At the top of Spákonufell mountain is a box. The box contains a book to sign, a stone to touch, a kite, a fading letter, pens and a slot for coins. If you make it to the top of the mountain this box, which looks like a treasure from the outside, is more like a set of instructions: unwrap the book from its plastic, sign it, rub the stone, fly the kite, leave something behind. I signed the book (date, name, “NYC”) but Liz and Paris didn’t, and on the way down we talked about it. Why sign the book?
My first thought was: I leave a trace and I’m reassured that my recorded presence is known to a future audience.
It’s publishing, no? A collaborative book. Add to the book. Any kind of publishing is temporal—this particular information was put down, posted, broadcast at a specific time, for the future audience. It’s a difference between publishing and performance. An audience is usually present for a performance, or witnessing in some kind of synchronous way. In publishing the audience is asynchronous. I post for the future. Make a post, posted to the mountain. When it’s site-specific, add the idea of place. Geo-temporal. Geography, physical presence, x marks the spot, “I was here,” at this moment.
Later, someone else will be here.
I saw where Ellen and Phil signed the book five days earlier. And there’s a photo of a dog on the mountain, taped to the book in the box on the mountain, 2 August 2009.
Time and place set a story in motion, but the book doesn’t move. It’s understood that the objects in the box don’t leave. People come and go at the top of the mountain but this is like one of those flight recorder boxes, traveling with the plane, holding some of the information, traces, parts of stories.
There’s a kite in the box. Bound up in the kite is the choreography of each flight, the wind pulling on one end, a human on the other, the energy wound up in the chord and returned to its sleeve, returned to the box. The energy of an entire mountain below. The box is a battery.
And this fading letter that someone left behind. Another story there but not there, bound up in paper. Potentiality.
I’m okay not knowing what the author intended. But I’m curious about the conditions that brought the letter to the box. Was it written on the spot? Something spontaneous. Or did the note travel up the mountain with its author, purposefully. I can see only a few lines more clearly than the rest, “To be a part of it / To be a part of it / I am a part of it.”
Something about that box connects to this photo album I photographed last week. The librarian walked over and said, “Oh you’re photographing the blank pages too.” The book is the whole container, storage for the parts. Book as box, box as battery, stored energy.
Today I read “Iceland,” an essay by Eileen Myles. It functions as a sort of introduction to The Importance of Being Iceland, her collection of essays organized into seven sections—Art Essays, People, Talks, Travel, Body, Moving Pictures and Blogs.
I’m not so familiar with Myles, who is a poet. I owe my discovery to Kenneth Goldsmith, who tweeted this.
— Kenneth Goldsmith (@kg_ubu) April 11, 2013
That was enough for me to find out more about Eileen Myles.
Her writing feels familiar. It’s smart, which she describes this way—
[…] For all these reasons (i.e., sentimental attachments to the past) working class intellectuals like big words and their sentence formation is excessively ornate. It’s what they think of as “smart.” Pomposity. It’s an embarrassing condition of being unsophisticated and not knowing what is truly smart which is simplicity and modernism; certainly it was twenty years ago when I learned to write.
Her “Iceland” voice is like this: conversational, simple, modern, but packed. I was immediately inspired. Reading Eileen Myles’ “Iceland” today was the start of something for me. A trigger. She writes about two trips to Iceland and hooks ideas and places and people together through small anecdotes, from Roni Horn to lesbian community to melancholy to waterfalls to epic poetry singing. I listened in on her thoughts in real time, one fragment leading to another.
[…] I’m not sure if I’m telling a story or unveiling my mania.
All in the space of 36 pages, plus one photograph. All the while, the stories framing Iceland. Or rather, Iceland as her frame. Iceland as an idea, to get at other things. Poetry, language, voice.
I don’t know what the importance of being Iceland is yet. I’ll finish the book. All of this in preparation for my own travel to Iceland. I’m going there this summer for 2.5 months.
I’ll be with several other artists at Nes, a small artist’s residency in the tiny seaside village of Skagaströnd, in northern Iceland, from July 1 through mid-September. Continuous daylight! For the residency, which is part of a special “Summer We Go Public” initiative of performance/public art in the town, I’ve proposed a book project.
I’m calling this performative book project Skagabók. The boundaries are loose. I’ve defined only two parameters. Wikipedia says that the fishing village of Skagaströnd has 530 inhabitants, so my book will have 530 pages. For two months I’ll make the book, which will be about the place. A flat-topped mountain, Spákonufell, is the backdrop for the town. It’s featured in a 10th-century Icelandic saga as a place where Þórdís, a soothsayer, walked every day, combing her hair. She left a treasure on the mountain, it seems.
In the last two weeks of the residency (early September) I’ll somehow install the 530 pages of Skagabók in the town, and give them all away. The work will be absorbed back into the place.
More about Skagabók later.