Tuesday, July 21, 2015

An Excerpt from Valzhyna Mort's "for a. b."

I searched for this in Iceland and did not find it.

Iceland Day 2: Onward to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

After I misinterpreted directions on our map (we became well acquainted with several grazing sheep and a road running parallel to our destination), our first stop was Reykholt. Iceland is full of men named Snorri, we were quick to learn. Snorri Sturluson, a medieval scholar, chronicler of Norse sagas, and chieftain once called this sleepy village his home (though during his time 60,000-80,000 people lived there). I was interested in viewing his pool, Snorralaug.

According to the Iceland bible, Lonely Planet, it is possibly the oldest manmade structure in the country. The stones are original, dating back to the 10th century. The little door in the background covers a drafty tunnel which leads to his farmhouse. Snorri was murdered here centuries ago, hacked to death by his former son-in-law. We would discover a lot of this in Iceland. Areas that looked calm and peaceful had a brutal history which years and years later, still taints the atmosphere.

Our first introduction to the foss in Iceland was Hraunfossa. These waterfalls emerge from a lava field one kilometer away. I am envious of anyone taking a geology class in this country. Not only would the field trips be incomparable, but one would learn how this phenomenon takes place.

The milky blue water of Barnafoss (The Children's Falls) was also a favorite. One of my missions was to photograph as many variations of blue water that I could find and this toothpaste hue was a rarity.

Gatklettur, the Arch Rock, in Arnarstapi took our breaths away. I have only seen water this blue in the North Atlantic and suddenly it occurred to me that we were getting closer to the Arctic Ocean. I began dreaming of obtaining water samples from all the oceans in the world.

Snaefellsjökull, at not even 5000', was constantly present and spectacular to watch. Only for a few moments over the next two days, did we see it without a swirl of meringue hovering over the summit.

Words cannot fully describe Djúpalónssandur, a black stone beach with immense rock formations in Snaefellsjökull National Park. This is the path one takes to the water with a glimpse of the glacier through the heart shaped hole.

There are no rodents in Iceland. No squirrels nor chipmunks begging for food in the parking lots. We settled for finding zoomorphic forms in the outcroppings. There is a squirrel here and perhaps a few other anthropomorphic features as well. 

The sun was in the awkward, high noon position for several more hours during the day, resulting in unwanted silhouettes. It made this image more imposing than reality. Insert a 44º F temperature and it is far easier to understand what a day at the beach in June feels like here.

If this was the United States, the remains of this shipwreck from 1948 would have long disappeared. The metal parts, spread over several hundred feet, continue to rust on the pebbly sand.

After checking into our room for two nights in Hellissandur and eating dinner in nearby Olafsvik, we took a walk to the beach at 11:30 PM. I stayed awake until the sunset and it was not for another full hour. As a night owl (writing this post at 1 AM), I grew to like the long evenings but they were detrimental in convincing myself that it was time for sleep. Visiting in the winter would be problematic. It is far easier to accept these conditions than living in the darkness for most of the day. The Aurora Borealis might make up for it but I am not fully convinced.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Iceland Day 1: Arrival

The mother of all road trips: the Ring Road. Clockwise. 3308 kilometers. June 2015. It was the beginning of high tourist season though what that meant was a frequent point of conversation. My cousin, Donna, and I spent 15 days wondering what Iceland could look like crowded. Thankfully, we never found out.

First view from the Keflavík International Airport en route to buy groceries in Reykjavík.

Fascinated by the aesthetics of baked goods though not one to eat them often, I found the muffins borderline appalling.

Lunch in the grocery store parking lot. Peas imported from Ireland.

Five hours sleep in 48 hours and a 13 hour layover at JKF does not bode well for starting off in an energetic fashion. We did not visit Hvalfjördur out of sheer exhaustion, opting instead to rest by both of the Akranes lighthouses in the late afternoon sun. 

The side view mirror was also used to capture piles of drying salt at the peninsula. This was one of the warmest afternoons as I was only wearing two layers rather than the typical three. First locational comparison: an industrial Maine coastal town with 1/16 the population.

After dinner at the Settlement Center of Iceland, we drove inland to our funny hotel on the Grimsa River. "Funny" is used as a description because of the abundance of trolls (for better or for worse - more so the latter).

The Fossatún Hotel view from outside our room at 11 PM. Like most people who have never experienced 24 hours of daylight, I was constantly observing the quality of light at all times of day. The grays, the blues, the sun hanging over the horizon eons longer than normal before it sank into the sea, were all noted. Birds never ceased singing. Light never stopped entering the cracks in the curtains though this hotel would prove to be the darkest of all that followed. We would miss this the rest of our journey.

Second locational comparison: parts of Southern Idaho after a snow melt. Legend has it that there are piles of gold under the grass mounds. We did not find any but loved to look at the clumpy formations up close and from afar while speeding by in the SUV.

The Fossatún Hotel offered many photographic opportunities excluding stone sculptures of trolls. Above, I was channeling my inner Peter Happel Christian by documenting a rock holding down a grate.

I returned to this cabin multiple times trying to capture its odd shape in the landscape, never fully succeeding.

A hobbit house with grass resembling long hair. It was with this photograph, taken shortly before midnight, that I realized I was not near anything I had ever known. It was not the subject matter per se, but fully understanding how far north I was... traveling near the Arctic Circle in June. The abundance of light made the distance greater.

10 AM through the window of the hotel room the next morning (it looks a lot like midnight). After much needed sleep, we would venture further inland to visit countless waterfalls (hereby known as foss) and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

Iceland would come to represent my desire to visit the edges of the earth, the point where all roads end, where the sea is the final barrier. The entire country defined the edge and I, trying desperately to hide my fear of heights, would peer out into this volatile space, day after day in wonder.

My Swimsuit Mini-Crisis Part 2

Many months later, the task of throwing out my favorite swimsuit was still problematic. It lived in my dresser drawer unusable since winter. This was the first suit that I had to get rid of since I stopped saving them to create this piece. Everything about living in the PNW is wrapped up in this article of clothing, hence the difficulty. I convinced myself that only with photographic documentation, the crunchy straps facing the camera revealing why it could no longer be worn, was I able to toss it. Not so.

It did not feel right to discard it in a known or random trashcan, so I brought it back to the house, carefully folded it, and tied it with a bow. Even then I could not throw it away! I returned to the studio to document it and without hesitating (otherwise I would have invented one more way to photograph it), I dropped it in the garbage can at school.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Nancy Holt's "Star Crossed"

Undated and unattributed photograph from the Center for Land Use Interpretation website

According to the CLUI database, Nancy Holt's Star Crossed would be closed due to its dilapidated state. Sunday, Amelia and I were on a mission to see it and vowed we would photograph it whether or not we could get close. It was the summer of many earthworks after all. Why not see one in a neighboring state that was only an hour out of our way?

This is what it looked like shortly after it was built (1979-1980). Image via

The CLUI link above also states:

"The piece is made primarily of earth, originally mounded to a height of 14 feet, covering two concrete tubes, one aligned north-south and the other east-west, held in place by a buried steel frame. Until recently, the grounds crew of the University has been attempting to maintain it as part of the landscaping of the property, and it has not been treated as an artwork with special conservatorial needs. Some years ago, due to insufficient irrigation, the grass covering died, and the soil, thus exposed to erosion, slowly slumped down the steep slopes. The sculpture was rebuilt, but with the existing clay subsoil mixed into the topsoil, making for a less resilient form. Efforts to preserve the piece are said to be moving forward, under a new director at the art museum."

Here is the satellite map we were armed with to find Star Crossed after leaving the car in the Miami University Art Museum parking lot. We were hoping for something in between the CLUI photograph above and the cover of Sculpture magazine. We were also grateful that the huge rainstorm (number 746 of the season) had passed. The grass was wet but not muddy. If you think the following photographs are overly saturated, blame the non stop rain as they are close to accurate in color temperature.

First sighting.

Creeping closer...

and closer. There is graffiti on the right side of the interior of the tube. It was a little dank and trashy so we did not venture inside.

View of the 6 PM sun through the concrete tube in the opposite direction. Unlike visiting Sun Tunnels in May, the solar rays were plentiful this afternoon.

Overgrown plaque.

The whole point of the piece (or at least the placement of the top tube) is lost without water. Even all the rain could not fill the pool. We climbed up to the back (yes the soil is still uneven but at least it is not mowed) and looked through, wishfully thinking it would be restored soon.

Apparently, I cannot pass up taking a photograph of my muse in a Smoosh t-shirt.

I do not know what it would take to restore Star Crossed and whether or not that would be Holt's intention. I wish all universities that commissioned these earthworks in the first place had the capability of Western Washington University to maintain them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Interest in Iceland Began Here

Roni Horn, Untitled (A Brink of Infinity), 1997 from the exhibition Sea Change curated by Trudy Wilner Stack at the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, Arizona

The first time it ever occurred to me that Iceland may be a place I would like to visit was during Roni Horn's lecture in conjunction with the Sea Change exhibition at the Center for Creative Photography. Unfortunately, my primary memory was that Horn was soft spoken and my friends were snoring in the seats next to me and it was exceedingly difficult to stay awake. It was here that I learned about You are the Weather and saw endless images of hot springs and various rock formations. She discussed the Ring Road and an exhibition in Akureyri and I was intrigued.

Olafur Elliason, Iceland Series, 2002

Later on, I discovered Olafur Elliason whose parents were Icelandic but he grew up in Denmark. Much of his work focuses on returning to the homeland, incorporating the natural landscape, air, water and even caves into grids of photographs or sculptures. 

Olafur Elliason, Contact is Content at Seljalandsfoss

Ragnar Kjartansson, The End, 2009

I have mentioned Ragnar Kjartansson's video work (specifically The Visitors) on this blog before and it is even more compelling returning to his artwork after spending time in Iceland and fully understanding where the isolation and loneliness comes from.

Juergen Teller, Bjork and Son, 1993

Teller photographed Bjork and her son, Sindri, at the Blue Lagoon in the early 1990s and I had not thought about that photograph for years until recently. This was the first time I saw the color of the thermal baths depicted in print and the first time I recognized the colors in Iceland are different from anything that exists anywhere else.

Last summer, I read Rebecca Solnit's The Faraway Nearby while on the residency at Surel's Place. Solnit was the first international writer in residence at The Library of Water in Stykkisholmur and wrote about it extensively in this book. Also, at this time, Ian Van Coller's photographs of Iceland infiltrated my Instagram feed and the seed to visit this country was planted.

Ian Van Coller, from Fissure: An Intimate Portrait of Icelandic Ice

I photographed meltwater in Jasper National Park and thought that writing a grant to visit Iceland (where this specific type of water is plentiful) was a good idea. Little did I dream that I would receive the summer stipend. The turn around time from learning in April to visiting in June was stressful. After a lot of research and making a rudimentary map, my cousin and I met at JFK, we drove over 3000 kilometers into the peninsula and the Ring Raod and managed to visit everything on the list except for Hofsos.

I was expecting greatness and Iceland did not disappoint. I have not felt so overwhelmed and in awe of a country since my first visit to New Zealand and cannot wait to see how I process this and incorporate it into Autobiography in Water.