We went to little Malla this morning. I did sound field recordings and underwater video recording tests, I will use the footage for the Documentary I’m directing during my stay in Kilpisjarvi for the ARCTIC2014.COM project!
We – my husband and son and I, are enjoying the stay in Kilpisjärvi. We are walking in the mornings and playing with our son Hugo. When he is sleeping, I work on my installation art. I am experimenting and making drafts for reindeer sculptures that will be part of my exhibition in Aine Art Museum, Tornio, in March 2015.
Reindeer art is something I have previously written about. The exhibition in Aine Art Museum is going to be my own contribution to this controversial field!
Yesterday I was out in the tundra, tunturi, and marvelling at the rolling landscape and misty backdrop of fells beyond, it seemed almost barren, where each element stood out by contrast, from little frogs to flowing water leading to a waterfall… All the way along I was admiring the splashes of yellows, oranges and reds of the ground cover – e.g. in Bilberry / Mustikka (leaves go bright red) and low shrubs – spread out and sometimes blending together, and when you look up close, the groundcover is also now full of berries!
Part of most of my days are spent carrying out various tests with the natural materials I have collected, small samples from nearby and along my hiking routes. In the case of berries I’ve found, some were familiar, but in two cases I was berry confused. For example thus the correction on my first post – as it turns out, after having a chat in the Biological Station, what I had collected in fact was Dwarf Cornel / Ruohokanukka, which is growing all over here (where there are trees), it’s berries bright red and leaves now turning dark red, contributing wonderfully to fall colours on the ground, maaruska. Also, the test of eating a little red berry, and tasting the sourness, confirmed that it was indeed Lingonberry / Puolukka (as opposed to Bearberry / Sianpuolukka, looking extremely similar).
In working with these samples, I’m interested in using also tools that have a connection with this environment. For example today I put together a brush, using driftwood (from the lake shore) and Cottongrass (found in the tundra), along with regular thread, creating an implement which can also be used on the other end for a hard tip. I tested both ends with charcoal (collected from different fire pits), using a flat side of a rock, first rubbing on the charcoal then mixing in some water and applying this to paper.
For more artist information, please see my website: scaldn.net
A few days ago the rain became less frequent, since then a few times the clouds have parted and the sun has shone through, as if the lights were turned on, details in the landscape became sharper, punctuated by shadows. It has been almost visually overwhelming, after being accustomed to the muted fall colours, softened by the clouds.
Taking the opportunity afforded by the drier weather, I went on a few hikes, including up Saana Fell, where I met two bands of ptarmigans (Rock Ptarmigan) along the way, who I stopped to listen to for a while, and tried to photograph (they blend in well to the landscape), as they made the most interesting sounds.
I was fortunate to discuss with a local Sami contact recently, which included insights into a different worldview, and ways of life here, for example relating to the importance of reindeer.
The environment here is an amazing contrast from the city, namely Helsinki, where I’m otherwise living. There can be dramatic changes in the weather and natural surroundings, the sky full of dark clouds, then suddenly the sun shines like a spotlight on the northern ridge of Saana fell. Or then there’s the more subtle changes, such as the onset of ruska around now, fall colours illuminating the leaves on the trees and ground cover.
Spending time observing here, from indoors or out, constantly reveals wonders, in the form of sights, sounds, smells, also finding different berries and encountering other living creatures…
Most of my time spent here so far has been characterised by rain, which has led me to spend more time indoors than I might have originally thought. From where I’m staying, sitting looking out the window, Sweden can be seen in the distance, where once, after the rain, appeared a rainbow.
Yesterday was my first hike, up Salmivaara, which was surrounded by dark grey rainy-looking clouds, and offered a lovely view of the landscape.
However I’ve been making use of my time spent inside the residence and also the Biological Station, researching and writing, working with my collected samples, such as berries, finding out about them and their properties, with an interest in making natural inks.
One highlight so far has been the reindeer that come daily to munch the grasses and leaves in the field and tree-covered outcrop outside the residence. They are impressive animals. It’s a bit like having visitors, although rather I think it is me who is a visitor on their land.
Here in Kilpisjarvi, the fast life doesn’t exist. A week ago I was back in Scotland, rushing through essays, articles and chores, and never stopping to breathe. Being a gentle soul at heart, this way of working has always seemed wrong, but I had to play the game. Edinburgh, my home city, is swarming with talented, dedicated writers all competing for the same few opportunities. Even if you’re published, you must continue to prove you are worthy. This takes, or rather we’re told it takes, a phenomenal amount of determination, resilience and productivity. If you have a day off you feel bereft, as though your one chance at success has slipped through your fingers and into the hands of another. I’ve tried tackling this problem for years, it’s just hard when you’re driven and eager. My peers seem to forget the old story of the tortoise and the hare, applauding my more stressful, speedy efforts. When you think about it, it’s no surprise: working both hard and fast is a very impressive feat.
Here, I still have my drive, but without the morbid passing of time. It’s difficult to describe. Local poet Johan Yuri captured these sensibilities with eloquence and simplicity. He wrote about how there is no time here in Lapland, but that its mist still impressions upon us. This resonates with me: here, I have no anxieties about time because I feel so connected to the present. The sunlight is perpetual and so it never feels like a particular time of day or night. The lake outside my window is an animation repeating over and over, operating in some strange state of flux and never getting old. Clocks are ornaments showcasing meaningless information — my body clock included. I feel mischievous and amiss, like a broken compass spinning round and round, taking immense delight in its own chaos. Artists, and indeed everyone who moves too fast, could benefit from time — or rather the lack of time — in Lapland. Of course, it has other high points too, besides its peacefulness and history. The food, which I have consumed in copious amounts, has been fantastic.
Although I love to cook back home, I let work get in the way. I also tend to live in my head, intellectualising everything and ignoring my body’s cries for attention. This is partly due to my over-ambitious work ethic, and also because I have joint pain. Switching off from this pain is a useful trick, though it means masking other sensations too, like tiredness and hunger. But when I travel, I become much more aware of my body and its need to be rested and nourished. It’s upsetting to notice the pain, but it’s great to want food. In general, I’m not keen on Scottish cuisine, especially not from canteens, as it’s often tasteless, unhealthy and unethical. The food here — a range of stews, soups and bakes — is delicious, combining unusual textures and flavours. My favourite is cake made with apple, cream cheese and cardamon — foods I’d never have thought to put together. However, I hope to get through life without ever having coffee cheese again. That one was a bit scary.
I’ll be sad to leave this place, but I’ll take its lessons with me. I’ve loved having a clean, timeless slate to write upon, and I’ve enjoyed being around like-minded people. Our house, Kiekula, has been very sociable, inspiring great conversations about philosophy, science and art. I’ve taken various walks and hikes across unspoilt landscapes, and in the evenings I’ve been writing essays and learning Finnish; a complex and beautiful language. And when I’ve not been doing those things, I’ve been mapping the local area in an attempt to imbibe these ever-present feelings of timelessness, sleeplessness and hunger. I don’t know if this will lead to a significant piece or the most pretentious disaster ever created, but it’s been fun and that what counts. What is significant is how I feel about writing now as my residency draws to a close. I’m one step closer to dropping out of the toxic race for success. The fast movers will fire ahead at the speed of light, and they might get there before I do. That isn’t me and it never was. In order to be a happy and healthy writer, I need to leave that future behind.
Here at incredible Kiekula residence, enjoying many things including the House Martins whom we share the outside porch with. Their tweets have been non stop, so decided to give them a tune back-this ones for the birds! Click on Icon and enjoy their song as we have here….
Now my last day here so have tried to sum this experience up for me, later I will put some more sound pieces up after they are edited a little.
This has without a doubt been one of the most powerful experiences I have had for a long while, the region has a magic about it that has entered into my dreams and soul; even the fridge purred in Kiekula like a content old cat!
For days I wandered and dreamt in subconscious merriment ever deeper towards the rare gems that lie there so long abandoned but never forgotten, surrounded by the mists of disorientation.
Could I find this place of mystery again, why hadn’t I heard its sound, why is there only silence?
Confusion and indecision being my ever faithful allies and guides on this quest; searching for a glimpse of paradise and hoping that the rewards of which would outweigh the many sacrifices made-I was trusting they would!
Trekking round lakes, traversing valleys, tundra and mountain-tops, descending into moss and lichen laden forests following the melodic song of birds and the smell of damp moist earth before finally laying down to rest beside a glacial stream, seeking its sweet song to be whispered to me.
Still this secret eluded me, that like anything that is slightly just out of reach you never quite get hold of it and maybe that’s because the desire is too strong, maybe it’s not that simple, who knows? So I told myself that when I let go of the desire perhaps I will find this elusive muse, so that’s what I did.
For I could not name what I was seeking even though it was familiar to my past, making the path truly mysterious but I knew it’s something-that drives me on, keeps me going and makes the moments of not knowing somehow more meaningful.
The path brings me here yet again to this land where time dwells not in a logical format but conjuring up the unimaginable and not ever what you thought it was going to be, bringing to mind the old saying ‘make plans, God laughs’ and I hear that sound, chuckling away!
Where doing may not be being, but being really is the doing and time spent trying to be, can exhaust you to the core.
Flabbergasted and tried to the last I sat upon the earth and made a fire with birch, fire not as fast as that but many times I kept at it; failure after failure ‘but I used to be one with nature, how is it the fire won’t light?
Self-doubt sticks its ugly head in and hisses in my ear; ‘city boy now, who’s lost his way severed from his roots and what he loves most, all passion gone aging body remains with decay setting in that’s rotting the teeth. The best is gone and the rest is not worth the paper it’s written on, a tale of familiar morbid truth is all that’s left-what is the point of anything’?
I stared in despair at the damp bits of twig and set my mind to focus on sparking the birch bark, I was going to do it, clearing my mind and releasing my thoughts ‘a moment of mindfulness’-as the tiny flicker of a small flame danced amongst the damp, there was still hope!
Huge powerful dark clouds loom over head threatening to quench the small friendly flame, behind Pikku-Malla sheets of rain fall on Swedish soil. A dream as a child where I was running away, but as I ran the dark thing chasing me became closer and closer, footsteps growing louder and louder, the faster I went the more deafening and bigger an closer it got, there was no escape THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP!
The fire cracked I refocused and the dancing continued slowly growing as I added more wood fed piece by piece, twig by twig-fire replacing smoke, warmth battled against cold, sitting myself closer to the flames feeling winter creeping nearby and darkness evermore at bay. After a while the fire was crackling and snapping, mountain water lapping on the shore, rhythms and familiar sounds as miraculous alchemy warmed my soul leaving me feeling not so alone. Reaching for my ukulele and striking a tune in harmony as Wagtails flew close by rising, falling up and down, reunited with other friends of nature once again; fire, water, air, earth, wood and stone keeping me company beside the lake of Kilpisjärvi, ‘being-home again’.
JR: I’ve spent the last two weeks here at the Kiekula residence on my first visit to the Arctic. I’ve never experienced 24 hour days, and it’s extraordinary how such a simple difference so radically alters my perception of time. When noon looks the same as midnight, clock time becomes meaningless. The most fundamental activities such as eating and sleeping are no longer triggered by darkness or by the angle of the sun. I can feel tired or hungry at any time, not unlike jet lag.
EF: The strong ties to the daily sun cycle can be represented by aesthetic, psychological, and physiological relationships to light and darkness. For many species and many cultures of humans, the deepest relationship to sun cycles are formed within the 24 hour sun cycle.
JR: How do I cope? I am clinging to a regular schedule. At a reasonable hour I shut the curtains, put on my sleep mask, and make myself lay down to sleep. I seem to wake up after the usual 7 or 8 hours. Meals likewise happen at the usual intervals. Perhaps I am afraid to let go of regularity, of a reassuring rhythm that grounds me, connects me to my appetites for food, for sleep, for running and walking.
EF: Within a few days, my sleep time creeped along later and later and my wake time followed along in tow. By the end of my stay, I fell asleep at 6am and woke at 4pm. I believed that my biological clock was in a state that is called ‘free run’ – dissociated from the day-night light cycle (or lack thereof).
JR: Funny how appetite and time are so closely connected. With clock time fading into the shadows, I am noticing how many clocks in my body are asserting their existence. My heart and my breath, eating, walking, running, sleeping: all are oscillating in their own rhythms. My heartbeat has become even slower than usual here, beating 36 times a minute while I write this.
EF: Fatigue set in at midnight, regardless of when I fell asleep. Between fatigue and sleep, movements felt languid, thoughts felt prolonged, and the ‘wait’ seemed to be inescapable.
JR:As a composer, my activities are not as closely linked to the environment here at Bioarctica as those of many of the other artist residents. So what do I do here? Mostly I go outdoors. I run every morning, for 40 minutes or an hour or more, up and down hills, skipping over rocks and mud and streams, bumping into reindeer. And most days I go for extended hikes, from one to six hours.
Then I listen to music on my trusty iPad. I follow my nose, and it’s been leading me to highly rhythmic music, funk especially, and dance music of all kinds (The arctic solstice felt like funk). Finally, I compose and sketch fragments of various pieces I’m working on, or fragments with no direction home, complete unknowns, musical doodles.
I am noticing a thread here. Of all the elements in music–timbre, harmony, melody–it is time which is perhaps the most compelling, and the most mysterious. It’s notoriously difficult to talk about, to quantify or theorize, whether as local rhythms or large-scale structures. Yet it is said that timing is everything.
EF: These kinds of considerations are the lense through which I view the world. Particularly, I am drawn to low frequencies. Timescales of days, months, and years, are relevant to aspects of our experience like memory, reflection, and emotional resolution. It is possible that time heals because it removes you from the moment, and it is viewpoint that keeps your perception locked in some ‘there’ – in some space. Music is like a moving image of time that takes me on a journey to other spaces.
JR: Arnold Schoenberg once told John Cage that he had no feeling for harmony, whereupon Cage replied that he would spend the rest of his life banging his head against the wall, trying to figure out harmony. I imagine Cage, whose wonderful innate feeling for rhythm can be heard in joyful 1940s works such as Third Construction in Metal and Credo in Us, banging his head in those same infectious grooves. And if I bang my head against anything, no matter how wonderful the world of harmony might be, let it be the rhythm wall. (If only Schoenberg had banged that wall every now and then.)
EF: It feels odd to say – counterintuitive, maybe – but I find it much easier to find myself lost in time to music that it very ‘rhythmocentric’ than while listening to music that highlights melody (Heartthrob – Futures Past). Perhaps I am searching for rhythm, and that attention to time makes it more difficult to lose track of temporality.
JR: On a hike north of the fell Saana, there are the remains of a German WW2 prison camp. I think of Messiaen and his Quartet For The End of Time, written in just such a camp.
At times in that piece, we can hear how his perception of time must have been radically changed by his surroundings, putting him in closer relationship with the idea of eternity, an idea which was also important in his Catholic faith. I am drawn to composers who have very personal takes on time, be they Messiaen or Cage, Stravinsky or Varese, Andriessen or Feldman.
EF: The prison camp was settled in the basin of rolling hills at the foot of massive blades of mountain. El medio de la nada. Everything was visible but you felt the ‘nowhereness’ in the superficial stasis of the environment. Spending time in the location meant experiencing the flux of the wind, and the events that come with it. As we grew to learn, many species and cultures of humans form deep aesthetic, psychological, and physiological ties to the cycles of the wind.
JR:I’ve come this far without mentioning the most striking thing about being here: it’s so beautiful. The plants and animals, the rolling alpine meadows and snowy peaks, the lakes and rivers, the quiet (no planes, no honking, no car alarms, no blaring music), the pure and tasty air and water, the colours, seeing nothing but nature for mile upon mile: how could anything be more beautiful? It shows me what I lose by living in a city. Being here is like finding roots I wasn’t even aware existed.
It’s especially relevant being from Canada, a country whose identity is so closely tied to nature, yet which has become rapidly urbanized. How odd to go so far from home to learn about home.