to look for stones to look life in the face | leveld kunstnartun #1
This is #1 of a series of blogs written from Leveld Kunstnartun, residency in Norway.
During the full month of August I am working together with Laura ten Zeldam, friend and fellow artist, at Leveld Kunstnartun, a residency in the countryside of Norway. Laura sees light as her main material. She is a window maker and a true craftswoman, trained in the arts of stained glass, drawing and painting, based in Brussels. She and I have been engaged ongoing conversations and small starts of collaborations for years, though this residency is the first time we are truly taking this further and embarking on a project together.
We travelled in Laura's old Peugeot with (very important) a cassette tape deck, making our way to Leveld in a slow Scandinavian roadtrip, driving through and camping in truly wondrous places, so that when we arrived at Leveld we already had quite some adventures behind us.
There is something about true forests, deep and dense, that thrills and overwhelms me, coming from The Netherlands (not exactly the country of wildness). Knolls and moss, animal footprints and feces, countless shades of green. And then, the mountains! Green rolling ones and higher ones in softer tones with glimpses of snow white. There is a river around the corner here, a strong one. When it hurts we return to the banks of certain rivers, wrote Czeslaw Milosz. I found this line, and many strong others, in the book To the River by Olivia Laing, one of the books that serves as a companion to me here. When I packed it, I had no clue how fitting it would be, our studio and home being in such proximity to the river Votna.
In To the River, Laing follows the river Ouse from the source to the sea, wandering, wondering, writing in an almost Sebaldian style of myths as well as history, corpses as well as hummingbirds. The Ouse is the river in which Virginia Woolf drowned herself. She being a writer I admire, I have read and heard stories of her life, her mental breakdowns and her death before. Never as poignantly as here, though. Perhaps it was because I was walking by this river that day. Reading about how Virginia filled her pockets with heavy stones before walking into the river deeply unsettled me. Unable to put the images conjured by her act out of my mind, I worked with it by writing a text by mingling Woolf's words and my own and creating a few images.
to look for stones to look life in the face to weigh each one always to look life in the face to choose the heaviest and to know it for what it is to fill all pockets at last to know it to step into the river to love it for what it is to feel the weight and then to put it away
Stones and rocks have been recurring material in our first experiments, as shapes, as beings, as metaphors. An intriguing moment for me was when, after working on our own for a day or so, Laura and I exchanged something we made. I gave her the text I wrote (to look for stones to look life...) and she gave me a cut-out 'stone' out of paper, black ink, white ink and pencil. There was a a very different character and way of working in both pieces - hers having such a strong materiality, mine more of an emotional weight - and it was nice to just take something from the other and work with it, through it. We talked about how this paper stone could potentially be not only a depiction of nature, but some kind of nature in itself. I took it for a walk and photographed it, with this thought in mind.
I feel like we are in the very first stages of a conversation on how one sees, how one makes, how to retain a freeness in both seeing and making, as an artist, as a viewer. We see an aliveness in the rocks, the stones, the non-human, the river. In the studio right now there's an atmosphere related to arte povera and animism, but also something more contemporary. I'm musing and trying my hand at writing some strange little poems;
kneaded like dough
by water and weather’s
but slowly, slowly
but slowly, slowly
I was thinking of bodies too, human bodies as well as non-human bodies. Is there anything that is not transient, not susceptible to decay? It seems to me a question of time. Since a human body is softer than a stone's, it won't remain as long, though the stone too will hurt, pass, break down. Some of these thoughts were triggered or strengthened by reading the powerful thesis of my friend and wonderful artist Maya Watanabe, in which she questions what and who is considered alive, dead and grievable and what is not, in connection to cinema, a medium that in her view is capable of both severing and suturing the space between life and non-life.
All in all, I was affected these days, deeply, by the nature surrounding me, by Laura's companionship and creativity, by things I read, by something as big as a suicide, by something as small as a rock. I will end with a quote I found in Maya's work, by María Garcés: Being affected is learning to listen, taking things in and transforming oneself, breaking something of oneself and recomposing oneself with new alliances. (...) Learning to listen, in this way, is to take in the outcry of reality in its dual sense, or in its innumerable senses: an outcry that is suffering, an outcry that is the impossible-to-codify richness of voices, of expressions, of challenges, of forms of life.
to be continued - - -