Winter Solstenen Project work up at LxWxH Gallery in Seattle, thru June 2013

Some of my work from my second 4-week residency in Iceland this January/February,  is up now at LxWxH Gallery in Seattle, an installation of wallpaper repeated patterns and large prints on archival rag paper.  Glimpses pulled from days at Lake Myvatn, Kvera geothermal field, Skaftafellsjokull glacier and Jokullsarlon lagoon, turned into a vibrating layered wall of pattern.

PRESSice star monsterTrying to pin down what I had made with words, I wrote:

“Working with a hermetic and intuitive process in the extreme environment of the sub-arctic north of Iceland in January, I began to pull patterns and life forms and  colors out of the essential temperament of the land.  Using snow, ice, lava rock, dead vegetation, lichen and fiber, I held a frozen camera with a frozen body.  A barren snow-entombed solid white lava field begins to glow royal blue as human eyes search for color, for difference.  The myriad layers of turquoise spikes of ancient glacial ice are very much alive as a gobbling monster, gobbled in turn by human greed as heat.  Hot flamingo wings in the snow on the craters of a hot steaming lake become the energy of the magma just barely below the surface, forming everything.  I found myself a woman wrapped in worm skin, seal skin, sheep skin, not battling the cold and ice and sulfur steam, but lured in by the illusion of desolation and silence, and finding endless undulating repeating patterns of energy, appetite and expansion.”

I was surprised by what emerged and where it came from.  The long view was always so alluringly desolate, but just below my hands or my lens I found so much brightness.

Iceland seems like a dream to me now, one I get to walk about in,  sometimes when I have a span of time to open up my little silver hard-drive filled with images and film clips.  I get to coax out  some memories and day dreams of how my body felt in that place, a daily routine that involved exploring unfamiliar rugged landscapes and long stretches of being alone with my family.  It was not paradise or an idealized haze, but sometimes hard and cruel work, trying to find a vision of myself as a maker inside and pushing against those simple structures, as something that mattered ….especially in the blankness of the whiteness of the blanket of sub-arctic snow.

Kvera-blog

Because I went to Iceland a second time with no plan, but a suitcase full of old and new, and unfinished plans– and rather a notion of what Negative Capability might be like, to let the land and weather and rock pull me to think on my feet, me like a little metal shard on a magnet — I spent much too much time in anxious fear that I was wasting my time, and my money.

Nothing was complete, nothing was revealed to me.  But…it was only once I dug in and played and prodded, and forgot to be productive, could I see that at some point I would find something that would sparkle.  I would see the steaming white lake of craters with swans and feel open to whatever happened.

myvatn_swan_blog

Then to come home and have the distance and a rollercoaster of life events, then have the season turn from cold to spring, to summer, and to dive back in private into the white nothingness of the places I went in Iceland, could I see the patterns I’d captured or tried to tame.  Like making up and twisting memory, as we all do, I coax something out that is more than what I experienced, but the more like the florid desire to return.

I hope you can see the show!  The firestorm gallery owner Sharon Arnold hosts the gallery on Saturdays and by appointment.
come see The Obsessive Unknown Origins of Grotesque Irregular... on Twitpic

I’ll be there as well this Saturday, hosting a light brunch and teaching crocheting from 10am – 1pm, then the gallery remains open until 3pm.  Read more about it here. 

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Winter in Iceland

restingmountain-blogWe’ve been here two weeks so far, our second journey into Iceland.  Only two weeks left and it doesn’t feel like enough.  A week of museums and swimming and soaking and meeting people in Reykjavik, and now a week in a long blizzard in Siglufjordur.  Anxious to get outside I made some photographs with some wings that have been in process for quite sometime.  Seagull feathers collected in 1999 in Seattle and dyed and made into a sculpture…the sculpture existed for awhile and then I decided to take it apart…and carry it to Iceland…logical.  Working on some things during the storm, we’ll see what happens as we move on tomorrow.  The blizzard felt like I was in a fog loosing my direction here…but I did need to work on things.  I just feel a little wilted if I can’t get outside everyday here and walk around.  One evening I when out in the blowing snow and made a snow dome or caldron as we called it.  We filled it with fire the next night and filmed it.  I don’t know what it’s for or why, but that’s what I do here…I just follow a long with impulses, use whatever I can find.

Images from “Our Patient Day’s Allotted Span” show at NEPO House, Seattle

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Little jökull, woven fabric and crocheted yarn and fabric, stones, 2012-13

“Our Patient Day’s Allotted Span” show at NEPO House, which  was such a gratifying experience to bring some of the work began in Iceland to closure, to see friends, share my family’s work and share in the hospitality of NEPO House’s Little Treats series.  Paul loved standing on the porch serving Icelandic waffles and glogg and egg nog to everyone who arrived.

No one asked me about the odd title…maybe my odd titles are just par for the course now.  It’s something from the very beginning of the beginning.  As I was writing the first grant proposal for this project in early 2011, trying to coax something concise from the jumble of ideas, I was reading my son my favorite book from my childhood, The Fairy Caravan by Beatrix Potter.  And this one scene struck me in the gullet, a powerful monolog spoken by a Herdwick ewe named Belle Lingcropper, about the strength and tenacity of the sheep, as well as the transitory nature of our time here.  She says

” What though the hailstorms sweep the fell in winter–through tempest, frost, or heat–we live our patient day’s allotted span.”

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Cave Father, archival ink jet photograph

Both the wisp of legacy and transience, from the mouth of sheep (but of course Miss Potter really).  For  awhile I have been fixated and inspired how Beatrix Potter managed to craft a life for herself as a woman writer of her time, as well a attain a certain independence and ultimately to use her own earned money to become a major conservationist of land, of a way of life, and the Herdwick sheep breed.  She used her patient day’s allotted span well, and I aim to do the same, somehow.

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Anyhow, aside from my admiration for her ability to  make a living as an artist, jumping over hurdles, I’m sure, I have never had to deal with — her ewe’s speech seemed to draw me to a place in my mind, not Britian, but to a fantasy of Iceland where things would play out, questions would be met with answers on the wind and stone, if only for a brief time.

But that brief time was wedged in the legacy of the maker, the creator, the individual who has crafted their life’s work from the the air, the land, the water and all that comes with it.  My collaborators –my son, my husband — we went on that part of our journey together, a different but interrelated meaning for all of us.  Something lasting for all of us, but the geologic text written on the small island of Iceland loomed in my mind as a different time table than our own brief human span.

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And Potter’s imagining of the mind of her dear Herdwicks seemed to speak of a pride of one’s place in a long span of time, not just what we experience.  I thought the working title would shed itself — and for a while I didn’t think of it all — but once this grouping of work was done, it still seemed to work.

You can also see some of my films from the project here: Films!

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Here’s the entirety of little Belle the ewe’s speech.  I was startled by the tenderness I felt for the Icelandic sheep we would encounter, their soft eyes and the intense soft warmness they seemed to radiate in the harsh rocky landscape.  I always imagined them saying this…

Cool is the air above the craggy summit. Clear is the water of the mountain keld. Green grows the grass in droughty days beneath the brackens! What though the hailstorms sweep the fell in winter–through tempest, frost, or heat–we live our patient day’s allotted span.

Wild and free as when the stone-men told our puzzled early numbers; untamed as when the Norsemen named our grassings in their stride. Our little feet had ridged the slopes before the passing Romans. On through the fleeting centuries, when fresh blood came from Iceland, Spain, or Scotland–stubborn, unchanged, UNBEATEN–we have held the stony waste.

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Icelandic blueberry, mushroom, bones wallpaper

Intergenerational art making…

I’m deep in ( and almost done with ) the agonizing process of selecting a few images from 17 photoshoots we did in Iceland, for a show at NEPO House that focuses in on some of the intergenerational art making we did while there for 5 weeks.  Agonizing because each shoot turned up about 10 good images, but I’m trying to tell a specific story and some of the images fall outside that, but are still my favorites.  And there are dreaded moments of ‘everything about this image is perfect but that dumb look in my eyes’ and there is no second shot of it.  Lighting/color can be adjusted….dumb looks are hard to manage.  It was such a fast and intuitive and rugged process, in many cases pushing the limits of how wet or cold I wanted my cameras, or quickly fading light or how much a child would take.  I’m feeling exhausted and could prowl through these files for months, and will be doing that, to focus on different narratives than this one for this show.  But this set of behind-the-scene images soothes me….we all miss our time together.  More info on the show to come…

Paul shooting Hazel-smallpaul as glacier-small

Past, Present, Future in-process

I haven’t been really connected to the verbal side of my brain, as I edit and sort through ALL the Iceland-made photographs, working on bringing a group to completion.  It feels like an exercise of keeping the past in the present, but in many ways the calm I felt in Iceland seems to slip away from me with all the day-to-day needs that  distract me.  Why haven’t I written more?  I think a way to pull back my ‘Iceland calm’ into my day-to-day is to carve out a dedicated daily time to write….where do I squeeze that in?….My brain feels stretched in opposite directions, with eyes-wide looking examining and eyes-inside writing.  But like the entire project, I’ll just keep looking for balance, and just keep going to find it.

but anyhow….thinking and working and planning towards the future, too.  In a crazy leap and many small/big things lining up perfectly, we (paul, mandy, hazel) have bought tickets to return to Iceland in January, when plane tickets are $200.  To make work in the dark,  the snow, to freeze crocheted fiber to create structure, to climb on huge ice chunks, to take pictures by fire and Auroras….I am making work for my future too…glacial ice-colored huge thick knits.  Flamingo feathered wings.

Here is a peak at upcoming finished work….I feel a sense of calm in moving pixels and seeing something permanent emerge from a hour of frantic play between Paul and I at Djúpalónssandur, in what seems like long ago but also right with me.

Bless, Bless Iceland

Bless, Bless Iceland

Breathing

‘Bless’ in Icelandic is what you say when you mean ‘good-bye’.  I scribbled it on a piece of paper (my check book register actually), grabbed almost in panic from my carry-on as I tried to squelch my overwhelming emotions as Iceland disappeared from my eyesight, as our plane home moved into the clouds.  I have been heart-pounding afraid of flying for 11 years, but that seemed completely gone as I kept my eyes wide open to gather every last bit into my brain of an island that has deeply effected and transformed me, transformed Paul, transformed the role of my work in my life and life in my work, transformed my family…and a hundred other things.

Our last half-hour in Iceland: Paul in his crocheted “Invincibility Suit”, begun in 2009, finished in Iceland

The ‘not afraid of flying’ was interesting, and unexpected…I didn’t even know it was going to happen.  But very characteristic of the shedding of many things that took place on our 5-week journey, things we can lump under the umbrella of ‘fear’.  But there I was squealing in delight at seeing the patterns emerge in the lava fields around the airport, and searching and being rewarded with a last glimpse of the Snæfellsjökull, a dear friend (glaciers seem to become friends in Iceland) who has figured so much in the lore we tell ourselves about our first time in Iceland.  ‘We’ here is PaulMandyHazel, and our 5 weeks in August/September, is our first time, because we have all decided to prioritize going back to Iceland many many times.

Hiking up to Snaefellsjokul glacier on the most perfectly clear day ever!

This is not an uncommon reaction to visitors to this island.  But to me it feels like something so deeply unique to my body, like the sparkling crystalline spreading and electrical popping of brand-new ‘falling in love’ that we experience and feels so unique, but has been happening for all of humanity’s existence to most of humanity.  It is the vibrating duality of the utterly singular life and also the archetype we all inhabit.  And what continues to pull my focus in my work, especially when I experience it in such a dramatic way.  Iceland feels ours.  Of course it is really the singular experience of our time together that is ours, the things we learned, the big sweeping clarity of our priorities is ours.  But we bless Iceland as the place we found these things in our family and ourselves.  We are not Icelanders, of course, but as someone who has been rootless my whole life, I have never felt such a sense that I belonged to a place.

We are far from home, but we’re so happy, far from home, all alone, but we’re so happy

It is beyond easy, almost automatic, to ‘ooooooh, and ahhhhh’ in Iceland (almost cliché), at the scenery, the Auroras, the falls, but it is another thing entirely to sit very quiet in yourself and listen not to the grinding workings of your own mind, but to the sound of time, the earth moving, of the massive cycle of water circulating beyond your own bodily reach.  I found myself in the last week we had there, feeling I had now some tiny new understanding of the shape and size of my own body in relation to the sea, to the crust and to the stars, to the dark.  And it was the deep pristine expanding quiet of Iceland that provided the welcoming vessel for this discovery.

Wind Witch at the very edge of the glacier

Paul commented how he didn’t hear another person raise their voice, a siren, a horn honk, an airplane (we heard one or two in Reykjavik), a gunshot (which we hear once a month in our neighborhood, yikes) for weeks.   We both craved and appreciated the long periods of silence possible, and seemed to veer away from noise (i.e. we didn’t partake in the Reykjavik night life this time.) For someone with an incredibly stress-ridden job (a bus driver) and who had just come out of a yearlong struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, Iceland was a long-needed salve and place of productivity for Paul.  And for us both.

Suit in Process at Hellnar

The quiet, the very dark night sky, the air that was sweet it was so fresh, the mossy clean water of the Hvita river I drank from melting glaciers, the sulfur smelling showers, the steaming geo-thermal swimming pools, the kind quiet but lively people, the fresh and simple food…..all of this transformed us, we all felt a greater sense of health and in the end, a  kind of mental clarity.

Drinking at the Hvita River

Paul and I both seemed to shed anxiety (no more insomnia), I actually lost 7 lbs, my skin became very clear, as did Hazel’s (who has been troubled by eczema), trouble with circulation that I had in my arms went away completely.  Anyhow, when you feel physical shifts like this, it’s hard to not feel like you want to stay forever.  And we have, for fun, begun entertaining that idea.  How could we stay forever?  It’s thoughts like that that make you create big shifts in your life.  Big sideways-unexpected shifts.  And we both found in the end, we were hugely productive in our artwork, huge new directions for each of us.  Paul, a renewed connection to being a maker/artist, and for myself the raised consciousness of the great importance of ‘not knowing what I’m doing’ in my process, and embrace it, seek it, savor it.  Thank you Iceland.

My kid glows after 4 weeks of Iceland clean air, clean water, running with sheep and up stream beds, hugging goats, no tv but plenty of Icelandic ghost stories

noticing the same change in my face startled me, when I took a quick picture on the computer…

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‘Going south, going sideways’.  Interesting that we use direction as descriptions for failure, when really it is still a journey.  But the past year, really this entire project, has shown me the great power of going sideways, even when I was so very uncomfortable with what I perceived as ‘failing’.  I began conceiving of, and writing my first grant to do this project – to take my partner and kid to Iceland, so we could collaborate on projects related to ‘burden’ – in February 2011.  It seems like since then, things have been going sideways, askew, wrong, south…but then another unexpected way opens up that is actually better, though it has taken me a long time to recognize this pattern.  I had planned to blog about my entire process along the whole way, leading up to and during the project, but that hasn’t always worked out.  It is quite clear to me now in hindsight that creating a project centered around ‘burden, weight’ and involving my family, was my way to try to untangle some very painful and unhealthy things.  And in the middle of that untangling, it seemed very difficult to write about, write about my process that involved repairing my family and myself.  It’s everything that the work was about, but it was totally wrong to share it while going through it.  Still I felt anxious about straying from what I ‘should’ be doing, what I said I was “going to do” with the project.  Things kept on veering from what I ‘should’ be doing, but I kept just going, just sideways, or crooked or diagonal, but still so ill at ease with it.

Sometimes digging our own grave…

But this summer, and about to embark on our trip, I felt ready and eager to be the documentarian!  Despite just getting over an exhausting illness and jet lag, I got right to blogging when we arrived in Reykjavik.  We’d have sporadic internet along the rest of our travels, but I’d share as much as I could in spurts.  A few days in, trying to see so much in the day, work at making/finishing the things I needed for my photographs at night, actually resting….writing was hard.  And then we went horseback riding, really special and exciting…but totally exacerbated an old injury in my spine and hip, and typing became pain-laden.  The last day we were in Reykjavik, I had the choice of going to the geothermal swimming pool at Seltjarnarnes (with outdoor waterslide, geothermal seawater, rich in earth minerals and no chlorine!) or finishing up a blog post.  I chose to sooth my body…very unlike the Seattle me.

…a picture off the internets..I don’t bring my camera to the pools. This place and all the other geothermal pools are reason in and of themselves to go heal yourself in Iceland.

‘I’ll catch up on it later’, I thought.  Well when we arrived at our next destination, Hellnar, the Café across the road that was supposed to have internet, but was closing for the winter in a few days.  I needed to work at night stitching, writing posture at my laptop was killing my neck, and I just was really sick of ‘blog voice’ in my head (where I was noting what I needed to write about as it was happening, composing sentences instead of JUST EXPERIENCING something).  I was staring at a crystal clear blue sky surrounding a little domed glittery glacier and I gleefully shouted “I’m NOT GOING TO DO IT.”  I just set down the idea of blogging about this experience, and decided to whole-heartedly jump into an internet silence.

Resting for as long as we want, next to Snaefellsjokul

After 4 weeks of no internet, I can tell you it was one of the best ideas I had, so healthy for breaking some time-wasting habits, and had incredible results in my piece of mind, focus and productivity.  Everyone should do ‘connection detox’ sometime.  And I’ve always used my camera as a kind of journaling short-hand for myself; I am actually so thrilled to now at home, get to go back through my 3000+images/films and process what we experienced in words, as I cull through all the raw material to make new artworks.  It will be so much richer than a daily log of what we went to and my few thoughts, to now be able to see the experience as a whole, to be non-linear, skip around as I see connections between things, and the re-experience things now that I have time.

Plus I adore the awkwardness of having my ‘goodbye’ blog post be right after my ‘hello’ blog post.  I like doing things wrong.  I like writing long posts (a criticism I’ve gotten…) and I like going at my own, meandering slow pace. I’m a total badass at coasting sideways now.  And I found my spirit animal on our third to last day in Hvalfjordur, a Raven expertly flying sideways in a gale force wind.

In Hvalfjordur, working on something our last 4 days in Iceland, something I had planned to finish the last four days before we left for Iceland…running a little behind…

Our last Thursday of our trip, the day before the last possible day to shoot at a waterfall site I wanted to explore with a new costume I was frantically trying to finish, it started to snow and howl with wind.  I had been at the table too long sewing, my neck hurt and I was missing saying hello to Glymur (more about him later).  I bundled up and went for a walk to find the horse, too windy for him to come up to the top pasture where we lived.  Pushing hard against the wind, getting my face sandblasted by some snow, the huge power lines I went under during my walk were vibrating with an alarming thrilling eerie roar.

Three gentle giants at Bjarteyjarsandur farm, Glymur, Thirik and Shula. Horse friends who would follow us on walks, under the massive power lines

But I heard the raven croaking.  I quickly spun around looking for it, what we all seemed to do whenever we heard the raven sound.  And then he went right over my head, not flapping his wings but balancing like he was surfing on the wind, going completely sideways, with grace and ease, getting a free ride.  He croaked right above my head, as if to say, ‘check it out’.  I then saw my horse-friend walk from around a little hill that was protecting them from the wind, he came over and gave me a horse high-five with his nose, and I said “Bless, Bless Glymur”, thinking it might be the last time I would see him (it wasn’t).  He looked at me hard and soft at the same time, followed me a few steps and went back around the hill to get out of the wind.  And I totally felt completely okay if the weather was too bad to shoot the next day, and I wasn’t able to use the one thing I had been working on the whole time.  There is always enough time for everything, and what is ‘planned’ is usually not as valuable as what needs to happen.

This is Glymur, named after a huge waterfall where the sound of it ‘glimmers’. He is a dear horse who does not like rubbing as much, but would rather look deeply and probe around in your animal soul, which is why we liked each other.

Bless is not literally ‘good-bye’. A blessing is a sort of energy or protection that one person wraps around another, a bit of themselves left behind.  And that is how I feel about this place.  When an Icelander says “Bless Bless”, it is not with the snaky acid “s” that Americans say, but more like a very small whistling wind sucked in and around the mouth.  Icelandic sounds to me both immensely soft and airy, and in the same mouthful rugged and hard edged, so much like the land that formed it.  I miss hearing it everyday.  But not for long!

My all-time favorite mittens ever, the land on the body…It’s killing me that it is not cold enough to wear then yet in Seattle

Good morning Iceland….

Good morning Iceland.   We landed with the rising sun after an insane last few days in Seattle.  Sick people downing gallons of garlic lemonade to get well (that stuff works!), packing up 6 huge suitcases full of half-made art, half-made hopes that it wasn’t all a little bit crazy, cleaning and packing up our house like mad, stowing away pets to different people……  I’m here now, but the beginning of that day, I still didn’t think the clap-trap traveling circus of my mobile art-studio/family drama would really make it all across the ocean.  But we did.  This is a bit of that first day.

waking up as we land, but never really sleeping…

Keflavic, where the airport is, has this stunningly abandoned look to it…I couldn’t sleep this flight and I knew we pretty much had to stay awake another day to get over jetlag and just get done what we had to do.  Get giant bags, keep exhausted 8 year old from breaking down, find rental car, get money…eat, oh yes we forgot to eat for a bit.

Sunrise in Iceland

not even all of our bags (am I insane???)

a little numb and stunned with tiredness, but arrived

We crammed ALL of our stuff into a car that we thought was going to be much bigger (spent some time panicing).  And as planned, drove down to The Blue Lagoon.  As we got closer to it, and I was looking out the window at the oddest landscape I have ever seen, crunchy clinker lava flows piled high upon each other, then covered in pillow thick moss that rounded things out like soft bubbles of green, I started shouting because my camera was buried in the car at the bottom, and it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen!  Then all of a sudden by the side of the road was some bright light blue liquid in all of this, coating the lava rocks white, and we really all three shouted it was so strange and beautiful!  We had arrived at the Blue Lagoon.

getting ready to go in, silly iphone picture doesn’t get the blue of it, but really no picture does…

Which really is the perfect place to go after a long flight.  It’s funny, I didn’t take pictures, didn’t want to and don’t even feel like explaining it.  I didn’t have words, just an animal relief that I could sink into the warm slippery water from the bowels of the churning earth.

Hazel thrilled to find lava wrinkles as we walk around

Rubbing silica mud on our faces, Hazel squealing with delight, Paul laughing and floating in this supernatural water surrounded by lava and moss….it finally felt all worth it, and real.  Finally letting down some effort.  Ate some salmon and potatoes and pickled veggies in our robes, soaked some more.

And then began to drive to Reykjavik….and then the TIRED hit us.  We literally had to pull over half-way there and the boys slept in the car off a little side road, and I climbed a little hill to sit in a lava field.  Already very different than the lava field around the Blue Lagoon area, but my first chance to sit still with myself.  I can’t sleep but in a bed.  I just replaced my 5 year old phone with an Iphone and found myself playing with it up in the field…made this weird little meandering video, but needed to record something, document something.  That threshold between one thing and another.  I sound delirious…and though this is probably boring for anyone else, I like how the sound of my voice seems to get overpowered by the landscape, how the little internal meandering voice in context of a big natural energy seem in conflict.

(I can’t figure out how to post it yet….).

But here’s an image on my first sit in the crackling land.

 

somewhere near Hafnarfjordur, by the side of the road

And despite all the over-stimulating new stimuli, one of my favorite moments was my husband, not giving a shit, doing yoga in the middle of the Seattle Airport.  I was laughing at the way people where looking at him like he was killing chickens, but doing some yoga before you get on a long plane flight is probably the smartest thing you can do.  More people should follow Paul’s lead.