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

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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.


 

The slug-like, cement-blooded, quicksand before we left…

We’ve landed in Iceland…..but this isn’t it.  It’s Lake Crescent in my own sweet Washington State.  Earlier this summer Paul, Hazel and I went to this humming and mysterious body of water, carved out by a glacier and filled with cool pristine clear turquoise water, deep and hidden.

Crater woman

Crater Woman

We went to spend a small few days together after a frantic ride of a big project with not enough time together.  Which seems to be always…It was like Iceland-practice, spend all our time together, making some things, shoot some images and be together, being alone. Paul and I spent some time at dusk playing in the strong wind and the waves, him photographing me wearing one of the costumes for ‘Saltus Chori Aevum’, pressing my hands against the wind back and forth with billowing silk, and him finding ways to make the sun disappear.

I learned a few things while there, which since then have really tumbled forward with momentum in importance.  I realized many, most of my ideas might be impossible…impossibly heavy, large, bulky to transport across the world, and then into a wilder place…on my back.  I have to carry what I want to do on my back, along with gear, etc. One long hike to an incredible old railroad cave along the far edge of Lake Crescent would have been an amazing place to shoot some pictures, but by the time we found the amazing site, it was too far away from my gear and costumes in the car to go back and get them.  I would have to have some really portable options for Iceland or miss some stunning places to work, places we would only be able to walk into.  But (silver lining) I’m now determined to make it back to that cave next summer…

Even so carrying the  billowing silk around the lake side was a relief to the heavy monstrosities I have carried around, nearly killing myself.  I’m tired of killing myself.  I’ll say it again.  I’m tired of killing myself. I’ve been whispering it to myself for awhile during the course of the past year, also feeling like it was a cynical voice, or a lazy voice and so repressing it at times.  But it’s a voice that has been louder in recent days, and I think I just need to be with it.  I’m not lazy, I’m not cynical.  I’m not even cynical when I see really lazy artwork celebrated…I tend to just look away.  I tend to be nonplussed.  But I tend to beat myself up when I feel I’m ‘lazy’ and ‘lazy’ usually means not following my ideas as far as possible,  not impressing people, having simple goals…..sigh.

Perhaps I am here in Iceland to redefine some things for myself.  I’ve known that all along, but what definitions I’m changing keeps shifting.  Can I make potent fulfilling work that isn’t an encompassing experience? Or maybe all ‘encompassing experience’ is something else than I have imagined.  I am a person who is attracted to the quiet, the small, the subtle, the slow.  Maybe these are the qualities I will draw out here.  Because it was not possible to drag huge mantels of stones across the Atlantic Ocean…maybe a richer, better funded artist could have done that.  I had to leave many crocheted rocks at home. I couldn’t afford it, no matter how I stretched and squooze the grant money.  But (duh) I will find more rocks here, and will have to spend my evenings working nets around them….and have to leave them here to meet my weight limit for the plane ride home…something melancholy about this too.

Gateway

Gateway

And that body I’m trying not to kill?  It is teaching me a big lesson.  I have to slow down.  It got sick two weeks before we left…I’m still laboring under fatigue of a lingering cold….and much of what I planned to bring here remains undone.  So the body, slowed down to a rolling stone’s pace, shifted and adapted what I have been imagining for so long.  I will make work here, finish things that I’ve started….and this is probably brilliant, exactly what I needed to do to get out of patterns that are running down.  I HAD imagined being so on top of things, finished costumes, movement scores, story boards, an expert at my new camera (yea Mark II !!), meetings scheduled….even with trimming things down, streamlining,  things seemed to always be getting away from me. Until the final two weeks seemed like when I would have to pull out all the stops and pull all-nighters and be so together something miraculous would happen.  And, bam! I got really sick.  I lay in bed a week before we left and realized I had no other choice but to adjust and bring things with me, sew the feather cape together sitting next to a glacier, rather than having some master plan completed.  My body has forced me to go with the flow…maybe a slow flow.  But I am still moving, and I have to accept it in a different way.  I have to give up my angst about things abandoned, and observe what is actually in my grasp.  I have to trust this will teach me something.

The one huge weight I felt as I lay there sick with a huge impending project undone, I ticked away all the time I spent on things, people, paths that seemed to eat up my time and divert me away from the essentials of this project, distractions I allowed for one reason or another.  There is no use crying over wasted time, I know. I actually find a great deal of productivity in procrastination and mind-wandering activities.  But this is about something different.  I was unable to do anything for a few days, I realized I am going to get very selfish on this trip…I’m going to do what I want to do.  Not what I proposed, or outlined or imagined, or even think I should do.  Just what I want to do.  I’ll abandon quicker what isn’t working and just seek elsewhere.

That sick few days, Paul and I were to meet with Seattle-base choreographer Corrie Befort on developing some movement scores/practices, and I had to stay home while she and he worked together one day.  But I was stunned by something she said as we tried to outline some things for sick me, a way to begin finding a seed of something potent.  Stunned by how righteous it it, and how as a visual artist I shy away from it (or feel I have to or have been taught that I should).  She talked about, just begin with something you are attracted to, something that lures you, attracts you like a magnet, and just begin to work with it before you even know why. I KNOW this is already a lynchpin in my work as an artist, but some part of me is an apologist for it all the time.  Oh, I must know why I am using this seed, I must justify it.  This, right there is sloughing off me…I’m letting this go.  My sick self told me it was okay.  I am here to wander and go towards what attracts me.  So out first day here in Iceland, lazy wandering has been the way….today we napped by some horses (you’ll see….).  I am here to let down some burdens, and I’m going to be pretty militant about it.

finally, the actual route of the journey in Iceland

After so many months of researching, planning, plans falling through, more researching, applying, applying, shuffling budgets, squeezing and massaging budgets, prioritizing some things over others, re-prioritizing, re-prioritizing again…we finally know the route of our journey in Iceland.

Keflavik to Reykjavik to Hellnar to Fljotstunga to Hvalfjordur to Reykjavik to home. August 26 through September 30, 2012

I think by the time we board the plane, I will collapse into a stupor of 7-hour movie watching, and be excited.  I am still a bit dizzying numb.  It has just been a colossal effort of how do I go where I want to, get what I need there, make what I want to use to shoot, to create to experience, make sure home and schooling and pets and everything else falls into place. Many many many people have wonderfully put out a helping hand!  I’ll be excited when this 1000-feather cape I am sewing is being folded into a suitcase, and I’m patting myself down for my passport.

Also, please consider supporting this project financially, however small we are grateful.  One re-prioritization was to focus more and more on the collaboration between me, Paul, Hazel and focus more on film work (ALL big leaps for me and huge learning curves).  Bringing my collaborator Saskia Delores to Iceland hugely supports this growth in my work.  Please consider helping us raise $2022 to cover her traveling expenses. You can donate at Indiegogo.  We genuinely can use every small donation!

Poet Sierra Nelson’s ‘Rune Library / Runasafn’ poetry installation is up at TPR, now until Sept. 2

“Like many games, sacred and secular, the Runes are meant to be played upon a field.  The field represents the world that is always coming to be and passing away.”  – The Book of Runes, Ralph H Blum

Poet Sierra Nelson came by The Project Room yesterday to install a quiet but bracing installation of interactive poetry, the Rune Library / Runasafn.  She used the word ‘bracing’ to describe the effect that one can feel when reading the meaning of Runes, and I think it is a fitting word for her entire project.  Going through the process she sets up for you, selecting a small volcanic stone out of a tattered black satin-covered box lined with purple velvet – found in an antique shop in Reykjavik Iceland – you catch a glimpse of your hand as it passes in front of a decaying mirror, like a disintegrating membrane between this world and another just behind the glass.  Whether through chance or luck, fate or the sensual attraction of a particular shape of stone, you are selecting a poem that will be yours, that you then find in the library and sign out on the traditional library cards we no longer use, writing your name behind the others who share your poem.  Then you have a few bracing moments with Sierra Nelson whispering in your ear, her voice coming back from a time she spent in Iceland as she interpreted longer voices coming through the Runic language, ideas that still resonate with our daily lives now.

I’ll be the caretaker of the Rune Library / Runasafn until I leave The Project Room on September 2.  Please drop by and find your poem.  Also Sierra will be back on Wednesday August 31, 2011 from 6 pm – 8-ish to share more of her work created in Iceland, talk about her experiences and just generally letting me pick her brain.  We’ll start with an Icelandic pancake feast, cooked here at TPR, while Sierra roams the room asking you to fill out a survey she created in Iceland about the mythic and mundane activities of ‘sending and receiving’.

More about the Rune Library / Runasafn….

M: What inspired this piece for you?

S: I’ve always been interested and curious about runes, and while doing a residency at SIM in Iceland, it seemed like the perfect place to investigate and work with them … in a Nordic land where runes were once used, and where people still find it interesting.

I wanted to make my own set, so I began gathering stones, and many of the ones I used are small volcanic rocks from the Vatnajokull glacier.

I also was gathering notes during my stay in Reykjavik and while traveling to different parts of Iceland, images and ideas, the way I would for any kind of poem. Then when I sat down to write the rune poems, I culled these images while thinking about the different runes, to find which pieces would resonate together.  As I was learning about the runes, a poem would emerge from these images coming together.

M: Your Rune Library in The Project Room has with it “The Book of Runes: A Handbook for the Use of an Ancient Oracle” by Ralph H. Blum.  Did you have this book with you in Iceland?

S:  I did, I had the book before I went.  It’s from the 80’s and it does have a very different take on Runes, just as any book would that has to do with esoteric ideas, every era has its own perspective.  But I really liked his approach to Runes; it’s a little bit more philosophical.   A little less “This Will Happen to You,” and more describing a process that we are all in, that your life is always a cycle and this rune can help show you where you are in that cycle, and maybe offer some insight or advice for that state.

Blum uses a great deal of imagery from the natural world, which made a lot of sense to me, considering where runes are often used, often scratched or written into a stone or carved into a tree or wood.  Each letter symbol has an individual meaning that was thought to have a symbolic power as well, and could be used as protection, to create a spell, for divination, or to give you some sort of strength during a process you are going through.

M:  Have Runes always been used this way?  To help people make choices or decisions?  Or have they also been used to record narratives, as well?

S: They can come together to express words as an alphabet, so they can also be used to communicate ideas, as a means of expression.  But they have also always had that connection with the power of the actual word itself, that symbol itself, as well as the tradition of writing the individual symbols on different pieces (stones, or pieces of wood cut from a branch) and them drawing them out individually, an act of chance or divination that could provide meaning. People could also carve them and carry them as a talisman, to invoke some sort of power that they needed to go through an experience.

M: So their function is to carry the power of the word in a physical form?

S:   Yes, to me runes speak to the power of word itself.  The action of creating the marks for the words brings something into being.  Which is exciting!  Especially in the world of poetry, when each word has quite a bit of weight…and you’re thinking about what is happening in that small space of the written poem, each sound and letter can have a resonant meaning as well.  You can say Runes out loud or incant them, but the actual marks themselves carry weight and meaning. I enjoy the importance of their physicality.

M:  So each poem in the Rune Library has to do with the rune symbol it’s associated with but also has to do with your own observations during your residency as you lived your daily life.

S: Yes…a bit of both.  I was gathering imagery as I walked around Reykjavik and to excursions around the country.   I was also gathering images from the traditional symbols and their meanings.   So then as I sat down to write each poem, I’d read a bit about that particular rune and look back through my notebook and see what resonated from my experiences and what stood out in relation to the particular Rune.  They are my own slant on the rune, but I really view them as gifts from Iceland, experiences that I was able to put into the poems.

M:  I’ve only read two of the poems — the one I chose and the one that Hazel got — and they are remarkably like little windows onto an intimate experience of place; being in a new location for an extended period of time, once you are there for a certain period, you get to have a certain quality of daily life, an ‘ordinariness’ instead of a ‘specialness’ which actually leads to what feels like a deeper understanding of a place.  I think I gasped when I read my poem!  I really love the flip-flop between such a sense of history and permanence of the Rune – carved in stone —  and that you could translate and record something so transitory as your lived experience of private moments into forms of an ancient language…

S: A lot of contemporary images were coming through the poetry from when I was gathering impressions from my experiences.  But it seems like part of what the runes are as well, what they have always been used for – reflecting back your actual life, but you have to find what those connections are.  What some of the symbols represent can be quite intense – ice, disruption – they have this bracing quality.  When you find yourself in that moment, within a broad range of strong emotions, it’s really nice to have the reassurance of the runes that this is part of the natural cycle too, to have them reflect that back at you.  The rune meanings give you a helpful framework to realize it is transitory, the intensity of emotion…you are a part of a much larger cycle.

M: I looked up the rune I chose in your Blum book and it did catch my breath, how the ancient meaning behind it was oh so pertinent. I chose ‘constraint’, it said ‘…the role of nauthiz is to identify our shadow, our dark or repressed side, places where growth has been stunted resulting in weaknesses that are often projected onto others’.  And then in italics like I was suppose to really remember this…..‘don’t take this world personally’. It was, to use your word for it, bracing!  I am so drawn into this work of yours right where it intersects with my own process in making art; I am always hunting, sometimes randomly, and usually by luck for those moments in mythologies or archetypes where I see my own life reflected back at me.

I wonder, what has it been like for people to choose a poem at random, by luck or chance and their reactions to the connection they find in ‘their’ poem?  I guess that is a question I should answer (laughter)…..

S: I can speak to that somewhat…It was such a pleasure writing these poems because I didn’t feel like I was writing about me or just my own experiences — other than pulling images through my physical person.  My intention behind each poem was thinking more about that person who might be pulling this rune, what they might need in that moment, what the poem might be useful for in their life.  That is why I did not want the poems to live in a book  — though they certainly could — I wanted to present them in a way that people could have some kind of active experience connecting with a particular poem.  Being able to choose a poem through chance or fate, it becomes a more meaningful event because it came together in that way; it creates some energy and aliveness between the reader and the poem that doesn’t have to do with me.

M: This interactive quality seems important to you, both with your own work and what you have done with Rachel Kessler with Vis-à-vis Society and earlier with Typing Explosion.   Putting things in flux…it seems very important to you for a long time now.

S: There just is something so great that happens during those interactive moments… Rachel and I both are very much interested in the public/private relationship.   There are these kinds of moments we all have all the time, and Rachel and I aim to find ways to look closely at them.  Our intention is in finding ways to reflect back those moments through the process of making art, like say, with the making a graph of data of private experiences.  We try to find ways to facilitate and value the way people have a private moment of reflection, and yet we can create the opportunity for people to see their own private thoughts collectively through graphing and recording the patterns in everyone’s experience.

Vis-a-Vis Society

Vis-a-Vis Society

So it is an important private moment, choosing your rune stone from the box.  But to also have to sign out the rune from the library functions as a public way to mark and record the larger patterns. The Rune Library records what is happening on any given day, and potentially providing a larger sense of where patterns might emerge. It’s a library of experiences.  Were there certain rocks that people were drawn to on that particular day? Are there some runes that are pulled more frequently over time?  Is there some pattern to these random meetings?

 

Directions for Rune Library / Runasafn

 

1. Choose (or select at random) a rune stone from the container.

2. Find the corresponding symbol on the library card envelope.

3. Write your name and the date on the card.

4. Find the corresponding poem to the symbol and rune name.

5. The poem is yours to keep.

6. Return the rune stone to the container.

Takk fyrir!