What, how and where?
It's already starting to feel like spring in Amsterdam when I fly to Bodø via Bergen and from there take the ferry to Røtnes. The landscape is impressive. The snow-covered mountains with here and there a brown bare birch remind me of a somewhat mangy bear skin. I am above the Arctic Circle. From the island I look out on the pointed granite mountains of the Lofoten. It overwhelms me. Slowly I leave the busy and familiar behind, it makes way for the great predominantly cold, barren, gray nothingness.
From the island I look out onto the pointed granite mountains of the Lofoten. It overwhelms me
The location of initiator Eva Bakkeslet is on a bay. Eva knows a lot about nature, is a versatile artist. She mainly makes environmental art. I know her from a previous Norwegian residency, the Kjerringøy Land Art Biennial 2015. Usually I go to residencies with several artists, going through the process together is stimulating. This time I am on my own. Together with Janna, a Dutch "Work-Away'er," I eat at Eva's every night. We take turns cooking. Organic, homemade and local. We drink water from the spring by the bay. You rarely see it that pure.
Silent and empty
It's a bit different here than in my studio apartment. And it is cold. The first two days there will be half a meter of snow. That makes it even quieter. The mountains and skies are spectacular and of a confrontational grandeur. I find it very difficult to take it easy and not have to do anything. I am still in my urban rhythm and keep doing functional and practical things. I spend a lot of time in front of the computer and hardly go outside. My head is working overtime. Eva reassures me that this usually takes a week. Well, there it is, the big void. The first two weeks I hardly get out of bed and prefer to do nothing all day. Creatively there is not much happening. The process of just letting it happen is quite new and confronting. I do not live by a plan and that makes me insecure. Something happens to me, and I don't know what.
Well there it is, the great void
Slowly I find a rhythm. Every morning I take a walk around the bay. Or I explore the area, weather permitting. With unsuitable footwear, instantly filled with snow I slip and slide along the seaweeds and rocks. This location turns out to be a retreat for me, very gradually I become part of the environment. Each day I get deeper in touch with the elements and myself.
Drinking tea on the rocks, looking at the mountains and listening to the silence
Gradually I see and experience more and more where I am and descend into the rugged landscape. Drinking tea on the rocks, looking at the mountains and listening to the silence, watching the light and tide change. Spotting fox, deer and elk tracks and otter slides in the snow, hearing and watching a variety of birds fly in from the south. I decide to spend three days in total isolation, in this nature is motivating and comforting. I climb a mountain and view the island as if I were on Google maps. It is a new experience for me to survey the surrounding landscape like this. It has something magical, as if I literally get an overview in my head as well.
The half meter of snow removes the rush and gives space, but paralyzes at the same time. I am evasive, while what is wrong to look at this emptiness? All my equipment is under that snow and for how long? So then I go with the flow. I start working with the existing snow with an 'Egglo', because I am looking for something to crawl into. Apparently there are all kinds of snow, this one is not sticky but puffy. I shovel and shovel my way through it, it's a tough job at -10 and a stiff northerly wind. But I get the hang of it, and the Egglo is up and running! I barely fit in. What a huge threshold I have overcome, the tone has now been set. YES!
Sometimes the snow makes working outside impossible, then I go inside to work. From the Egglo I take a picture of the beautiful view of the mountains. I translate this into a mosaic of colored mortared shells from the beach in the bay. Due to the current, different types of shells lie in specific spots. The mussel shells or blue shells have the color of the mountains in a certain light, I use muscle white shells for the snow and different colored snail shells for the trees, and bright yellow for the sky. I work a lot with the shells, making collages and cutting bird portraits out of old Russian birch bark I find in the wood storage.
The temperature briefly rises above freezing. I find a nice empty spot, far out on the bay, for a sculpture of the different stones lying there. Inspired by an online astrology session of Jeanette Groenendaal, a former colleague of Das-Arts, I make a Rock Flower with twelve directions. She gave me an exercise that I perform in the pouring rain. Now the place is consecrated.
All weather conditions and emotions pass by
Every stone I lift has an intention. I go on a maniacal rampage and throw away everything I don't want there. I drag myself crazy with white and black stones that I do want to have there. All weather conditions and emotions pass by. I'm annoyed that the tide is rising two to three meters and slowly submerging the Rock Star. But the water makes the colors much more intense and I embrace this gift from nature.
Thawing. A skeleton of a local Steigarsaus sheep emerges from the melting snow. Some birch leaves stick to the skull. On the spot the idea arises to further cover it with these. The birches on the rocks here grow old but not tall, because they cannot reach the depth with their roots, but can reach the width. Therefore the leaves are very small and typical for this area. They envelop the skull like a very thin, beautiful kind of leather.
I see and recognize with Eva what a struggle it is to keep making art in between worries. I feel privileged, but sometimes also a bit burdened that I can only do my own thing here for five weeks. I work hard and overcome many challenges.
It's a great experience to really work alone with the limited materials and techniques available here
Eva told me beforehand that plans here always depend on the weather. As soon as an opportunity arises, you have to grab it with both hands. She encouraged me to listen to the elements, and I am really making one hundred percent use of that now. I am becoming more and more part of nature and that experience contributes to my perception of really being there at the moment. I love the emptiness and silence so much that I don't want it to stop. I really wish this for everyone. It is a beautiful experience to really only work with the limited materials and techniques that are available here and to leave the work here when I go back. That too is liberating.
One more night outside
The residency is coming to an end. Eva challenges me on one of the last days to sleep outside alone, on a tip of the island an hour's walk from the house. It doesn't really get dark anymore and the temperature is around freezing at night. With a bag of firewood, I walk into the void. I have no sense of direction and rely more and more on my intuition. This, I feel, is amply rewarded by the animals I see and hear. What a victory, because I am not afraid. This is how I want to make art. And it fits in with my ambition to be a nature guide as well as an artist and birder. Going into nature with a viewer, and being absorbed in it, supports me creatively and brings me back to my self-confidence and pleasure in making. Because I am and will always be a real maker.