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

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.

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.


 

I want transformation…

Earth, isn’t this what you want? To arise in us, invisible? Is it not your dream, to enter us so wholly there’s nothing left outside us to see? What, if not transformation, is your deepest purpose? (Rainer Maria Rilke)

Stones and poppies

Stones and poppies

My heart open cracks….Pain, I guess, is what it takes to find a new way.  No wonder so many of us choose to turn to stone.

I am still stuck in a deep hole, but my work, even if playing with the petals from today’s flowers and tomorrow’s stones, and bits and pieces around the studio, and the backyard’s sun, it is still the way I build the ladder out of the hole.  Even if I cannot see the light at the top.  My persistence, even if blind….I cannot stop it.  And it will get me somewhere, some location I don’t yet see.  These petals, from Paul’s poppies, will rot, but today I saw every surface and treated them with care.  This light was mine, and something was completed.

What is Solstenen? with breadth and width…

What is Solstenen?

Solstenen is a year-long project chronicling the process of learning about, and the making of, a new body of creative work. It will render visible the meandering exploratory process involved in creating fully-realized artworks that is often unseen, but a fertile ground that must be turned.  For my artistic practice, that fertile ground is ‘learning, sharing, influence and confluence’.  An overlapping strata of concepts layering and growing together like a kombucha mother, I need this to make my work and to direct my life.    As an avid autodidact I am always seeking new paths for my work to take me on, more through lived experiences than theory, propelled forward by sparks of serendipitous connections and chance meetings that send me in an alluvial fan of directions rather than a rigid single line.

The word ‘Solstenen’ (sun stone) is the fabled Viking Compass from the Hrafns sagas, believed to be a mineral that was used as a navigational compass; probably the mineral cordierite (iolite), by polarizing skylight, it was used to locate the hidden sun, and might be one component of the masterful Viking navigation.  It seemed only fitting to take on this word to name this journey-based project, one where I know my direction but don’t know the conceptual terrain I will cover to get there.  While the traditional compass, interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field is fascinating enough, a compass that relies on a stone and the incredible observational powers of a sailor just thrills me!

The Journey:

I have been carrying with me for a while, like a stone in my pocket I sometimes touch, my reaction to an A.S. Byatt short story “A Stone Woman”, that I read in 2005.  It’s a story of a woman numbed with grief and apathy, then finding herself more alive as her physical body becomes a part of the natural landscape.  It’s so much more than that.  But at the time, still a very new mother, I identified with the numbness and a heavy rigidity in my body. It’s something I’ll need to unpack over the course of exploring/building this work…why I identified so precisely with this metamorphosis our quiet hero Ines was going through. I have also always felt magnetically pulled to stories and fables of people pulled into the mysteries of nature, never to return (the call of the White Stag in SBMWP).

Small but Mighty Wandering Pearl, 2006

Small but Mighty Wandering Pearl, 2006

Far from knowing exactly why and how I’ll be doing things, thinking about things and making things, I am here at the vulnerable beginning of not knowing, but pointed in a direction.  There will be many starts and stops, concepts and ideas discarded or cultivated till they flourish.  That’s what I’m here to explore in this process project.

The Text:

Byatt’s fairy tale-like story tells of a middle-aged woman who, grieving the death of her mother, finds herself having emergency surgery from a life-threatening mysterious stomach ailment.  Numbed by grief and physical pain, seeing her small world in shades of grey and dust, she is intrigued to discover the hardness at her healing incision is actually veins of red stone spreading around her body, and sprouts of green minerals at her armpits.   Resigned to death by petrifaction, as the multi-colored, brilliant and evolving minerals overtake her flesh, she meets and reveals her metamorphosis to an Icelandic stone carver.  He takes her on a pilgrimage to Iceland —  a geologically capricious land where stones are alive and with legends of humans becoming stone trolls – to find a place of belonging, dissolving into the vibrant life-force of an ever-changing landscape of magma, weather and time.

In my mind, my strong reaction to Byatt’s story has always been entangled with my feelings about the symbol of the Albatross seabird as a weighty penance for violence against nature from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, and also the central act of labor in the Greek myth of Sisyphus, eternally rolling the stone back up the hill (the last week of finishing an installation brings me there). 

So with an amalgamation of literary influences, I plan to explore themes of weight, physical burden and labor as external symbols of internal self-transformation, the act of creating and becoming of a broader identity beyond the personal, metamorphosing into the environmental.  I’ll also engage in a closer reading of all of these works, and the works they take me to – I haven’t read Ancient Mariner since high school but the image seems to haunt my work (especially during the awkward agony of sewing the skin around my giant Pelican), and though I love the Greek myth, I ditched Camus’ Sisyphus in college in favor of reading Walker Percy in the sunshine.  It’s time to revisit.

Pelican Goddess from 'Dare alla Luce', 2008

Pelican Goddess from ‘Dare alla Luce’, 2008

The Making:

Along with me on this journey is my husband, artist Paul Margolis, who will travel with me to Iceland (along with our son) in 2012.  But before that, I will begin by making us clothes. I will be making mantles of stones for Paul and me to wear, created by crocheting nets of fabric and by spinning Icelandic wool around stones collected from my environment, and minerals based on the encyclopedic taxonomy of minerals described by Byatt from Ines’ transformation, weaving these stones together into a massive garment to be worn and woven into my hair and his beard.  This will accompany a kind of ‘hair-shirt’ Albatross gown made from thousands of handmade feathers of countless variety of found and dyed gray fabrics; a gown large enough that it could, say, even accommodate a large boulder in the sleeve.

The Golden Cage, 2011

The Golden Cage, 2011

Reflection and refraction of natural imagery, revealing hidden patterns, is a critical theme in my work, and will continue with the making of mirrored wearable sculptural elements that will be worn with the stone and feathered clothes to created kaleidoscopic reflections in performative photographic and video work.   This desire to continue probing refraction and reflection comes out of my 2011 installation The Honey Moon Chamber, where a massive jewelry box of mirrors around a golden erupting chandelier seemed to reveal an endless hidden world I wanted to blend into (and seemed to already…there were so many of me already behind the glass).

Honey Moon Chamber, 2011

Honey Moon Chamber, 2011

A Physical journey as well:

Reading the Byatt story compels me to travel to Iceland, to see if I can know what part of her description is idealized, or even if that’s possible.  I also long, long, long to work quietly and steadily in one place in a landscape, until I notice the subtle daily changes, like I did creating my environmental installation Mater Matrix Mother and Medium in 2009.

Mater Matrix Mother and Medium, 2009

Mater Matrix Mother and Medium, 2009

So in Summer/Fall 2012, we’ll be journeying to a series of rural residencies during 5-weeks  in Iceland with my husband, Paul, where we’ll use the massive garments to immerse ourselves in the radically dramatic landscape, explore our themes, creating works of eco-installation, performance, photography and video. And to just be, to see what happens, discard what doesn’t work and allow discovery.

Laboring together in the landscape– performing Sisyphean extreme exertion – we’ll un-pack notions about our life’s work together; the metaphor of the heavy body pulled to earth is one avenue to examine the progression of creating a life, then losing it as the body ages.  As collaborators on building a life together, the natural and desired end is that we would experience together the inevitable passage of our bodies back to earth.

Me in the Tree, the Tree in Me, 2001, Paul Margolis

Me in the Tree, the Tree in Me, 2001, Paul Margolis

We will all three, as a family of artists,  be working on developing performance-based videos, photography and environmental interventions/installations, together and intuitively.  This project is about putting myself as an artist in a radically different place than my comfort zones, using my own body and our private family culture as medium, blending our roles as artists, parents and partners.  I’ll also, along with Paul, work together to develop our abilities at creating experimental movement scores and how to capture them on video, and develop new media work. Neither of us are dancers or really performers, but locating our bodies at the center of this work, we are attempting to confront, repair and heal rifts in our lives that have both made our artistic life together possible and also strained it to near-breaking.

‘Beholden’, 2010
a collaboration with my son as he wears a blanket made from both of our hair collected during his life, including his baby-locks

Our work will also be to learn about Icelandic mythology, clay and pottery, Icelandic wool and fiber arts, and how this history of traditional arts funnels into Icelandic contemporary art practices.  My work as a multi-media artist has always been informed by deep haptic pull towards traditional crafts arts, particularly fibers and traditional costume.  With the Icelandic sheep that grows a fiber like nowhere else on Earth, and a culture that respects the hand-arts of women to the point where they put it on their money, I have to explore this.  I’ll be engaging with contemporary and traditional makers in Iceland as part of a series of interviews I’ll be doing for this blog, which will begin first at home with artists I admire and want to learn from.

Zuster, Sweostor, Systir, 2010

Zuster, Sweostor, Systir, 2010

Bookends:

The beginning and end of this project takes place a Seattle’s, The Project Room. I initiated the Solstenen project with a 7-week open-studio residency from July 14 – September 1, 2011.

I began the first stitch of this project at TPR, inviting community participation through hands-on workshops – namely the crochet parties that have been part of my process for the last few years, open studio hours, and other happenings – including interactive activities with guest artists during August 2011.

In late 2012, after the residency in Iceland, I’ll return to TPR to present the worked created, and the process at TPR

As part of The Project Room Question, Why Do We Make Things?, this two-part program bookends this question as its first and final presentation.

The Guest Artists and You:

The Project Room will be asking Why Do We Make Things? in a variety of ways over the course of 2011/2012.  For my part, I feel asking this question by myself for 7 weeks– just in the space sewing/researching/crocheting — really makes no sense; I need the “we”.  In August, look out for a variety of activities involving artists whose brains I want to pick, get advice from and explore things that are new to me.  And come learn from me; the most simplest thing in the world is a crocheted chain, but like most simple things, it can fractal out and in beyond imagining. I’ll show you!