Untitled (This one was for outlaws.)
Offset prints on paper
530 stacked sheets
24 in x 36 in x 6 in
The stack of 530 sheets will be featured in Due North, a group show of Icelandic and American artists who have worked in Iceland, curated by Marianne Bernstein. January 9–25, 2014 at Icebox Project Space, Philadelphia, PA. Opening reception January 9, 6–9pm.
This book is finished. I’m giving most of the edition of 50 away to people in Skagaströnd this week. It feels so good to hand the object over, to pass it on, to be able to leave it behind.
The experience is similar to what happened with Weymouths, but 530 is different for a few reasons. I created this work on-site, in and around the chance encounters with people in town, so there’s already a familiarity with the work (and me), and certain expectations.
Also, 530 is much more accessible. The entire work is embodied in a single book, and easily communicated. The power of the object. With Weymouths, I could only give away parts. And the mass and expense of the project—12 books in a custom-made box—meant that very few people were able to fully encounter Weymouths. Of course, Weymouths wasn’t really about that total experience—it was more about the value of the ephemeral encounter, conversations, fragments, a glimpse.
530 is a complete poetic work. A place-based book work that serves as a particular expression of my experience with this place. It works as a solid brick of connected encounters that can be recreated or re-imagined by the reader, or not, in any number of ways. Framed like this, I can easily hand over the object-based work and leave the rest up to the recipient, and this feels very satisfying.
The final 39 movement-parts of 530 (Sá veldur sem á heldur), written as a score and ordered by chance:
1 Navigation. 2 Depths. 3 Take three, three cards. 4 1815. 5 Bank sea hermit. 6 The box is a battery. 7 Quota. 8 Light. 9 Fiskisúpa. 10 Island. 11 Einbúi. 12 Outlaws. 13 ____________________. 14 Yeah, we are just. 15 Earth. 16 Just in front of me. 17 Mayor. 18 Hafrún. 19 Mirror. 20 Town. 21 Water. 22 Back to God’s Country. 23 We have our families. 24 Fjords, on the sea. 25 Scientist. 26 Bensín. 27 We have our connections. 28 Those transparencies. 29 1964. 30 Horse. 31 Strong. 32 Old friendship ties. 33 Þórdís. 34 Self. 35 530. 36 There’s one bird. 37 Mountain. 38 Rabbarbarabaka. 39 Grandfather.
Starting the reading of 530 for our self-organized group show “Rauði Klefinn” in the red fish freezer at Skagaströnd harbor, 23 August 2013. Photo by Liz Dunn. Darr Tah Lei’s view (she filmed the entire thing, which I’ll post if/when I edit it). More here.
On Monday Didier and I went aboard the Hafrún fishing boat for an all-day trip. Captain Jóhann Sigurjónsson and his three-person crew generously let us get in the way while they trawled from 6am until 3pm. They brought back six tons of fish, which was considered a light catch. It was extreme and harrowing and beautiful and I came away knowing that any deeper understanding of Skagaströnd had to account for this kind of work, the grueling routine of the fishermen who sustain the town. I’d suspected this but my appreciation for the tedious process of hunting, netting, trawling, capturing, killing, gutting and then unloading the fish back at the dock became physical and real and graphic.
530—Skagaströnd’s population, according to Wikipedia—was one of the only concepts I brought with me, and I’d decided early on that this would be the page count for the work. Both arbitrary and specific, having something to do with reality, but certainly no longer accurate. The mayor told me the actual population is more like 506.
In July I’d photographed this old boat sitting in the harbor—made in the Netherlands in 1955 from the steel of melted German U-boats, and one of the oldest trawlers in Iceland—and later realized, while looking at the photos, that it carried this same number, 530. And on Monday, in the middle of the trip in the Greenland Sea, as I was violently ill for hours off the side of that same boat, the physicality of the experience brought on some kind of clarity (or cloudy haze?), enough for me to understand that 530 had to be the title of the work. A random, specific number that embodies the town and connects its identity to this charged vessel that sits in the harbor—to me and my experiences here and the book itself.
The weight of the work.
So 530 it is. The full title is 530 (Sá veldur sem á heldur). It’s A5 size, 530 pages, color, with an inside cover and separate cover wrap with front and back folds. The edition of 50 prints at Svansprent in Reykjavík during the next week and I’ll pick them up on 30 August, and bring them back to Skagaströnd for book encounters.
The book encounters will happen 4–7 September at the country-western bar, the gas station, the café and the library (more details to come).
I’m at the backpacker’s café in Akureyri and I’m thinking about the book, taking shape. It’s just a matter of days until I send it to the printer in Reykjavík.
I worry about how it’ll be received. That it might be seen as a superficial view of the place. That my outsider’s coated view could offend people who live here. This tiny town is hard. Guarded, deliberate, private, protective, proud. Even in such a closed place, I’ve been welcomed by some and I’ve discovered beautiful characters, and they appear in the work.
I guess another way to say it is this way: that I feel vulnerable, creating a work in public like this. On-site, on-demand, in full view. Maybe it makes the work stronger. It certainly makes it much more of an event for me. The book as performative output.
Then again, my goal has never been to paint a portrait of this place. I would never dare to call this a representation of Skagaströnd. The work stands on its own and draws from my encounters. It’s a private, subjective take (how could it not be).
Could I call it a non-fiction fantasy?
The process that developed here builds on Weymouths, but this project is threaded with chance operations in a bigger way. My 39 chapters (I’ve been calling them movements) were mixed by chance to create a score that I’m using to design the book. Every step of the design of the book has been with this score at my side.
Chance feels important here. I described it to Emy like this: chance is my intern. I’m using it in the background like a loaded character. It’s a way to pair, juxtapose, determine. My hope is that it opens up the surface, that the images and texts can go beyond the smallness of fixed appearance.
This one was for outlaws. For outlaws? Ya in the cliffs… They live in the hidden world. Ya the hidden structures of a place, that’s also what I’m looking for. You know the things that are part of history, but that we’re still living with. That’s why I like this. Yá, yá. I could show me. We go there, if we get the warm weather, more in the hidden structures of a place, that’s also what I’m looking for. You know the things that are part of history, but that we’re still living with. That’s why I like this. Yá, yá. I could show me. We go there, if we get the warm weather, more in the hidden structures of a place, that’s also what I’m looking for. You know the things that are part of history, but that we’re still living with. That’s why I like this. Yá, yá. I could show you something up on the cliffs, because I was brought up under it. Really you lived right there? Yeah I lived just under the cliff there. I’m at 1 Mánabraut. Yá. Behind there. Yes I lived just under the cliff, so I know every stone there. Every stone. Maybe if I come over to the lab, maybe you could show me. We go there, if we get the warm weather, more in the summer hopefully, we could take a walk down there. Because in the harbor, was built up, this here, was an island. See what I wrote underneath? Island. Island, ya. I love the hidden world. Oh, in the cliffs…that that was their residence. And then then they had the outlaws. They put them there. So that’s einbúi. Einbúi means who lives alone. If you are staying alone in your flat, you’re einbúi. Yeah, hermit, right? Hermit. And I think it’s such, such a beautiful structure, you know? It really is. Ya it is. And Magnús said the water used to come up, before the harbor was built. Ya. All here around this building. Ya, down there. Because in the cliffs…that that was their residence. And then then they had the outlaws. They put them there. So that’s einbúi. Einbúi means who lives alone. If you are staying alone in your flat, you’re einbúi. Yeah, hermit, right? Hermit. And I think it’s such, such a beautiful structure, you know? It really is. Ya it is. And Magnús said the water used to come up, before the harbor was built. Ya. All here around this building. Ya, down there. Because in the cliffs… They live in the harbor, was built up, this here, was an island. See what I wrote underneath? Island. Island, ya. I love the hidden structures of a place, that’s also what I’m looking for. You know the things that are part of history, but that we’re still living with. That’s why I like this. Yá, yá. I could show me. We go there, if we get the warm weather, more in the harbor.
Take three, three cards.
You have to choose wisely
A lot of people around you
Good card, very good
I start here
Is it about navigation?
Last night someone walked over to my desk and I showed her the 530-page blank dummy and we were talking about the differences between a bound book and a loose deck of cards, like tarot. And I explained that the pages of this book will be minimal in appearance and open to interpretation, and that the sections are ordered by chance, and that I leave it to the reader to experience the book as he/she desires (front-to-back, back-to-front, flipping through, random encounters). “The one who holds it is the one responsible (sá veldur sem á heldur).”
And she said “oh, you mean bibliomancy?”
The use of books in divination. “Divination can be seen as a systematic method with which to organize what appear to be disjointed, random facets of existence such that they provide insight into a problem at hand.” The I Ching, famously.
I’m not sure I could better describe my practice here in Skagaströnd. A systematic method with which to organize what appear to be disjointed, random facts of existence. The problem at hand is unstated; the problem at hand is what the reader brings to the work. A specific question or a feeling or none at all.
It could be a question of identity.
How can we read the daily route of a fishing trawler at sea. The boat follows the whale. The whale follows the fish, who respond to the currents, the temperature, the light and salinity. The route marks itself, an automatic trace, the Orvar’s (arrow) pattern as it searches for the creatures. A drawn dance, a choreography of the town’s survival.
The ship draws its pattern each day and forms its historical archive of itineraries, but only fourteen days of data are saved. As the ship moves through sea time, the archive regenerates itself and disappears.
Late last night I used chance operations to order the sections of the book, 1–39.
If it’s a book. This morning, the printer told me that he made a dummy book and has doubts about the binding. I don’t know what he means, but I’m picking the dummy up later today and I’ll take a look.
If it’s not a perfect-bound book, I might create a set of 530 unbound cards instead. Each card would contain an image or text, and could be shuffled, dealt, spread, read. I love this idea of a reader-determined reading. Like tarot.
The cards could be wrapped simply in paper and I could hand-write a title right on top.
Earlier this week Steindór walked into the studio and was telling me about the town’s future, its quest for new resources, and wrote down a saying in my sketchbook: sá veldur sem á heldor. He translates it as “the one who holds it is the one who is responsible.” A lovely idea about a book—the reader is responsible. The reader holds it and the reader creates the order, makes a structure, interprets, reads, brings associations and dreams, gives meaning.
Orvar. Depths. Take three, three cards. 1815. Bank sea hermit. The box is a battery. Quota. Light. Fiskisúpa. Island. Einbúi. Sá veldur sem á heldur. ________. Yeah, we are just. Earth. Just in front of me. Mayor. Boat. Mirror. Town. Water. Back to God’s Country. We have our families. Scientist. Fuel. We have our connections. Those transparencies. 1964. Horse. Strong. Old Friendship ties. Þórdís. Self. 530. There’s one bird. Mountain. Rabbarbarabaka. Grandfather.
Is this the title of the work?
Or, sá veldur sem á heldor.
I’m tempted to say that this project is finished. Or, that this is a project that should never end. Somewhere between those two thoughts is where I am right now, exactly half-way through this residency in Skagaströnd, Iceland.
The structure of the book work started to reveal itself in the last few days, each collection of artifacts gathered into chapter-like segments. There are 33. Collections, chapters, links, artifacts, voices, evidence of a place. Some are transcribed interviews, or a series of photographs, or data found online (like the daily plots of a fishing boat that was docked here last week), or a list of words, or a recipe for rhubarb pie. The traced ruins of turf houses, the mountain of fish nets at the dump. Nothing more, nothing less.
Powerful language, all of it found in place. Words and images that stand on their own, no explanation required. I’m looking for the open space between lines and pixels where the residue of a particular place, at a particular moment, is left behind. To be read like the impression of a dream.
1 back to god’s country
3 yeah, we have our families, connections, strong old friendship ties
7 the box is a battery
11 those transparencies
16 take three, three cards
19 fjords, on the sea
20 bank sea hermit
21 just in front of me
22 there’s one bird
25 orvar (arrow)
33 hidden world
#25 orvar (arrow)
#33 hidden world
This one was for outlaws.
Ya in the hidden world.
Oh in the hidden world.
Ya the hidden people over there in the cliff over there.
They live in the cliffs.
They live in the cliffs, that was their residence.
And then then they had the outlaws. They put them there.
So that’s einbúi. Einbúi means who lives alone.