something to rest is that I require myself to export it to youtube. I finally did that and am sharing here. I don't know. I'm not enjoying this video stuff. Although parts of it satisfies the ocd part of me, I find that i don't feel as though I start with strong enough imagery that gets me excited as I work on the idea. Lighting is bad and it is so hard to film myself. While I like the way the neck and shoulder pieces were framed, I have numerous other pieces of footage that are just not good or what I feel are too cliche.
And I always think a break might be useful. I took a break to grade for a day and came back to video work, still not feeling refreshed and mostly just feeling stressed. Now I'll be on the road for a few days and maybe that will be more time to contemplate these works. We'll see, but I am thinking that it may be time to ditch this idea. I guess, time will tell.
A quick update to yesterday- While I spent most of my day grading, I did cap the evening off with a truly Icelandic experience... going to the outdoor pool. Pools are a very big thing here and are open year round. It seems like it is where everyone goes to just meet, hang out and talk. Another resident and I agreed we would go together on day one (or so, but who's counting).
The pools are geothermal so they are heated and around the perimeter are "hot pots" which are hot tubs heated to set temperatures. While I loved being in the hottest one, my friend needed to moved to the next one down. I eventually did too and we spent the evening discussing foreign languages and places to visit next. We befriended an Icelander who was hilarious and great to have in the conversation mix. Conclusion: we are going back! Soon!
PS. One does not take their towel outside. One dashes from the locker room to the desired pool or hot pot and jumps in. It's a cold dash but I came to find you don't need it after time in the water.
As a break from grading yesterday, I decided to write a bit more about drawing.
A definition on drawing:
My recent performative work really grew out of the act of drawing and my early work in my studies that responded to the body through adornment.
I view drawing as an act of mark-making and anyone who has ever taken a class with me knows that I value the power of the mark. Three years ago I began to make drawings based on body proportions and measurements. I considered them figural works, although not obviously the figure as we know it. I had grown tired of depicting the figure with marks applied to its image. I grew to feel that the overall imagery seemed disconnected- that the figure was still a passive object to which the artist applied marks to and around.
These newer works were meant to be more psychological and ontological. They embraced error and the interdependence of the artist to drawing. The artist creates the mark, intentionally, methodically while the drawing expresses the narrative. While the drawings became more satisfying to make and felt less objectifying of the figure, the thing that emerged as most important was how it felt to make these works.
The ACT of making the drawing I noticed to be physical. I had the same feeling creating a drawing as I did after a class of yoga. It either cleared my head or drew attention to parts of my body I hadn't thought about in a while. While this was invigorating, I soon grew bored of working on paper, not matter how many different ways I thought about making marks that reference the body.
It grew into more drawings that were based on the body proportion while also involving the body. And then there were drawings that happened just on the body. This further grew into sculptural work- which also is quite physical but one doesn't lose oneself in a sculpture like they do a drawing (or knitting for that matter). If my wrists weren't such a mess, I'd knit night and day.
Last winter, I made a piece that was a simple object oriented around the body. It was rope and it used the same proportions as my circle drawings but the rope came to mean so much more. Length of my Infinite Love is the length of my arm span but made from material that is meant to bring things together, secure them from falling apart, yet it can go too far and have a destructive quality to it. I struggled with making other art pieces with this material that were as potent and meaningful as this one.
In the Spring, I was challenged by my advanced drawing students to the "Obstruction" assignment. This is an assignment I base off of Richard Linklater (more info here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0354575/) to my advanced students- to each write a "rule" to consider when remaking what you consider your masterpiece. I worked with the Length of my Infinite Love and if I remember correctly, I had to 1. use a personal item, 2. no circles, 3. no cats, and 4. use watercolor (the one that threw me most for a loop). It wasn't a great piece (a sandbag made from a mattress casing hung from 2 ropes, watercolored) but it opened the door to a small performance I did carrying seven 3 pound weights around my neck. The piece ended up as The Weight of These Decisions. Three pounds is the weight of the average human brain and I wanted to mark the physicality of one's decisions- emotions that we feel in our body and know as real. Seven of these weights represent a finite amount of time around these decisions.
While THIS wasn't a great performance, THIS was a great drawing. This is what I wanted drawing to tackle for me- authenticity. Why draw about something when you can draw with and on it? I wanted a visceral connection to the work. And this is very different than drawing ON my body a few years back. The marks are felt. The weight is carried. The message is engrained.
Drawing is a vast modality. It no longer needs to be matted and framed on the wall. For me, my experiences can be recorded in the skin of my body, using that as my medium. And our life is carried in that body; we express our individuality in our body, why not use our body as the source, medium, and product.
I feel as though I might be getting off track here but there are times when you are pounding away on work and what you have to report to the world might not be terribly exciting. To just run down the checklist: yes, I started something new yesterday; yes, it seems to be progressing a bit faster than the last two videos; no, I'm not feeling confident about it; yes, I am somewhat fried on the learning curve; yes, I am aware I can change course at any time but I'm kind of like a dog with a scrap about this now.
In exciting other news about Iceland (no, I did not leave the apartment yesterday), I learned that today, the first 'yule lad' comes down from the mountains to leave a gift in your shoe! This is the Christmas tradition equivalent to our Santa Claus except there are 13 yule lads, or jólasveinar in icelandic, that are the sons of the trolls Gryla and Leppalí∂i (can I just tell you how long it took to type that?).
As the story goes, the yule lads come down one by one to leave gifts for good children- and if you're not, they will leave a raw (or rotten, depending on any one of my sources) potato in your shoe. They aren't the holly jolly Santa Claus that we know in the states. They are rather mischievous and even sometimes a bit grumpy. They are known to steal some of their favorite things- such as sausages, skyr, candles, and meat. I come to find many like to lick spoons and pots and bowls and such. (check out the image I stole from www.iceland.is.... seems fitting I stole it).
So over the next 13 nights, children will be placing their shoes at the window to get a small gift. The gifts are usually small toys, tangerines, gingerbread, or anything else that the yule lad might have picked up in his travels down from the mountain. The funny thing I read was that parents had used the lads to keep their kids well-behaved during the Christmas season but historically, this somewhat backfired, as children began to fear the lads. So a public decree went out in 1746 to prohibit parents using monsters to frighten their children.
In related news, the other day on instagram I screenshot this (I thought it might just be some awesome meme to promote buying clothes):
Turns out that this is also true Icelandic Christmas folklore. Gryla, the yule lads mother, is a part troll- part animal ogress. She comes down from the mountain as well to search for naughty children to eat. In addition to her 13 precocious boys, she also has a black cat. The cat also comes down from the mountains and is referred to as the Christmas Cat, or Jólakötturinn. It is a rule that on Christmas eve, one must receive a new piece of clothing and if they do not, they may be in mortal danger. The Christmas Cat prowls to find anyone without a new article of clothing to eat them up. Watch out for black cats on Christmas Eve!
I, on the other hand, have a small black (and white) cat who eats clothes.
I wrote a list yesterday. I live by lists really. They keep me on track and focused. On my list was:
- finish editing sound
- assess color on video
- confirm imagery for next project
- test shoot imagery
- record morse
- go outside
That's in no particular order. So I did some editing and then went outside HAARRDDDD yesterday. I walked to the lighthouse, which I thought was close by but it was more than an hour's walk along the shoreline. It was a beautiful day and I took a ton of photographs along the way- some for work, some for play. After reaching the lighthouse, snapping pics, I found the wind picked up to I'd better head back.
Talk about resistance training. Walking against the wind was really tough. Then it also started to rain. Basically the last bit of my walk was rather miserable. As I neared the apartment, a facebook post came in from the program manager telling us that tonight is going to be a big night for the Northern Lights. Soon after someone suggested we go to the lighthouse to view them.
I was so tired that I nearly wanted to die inside thinking about walking back to the lighthouse after such a long and tiring day. But damnit, I wanted to see this, so I sucked it up and joined the group to walk to the lighthouse. Again. And it was warm and hardly windy.
We began to see the "show" during the walk out but once we arrive there, it was insane! They are almost ghosty and weird. I'm not sure why I thought they were a bit faster moving but they aren't. They hang there and grow in intensity and maybe morph their shape a bit then fade out. Honestly, taking photographs of them is far more satisfying than seeing them because if you do long exposure, it pulls in more of their shape. (Listen to me talking like I know my camera. The reality is, a kind resident banged out a few settings for me to get semi-successful shots. Although I was on a tripod, my images were pretty fuzzy. I think others had far more success than I... but honestly, I'm still insanely jazzed with what I got).
So this is my post today. Sure, I did some good processing of thoughts while on my walk but I'll save that for another time. I have many, many photos to share. Enjoy!
(click the pics to go forward- it's a gallery of images)
Well, up with the sun today... which is a bummer because I thought I might be moving beyond the jet lag.
Yesterday, I spent locked away in my studio so unfortunately, I don't have a ton of "Heather as the stupid American" musings to report. So overall, that is good for me, since thus far, I've tried to give all my money away. Don't worry, that can change as I am expecting to get out of the house today to 1. clear my head; 2. find cats; 3. find some fabric; 4. be in sun (in that order). Reykjavik is known to be overrun with cats- my fellow residents have attested to that. Here's to many new friends!
Getting the studio off the ground has taken a direction I had not expected. I have a very small studio- which is fine, because I don't anticipate hands on 'making' to happen. Getting adjusted after almost 6 months in my new job and having thought about "what I would do if I had time" nearly that entire time, creates a ton of pressure as to what I would do once I got here. So needless to say, I felt a bit stifled. But I went through my sketchbook, which is chock full of ramblings, and I latched onto something I wrote in the margins back in October- morse code.
Let's make one thing clear, this past year, I committed to using my body as a measure when considering the nature of 'longing.' There is love, alienation, coping, and possible reconciliation. I have been investigating operations on how the body is measured, how the act exemplifies emotional content, and how I can actualize the internal and ephemeral cognitive nature of our 'human-ness.'
In months prior to this, I listed off different 'forms of measurement'- such as weight, length, volume, distance- in my sketchbook and have used the body to respond and create 'actualized longing.' Listed as an option of measure in my sketchbook was harmonic analysis. Yeah, I didn't know what that was either but here is the definition: a branch of mathematics concerned with the representation of functions or signals as the superposition of basic waves (thanks, wikipedia).
So that is about as exciting to me as a wet noodle. I've never much cared for math so one can only imagine what great joy it would create for me in my studio practice, but I have always told my students that never throw anything away in the sketchbook. One never knows what will be useful later. With a little arrow next to harmonic analysis directed me to the related concept- morse code. The little bit I have researched- we can thank harmonic analysis for telecommunications and space exploration. It led me to think about the alienation longing creates- a communication from afar; maybe heard, maybe not; maybe reciprocated, maybe not. When thinking of morse code, I sink right into thinking about ships lost at sea clicking away 'S.O.S.' hoping that someone heard them.... and I think of how we often can feel lost and we try and communicate, longing to be heard. (Cue Bowie's Space Oddity)
Fun fact: Samuel F. B. Morse, creator of Morse code, was an American painter, living from 1791- 1872. I never knew that!
I spent an entire day sorting this out into a little video sketch (below). Keep in mind, I am not at all a video artist but it seems the most appropriate method to flush this out at this time. On deck today is to work on phrases that will eventually string into a grouping visual poetic phrases or gestures, along this idea.
The big news is that I have corrected the "fun milk" issue and with few scars in the process. Yesterday's transgressions would be around money. I don't know why I have such a mental block about that. So while at the grocery store, I gave the guy what would be equilvalent to $20 for a $2 liter of milk. The woman behind me nearly rolled her eyes out of her head. In a related story, I spent $60 on something that I though was $10- Merry Christmas, Merissa! (I will be eating my errors with the family gift spending limit).
But onto observations around town- I woke up with the sun yesterday, which means I woke up around 10am. I did much better today and I am writing this to you in the pitch black of morning (up at 8am)! Talking with some of my fellow residents who have been here the past month, they urged, that if you are struggling with the dark, to go out and walk while the sun is out, which is what I did yesterday. I came to find that I am not that far from the neighborhood I came to know the last time I was here. Within about a 20 minute walk, I found my favorite coffee shop bookstore and had a lovely little cappuccino and lavender shortbread.
This reminded me a museum was close by and being a resident of SIM, I had free entrance. Lucky me because I happened upon a Yoko Ono show. It wasn't huge but a substantial part of the main galleries and presented both old and new work. A huge part of all her work is the participatory nature of it. I spent the afternoon putting back together broken china plates, writing on the wall about my mom, nailing into panel, and adding my wish to her wish tree. I did sit by the phone a while hoping she would call (yes, she calls into the exhibition from time to time- I even picked up the receiver to make sure it worked). Finally, I sat in front of "Cut Piece" for a while and took it in. It's just one of my favorite pieces ever. She did have a number of Fluxus scripts however they were in Icelandic... considering that I am brain dead with the money, I wasn't about to take on the language. I failed to sit and translate each one however the one pictured here translates to: Watching the sunset, Feel the Earth move.
I ended my walk with eating at The Laundromat (somewhat not as great as I remembered)- and a beautiful walk in the downtown. It is so lovely to see Reykjavik all decked out in lights with Christmas music piped into the streets and ice skating in the center of town. With that, I walked back to the apartment and rambled in my sketchbook. To be quite honest, I have been struggling a bit getting the studio practice off the ground. I'm trying to not fret about it, as I know I'm adjusting. It's been tough to turn off school responsibility and switch my headspace over to getting to work. New space, new stuff, and its against the rules to knock any holes in the walls. ;) haha- I did that already... moving on...
(click the pics to go forward- it's a gallery of images)
After a flight that seemed to be incredibly quick and last forever, I arrived in Reykjavik during the early morning of December 3. It seemed very much like the middle of the night- due to my body clock registering as 3:30am but also due to the lack of a sunrise while I was driven through the city at 8:30am to my final destination, SIM Residency. Below is a pic, as the driver wizzed by it heading into downtown, of the infamous Hallgrímskirkja Church that is on every postcard for Reykjavik.
I finally got some shut-eye once arriving at the apartment, finding my room and settling in. I woke up later to realize that I had slept through half of the day's daylight and urgently got myself together to go out and find groceries while it was still daylight (as I had found street signs hard to read in the night- perhaps because of my bleary, tired eyes, or maybe because they are just simply hard to read). I went to the Bonus market where I found the city folk to be much different than the Skagastrond folks I encountered a few years ago when I did a residency at the north end of the island. I was literally pushed through the store by folks behind shopping carts. They don't stop for you as you try and decipher food labels and as a result, I bought what I now find out to be translated as "fun milk"- which is a very disgustingly sweet and thin version of milk. Needless to say, I will go back to the store to buy different milk- and hopefully not form a version of grocery shopping PTSD.
Today- I am settling into the studio and flushing out some goals for the upcoming few weeks here- while also trying to disconnect from answering work emails or being tied to watching cat videos all day long. Sidenote: there is a shirt at the nearby Aurora Borealis Museum that is decked out with cats floating in a sky of Northern Lights. Am I that girl?
Ending with some shots taken around the 'hood (click the pics to go forward- it's a gallery of images)...