Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Final Days at Baer

The family home at Baer with studio apartments on the left

Iceland for me was a peak experience.  On returning to California something essential had changed in me at what felt to be a cellular level and I felt deeply that I had to find a completely new way of being on the planet. What that looked like I didn't know and although it threw me into limbo, I couldn't go back to the old way of being. I couldn't work and needed time to reflect. Now, much has shifted and finally after almost seven months of adjustment I am very happy to be concluding my Iceland blog. I have two posts to make—This, the final days of the residency and to come very soon, the journey around the island with my fellow artist Linda Simmel.

In the final days at Baer the five of us—artists in residence—were focused on presenting our creative experiments to over a hundred interested, intelligent visitors from all walks of life—farmers, architects, writers, teachers, an Icelandic Oceanographer and his wife on their way to Monterey, California, the young and the elderly. We had worked hard and the open day was the perfect conclusion.  We wanted to express our gratitude by putting on a really good show.

Immense gratitude to Steinunn Jónsdóttir for her vision and generosity in creating this idyllic residency. www.baer.is  And many thanks also to a great support team; Finnur, Steinunn’s husband (and their two young boys), Eiðer, Bjarnveig, Sunna, Símon and Símon Jr. 

Open day July 2012
Donald had partly finished a book made from a piece of drift wood sliced perfectly through its center to form the back and front cover. Inside he had inlayed a small video screen (iPhone) which played a mesmerizing, speeded up time lapse video. It was highly atmospheric and focused on Drangey, the monolithic island we viewed from the studio building every day.  Donald is an internationally acclaimed sculptor/furniture maker and whatever he does is very sensitive and beautifully made. Also from driftwood he crafted a musical instrument with banjo tuning—a baer-jo—which produced a great strumming sound and in his studio he hung big composite images of the landscape. See his blog/website for more about his work: http://donaldfortescue.com/2012/07/19/baer-new-work-1/

Donald tuning his baer-jo in the lounge area of the studios
Mark had taken large format photographs using a Hasselblad. He worked at night when the light was at its best, images unseen until the film would be developed later in New York. He showed a series of digital images in his studio with explanations of his project and the intention to make a book. He recently, five months after taking, emailed a series of stunning images of landscape and portrait: http://www.markhartmanphoto.com

Tove had been making life-size, biographical pieces incorporating an outline of herself in many layers, one of which she ‘dressed’ in fish skins. The largest town near to us, Sauderkroker, has the only fish skin tannery in the country and these salmon skins are quite beautiful. Tove’s pieces were stitched, painted and glued, hung in layers and lit to give the impression of viewing through various dimensions of experience. sundthansen.no/

Tove's fish skin figures

Linda’s long crumpled pastel drawing, rolled out to be more than 16 ft in length, was spectacular, and, as one of our visitors remarked, resembled a moving glacier and equally as transient as it didn’t survive the journey home to California. There are rumors that she began again this extended process from her Studio in the Bay Area.  lindasimmel.com

Linda's very long drawing, chalk pastel on. BFK paper


Moving glacier  Breiðamerkurjökull , Glacier Lagoon

I followed my original intention of working ‘hands on’ with the land and not using any technology! However, in the first few days I had been inspired to make video and only reluctantly returned to the original intention—because I thought I should at least try it. I had been fascinated by the varied rock formations on the beach at Baer and had spent a day photographing them. Returning the next day to ‘find’ those rocks formations proved to be impossible, even with the photographs. They had completely disappeared. I must have focused on detail so intently, that somehow each gem had scaled up in size in my vision and I could not retrieve the reality. I had to let it go and, with some resistance, selected areas of rock suitable for taking impressions using fragile fibrous Kozo paper,—shipped out to Baer for this purpose. I was soon completely hooked. 

Rose formation on Baejarklettar - Baer beach

I began by soaking the paper in the pristine Arctic water, and, totally saturated, modeled it into the intricate surface of the rock. Left to dry in the sun, the following day this fragile, fibrous paper had adhered strongly to the rock surface. Utilizing orange pebbles from the beach, naturally covered in a layer of soft iron oxide, I rubbed them over the surface of the paper to colour and accentuate the detail of the rock. In the same way, I worked with graphite to bring out more fine detail. The result was a very rock-like installation, almost identical to the rock as I became more proficient.  After photographing the completed rubbings in situ I was able to peel the paper—a skin of memory—from the rock. The paper had retained the memory of the detail and form so well that the resistance of separation seemed to create an electrical charge. It was quite shocking—no pun intended—to remove this skin.  
Paper installation adhered to rock and drying
Peeling the 'memory' from the rock

The largest installation well adhered and almost invisible
The flayed skins hanging in the studio on open day
 For work in the studio I went on to select choice stones from the same beach and wrap them completely in the paper following the same technique to fit them to the stone.   Undercuts, I tucked, folded and cut the paper to follow the form, creating a pattern I could open and, again, remove a skin. Some of the forms I left wrapped with the stone still inside. It is interesting to note that following the removal of the paper, the stones themselves had been visibly changed. 

Group of covered stones - paper skins encasing stones

Stone skin with stone removed
Paper covered stone - iron oxide applied from beach pebble
In process, iron oxide applied and graphite exposing detail
Detail of above

Some pieces I left with Steinunn and shipped and carried others. 

Our photographer, Mark gave me empty boxes that had contained his 4” x 5” film . They made perfect containers for small skins of memory, specially created to be held inside. I like this format and to open one of these boxes to find a fragment of fragile paper-thin rock memory is rather magical.

Studio shot of small rock memories in 4"x5" film boxes with iron coated pebbles in foreground

Seven months later and I am just beginning to formulate a way to continue with the work that developed at Baer.  I feel as if I have carried away with me from Iceland a physical memory, not my own, but of the land itself,  a record of millions of years that inevitably reveals itself at its leading edge. It is alive and ever changing. Holding the Rock Skins I feel I have a living fossil in my hands.

 The keeping of records feels more vital that ever as our planet’s surface shifts, the glaciers melt and the oceans rise to take over the land. My wish is to return to Baer to complete a small part of a big picture, to record the sounds and to penetrate deeper into this rumbling volcanic Land

Thank you to everyone who supported me on this journey and to all my wonderful friends who bought  an archival print of Signature Moth to enable me to travel to Iceland. Thanks also to my friend Maya Clemes for the substantial gift of Kozo paper that inspired the idea of land rubbings - Impressions of Iceland. Thanks  to Robin Kandel for passing on the link for the residency, suggesting using graphite as a medium rather than wax crayon and the play day at my studio.