december 12

It seems that every morning, when I write these posts, that there is an incredible amount of wind and rain that hits the skylights above me.  I always think that the current day is most definitely worse than the day before but in actuality, it is probably just the same.  

This week is going to be a wonky one.  I have papers to grade and the semester to wrap up.  Yes, I am still teaching which is such an odd feeling to be so much removed for school yet still have responsibilities in it.  Then a few of us will be off for a few days of exploring the south coast- so my posts may end up less frequent when we get on the road... but, let me catch you up on the events of yesterday.

presentation time

presentation time

Yesterday was presentations.  It seems to many were as excited about presenting as I was (which, I wasn't).  This is when all the residents get together a present their work that they came into the residency with and if they have something to show/discuss from the residency, they could share that too.  I was quite looking forward to hearing others talk about their work.  I was not however looking forward to presenting mine.

So this isn't really because I don't like my work.  I actually really like how it has unfolded over this past year- except it has become so deeply personal that I haven't figured out a way to talk about it in a more objective way and I knew this coming into it (and this is partly why i wanted time here- to mull this all over).  

One might ask, "Well Heather, aren't you thinking about this while you make the work?"  Yes, I am.  But I also allow myself to follow instincts with a loose set of guidelines.  

Now the talk has happened.  I babbled a good bunch.  I spit out a few things I wanted to say- I shared a lot of things that I would like to take back, but doing these types of things forces one to take stock in getting to the bottom of what is going on with the work.

After having the night to sleep on it, I have decided that I need to become more articulate around the ideas of: internalized archetypes; the measurement of our humanity and its representation on/in the body; my vast definition of drawing as a form of performance.  (I sense a new assignment for myself- updating the ol' artist statement).  

Yeah, these are all the things I wish I would have said or things that could have been said so much better instead of some the babbling that came out.  You might see me hash some of this out over a few posts in the coming weeks.

You might be wondering about the other residents... rest assured, they are quite inspirational.  

december 11

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 seems fitting I stole it).

icelandic yule lads

icelandic yule lads


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.

my ferocious cat, Kiki

my ferocious cat, Kiki

december 10

A fellow resident told me the other day that I earned the right to wear sweatpants everyday when I got accepted to SIM.  I do feel a little guilty for having such low standards for myself but residency life is kind of like that.  I don't think I've worn jeans yet since I've been here.  And yesterday, big discovery here in the studio- my armchair has one of those flip up footrests.  WHOA!  

(In other news, I have indeed felt myself tense up when I approach the grocery store but I needed food yesterday and took a little walk to pick some up).  

a cute little rainbow I noticed coming back from the store

a cute little rainbow I noticed coming back from the store


This was all great discoveries because I spent most of the day feeling awful.  I decided it would be a good time to attend some more google university sessions since all I have been doing is fuss over the same video this past week.  So that is what I did.  I laid that one little video to rest, while following numerous tutorials on how to do so properly.  

I have been grappling with a few things.  While I am not knocked out by that piece being completed(-ish, for now) and really after many struggles and re-filmings, I did exactly what I set out to do.  Of course, there was some play in there and much, much reflective writing in my sketchbook, so the process worked.  I still am not entirely sure if I am satisfied.  

I'm struggling with knowing how I like and can create beautiful images and I have chosen to not make these grandiose spectacles.  The concept here is the hidden storm behind the mundane.  The total composure in small gestures, yet the gestures are the hint to the larger, internal struggle.  But an articulation of the struggle is an even larger struggle and therefore, we become that stranded ship in the ocean, tapping S.O.S.

So I wasn't sure if I'd share the video I completed.  I decided to.  I guess, if you decide to view it, it is best viewed larger rather than smaller.

For today, I'm moving on.......  

december 9

I wrote a list yesterday.  I live by lists really.  They keep me on track and focused.  On my list was:

  1. finish editing sound
  2. assess color on video
  3. confirm imagery for next project
  4. test shoot imagery
  5. record morse
  6. go outside
along the shoreline

along the shoreline

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.  

aurora borealis

aurora borealis

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)


december 7, 2016

It has been so miserable out- rainy, dreary, still rainy.  Don't get me wrong- I adore being here and honestly, it helps with sticking inside and working but it certainly makes getting out of bed challenging.  Additionally, it makes going outside equally as challenging.  I spent a long day frustrated by my technical capabilities and decided to take a break last night to grab some groceries but the stupid American made it to the store in time for it to close.  So then I stopped at the 24 hour market, only to spend nearly $28 on coffee (I hated the stuff I bought on day one, time for a new bag), pasta and pesto.  I was that desperate to not eat celery and peanut butter or muesli or eggs for dinner again.  

vanilla cream ice cream with nutella, peanut butter, and chocolate crunchies

vanilla cream ice cream with nutella, peanut butter, and chocolate crunchies

A bunch of residents however did go out for ice cream after dinner for yet another stressful event of not knowing the order of how things are in Iceland.  I come to find I am not the only one!  So we learned that one must choose the type of ice cream they want- choose whether they want milk or cream ice cream- then choose the toppings you want in your ice cream (up to three) except they are hidden behind a counter so you can't quite see what they have and you end up asking "do you have ___?  how about ___?  The ice cream girl does not seem to like a lot of questions so you tend to then just agree with her ("You want nutella?  You want nutella."  I mean who argues with nutella anyway).

In the end, I got a cream vanilla with peanut butter, nutella, and "dime" chocolate (kinda crunchy bits) and its funny how one's perspective shifts because we all felt it wasn't a bad price at kr1000, which is about $9.  No one said Iceland was cheap.

I report in on all of this because really it was the most exciting part of my day.  I did spend most of the day in the studio filming and feeling immensely frustrated at my understanding of cameras and video editing.  I *really* should probably take a class one of these days but since that won't happen before the end of this residency, I was schooled by google university most of the day with pleas going back to the US for insight (thanks Corbett).

I also had to improvise a bunch since I never found fabric on my travels the other day.  One should note that I did not find cats either.  So wanting a bit of old Dutch painting motif, I made a backdrop out of all my black clothes.  See, wearing a lot of black has come in quite handy.  I also didn't have a ton of light yesterday and used everything I had, including my computer screen, to create a bright enough image.

studio set up

studio set up

Finally, I did come out with something.  I stayed up late editing last night and it did what it should have done however I'm feeling uncertain about the end result.  So on deck for today is re-evaluating my approach to this project.  Making art is hard.  I did exactly what I set out to do yet it feels all a bit too obvious.  Or more like that the wording is stronger than the imagery... we'll talk more about that later after I sort out what I really think about it.  

Back to the grind...

(leaving you with an image from the kitchen the other day- when it was clear and beautiful.  I'm eager to have a day like that again)

view from the kitchen

view from the kitchen



december 6

I think it's important to clear one's head a bit because when you sit down at a desk and decide "this is the time when I am going to think" all you do is not think about what you are sitting to think about.  It becomes a huge waste of time.  

a view from the top of hallgrimskirkja

a view from the top of hallgrimskirkja

The projects I've decided to work on are so entirely outside my comfort level- not necessarily on the conceptual level but more on a technical level.  I mentioned the struggle with video work in yesterday's blog, but I hardly have mentioned the issue with words.  I don't really love to include words in visual work only because it seems rather obvious to me- like I am telling the viewer what I want them to think and in that respect, I feel as though it boxes people into two corners.  You're in this or out of this.  

You might be aware of the performance I did last month, a transfiguration of longing, where I rapped a stone against the wall for 7 hours.  That certainly gives one a lot of time to think and in responding to that rhythmic tapping I thought much about how a heartbeat, in its total function, is also a form of communication.  It speeds up when excited or anxious- it doesn't necessarily have a language, just a steady-ish rhythm that it beats at and it's subtle changes in pace in response to how we are feeling.

This led me to latching onto that note in the margin of my sketchbook- morse code.  It seemed a more standardized method of using rhythm as language, except one would have to know the language to understand it.   Of course, it could be learned but when we really want something, don't we do that?  Or do we use the lack of knowledge as an excuse for not understanding?  

It can be a heartbreaking conundrum, couldn't it?

Wanting to understand but you don't speak the language/wanting to communicate but only knowing one way how... it's alienating (yes, this will be a word I return to often with this work).

So I spent yesterday walking the city, drinking coffee at my favorite bookstore and sitting and meditating in Hallgrimskirkja while taking moments to write.  I decided to respond to different ways we carry ourselves in our bodies.  We present ourselves one way while we have this undercurrent of something else we are too vulnerable to expose.  So in a way, I am trying to tackle very mundane activities and how they may be loaded with otherness, if one cared to look.

Today, I am tackling this "poem" (for lack of a better term) to film adjoining video.  Just like I am not a video artist, I am also not a poet but I think this is what is making the most sense for the time being.  I have about 6 "poems" going at the moment.  This is the one most flushed out.

i can never stop
an itch
even when i know
the best thing
is to leave it


(click the pics to go forward- it's a gallery of images)

december 5

Well, up with the sun today... which is a bummer because I thought I might be moving beyond the jet lag.  

view from the kitchen, this morning

view from the kitchen, this morning

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.  



december 2-3: upon arrival

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)...