Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Workshop in Stockholm and Sandhamn

So we finally managed to meet on October 13-16 for our mini-residency in Sandhamn and begin our work for Ö, discovering each other, the project's potential, our means of collaboration and envisioning the future of this project. Valerio joined us from italy, Marcia from Berlin, Samon and Per from Paris, Cecilia from Norrköping and myself from Stockholm.

The group met on Thursday October 13th, and we went to Bonniers Konsthall together to listen Lisette Lagnado's lecture about (un)translatability. The lecture generated quite a bit of discussion until dinnertime, when we had the pleasure of learning more about the archipelago and its history from marine archaeologist Atle Baekken, who truly impressed us with all his knowledge and his quite humorous storytelling. The Stockholm archipelago, we learned, must be seen in conjunction with Lake Mälaren and its economy since at least 1000 years which provides the background for how the archipelago stands today politically, economically and geologically. A site of trade and of war, the archipelago is Sweden's buffer zone from outside invaders and important waters of trade which have created Stockholm as the capital of Sweden. By examining the types of embarcations and archaeological remains through history, we also get a glimpse about the military and commercial competence of those in power. Today, the archipelago still maintains a defensive and trade position (even though there is hardly any fishing done there today), and its main attractor is tourism. What should we pay attention to on our way out, we asked Atle. He responded - 'look at the beauty!'.

And so we did.

Day 1:

The next morning we left for Sandhamn, the only fully developed island (meaning, it has something like a village) in the outer archipelago. The weather was clear and beautiful, the air crisp and cool. We took the bus from Slussen to Stavsnäs, and boarded the Dalarö there. On the boat, Joakim Samson, our cook, joined the rest of the crew and already began telling his travel stories which would entertain us for the next 3 days.

On the boat to the archipelago, each of us got a sketchbook with an instruction to be executed during the trip. The instructions included "Describe the sounds of the boat," "Kiss the captain without his/her permission," "Install a cage for a rabid dog," "Describe the movement of the water to a blind person," "describe a musical mirage." Each one of us also got a different optical device, such as magnifying lenses, polarizing lenses, a string, 3-D glasses, a mirror, and other random objects to be used as a means to change one's visual perception.

When we landed in Sandhamn, Joakim prepared the first meal, an unforgettable seafood soup with aïoli, which Isabel called "The Siren's call." Each meal was better and more sumptuous than the other, and each of them was named after a chapter of Homer's Odyssey. During lunch, we gathered our impressions of our boat trip and shared the results of our first exercise. Marcia shared her wonderful 'motor symphony' in staccatos, vibratos, and allegros, to which Samon, as the experimental musician in the group, responded to with possibilities for a future composition for the project. Cecilia showed her photographs taken through the red lens of her 3-D glasses, making the archipelago look tropical. Per decided where he would put the rabid dog (and a masturbating monkey) on the boat: in the bathrooms.

After lunch, we took a walk through the island, which is covered in soft moss and pine trees to the Trouville, the beach in its southern tip. The walk through the deserted woods was very inspiring, and the landscape became a source of inspiration throughout our stay. Little did we know that we would make this 20 minute walk to the beach several times until we left 2 days later.

Back in the house, we had our first session to discuss the project more seriously and several questions came out, as expected. Is this our island? What kind of boat will we be using? Is this a one-off event or will it be repeated? How do we articulate several artworks into one trip? How will one artwork influence another, and what kind of pieces could be conceived specifically for this proposition?

Dinner, a fresh pesto pasta with crayfish, was as magnificent as lunch. The conversation was lively and were mostly about previous trips we each had made to strange and far away places. In the middle of the conversation, I began to wonder: what makes a trip? Is it its actual experience or the telling of it after it has happened? Is the story more memorable than the experience itself? What is the importance of the telling and re-telling of a past travel story in the travelling itself? Are we always living in a sort of meta-narrative of ourselves? How do we change the trip each time we tell it to a different audience? What is it we remember about a trip, and why? The discussion became more focused after this, and we began to bring back the references for the project and delving deeper into a possible common ground for thinking about this project.

After dinner, Samon made a radical proposition: if we are to work together, we have to have some kind of common experience. Since no one really knew each other in the group until the day before, in order to understand each other better and each other's potential and inner worlds, it was necessary not only to tell stories, but to create a story together. The radical proposition was this: after dinner, we should all go back to the beach and build an island with whatever we find.

We packed some Irish coffee, whisky, towels and matches. We went through the woods in the dark, and lost our way in the middle of the walk - but navigating by the stars as sailors usually do, we eventually found the beach after an eerie walk through the dark and deserted forest, almost like a fairy tale. We tried to look for stray materials, but there were none to be found except for random pieces of wood. At the beach we found an edge filled with smaller rocks suitable for our needs.

With no shoes, or even clothes in the cold midnight air, we set off for a physically trying, yet rewarding experience. We had to find resources, self-organize, define a location for our island, how far from the shore, who would build it, how to pile the rocks In between sips of whisky and coffee to ward off the cold, we managed to lay a foundation for our island, which we would only really see the day after. A visitor from the only house on the beach appeared in his white bathrobe. He was friendly and curious, and he was happy to see people where usually it is quite deserted at this time of the year.

Day 2:

We woke up to a super breakfast, another fantastic meal, and discussed the previous nights events. We decided we would go back in the afternoon to see our island and 'develop' it. How would it grow? Will we be disappointed? After breakfast, we decided it was time to talk about ideas and begin to record our thoughts in a more systematic way. We came up with talking rocks, a form for the trajectory of the boat and defining what kind of boat we want for the exhibition. It would not be a passenger boat, but a more mythical boat, perhaps a tall sail ship, perhaps an industrial barge - boats that carry the potential for a powerful story to be built on. And what kind of story should that be? What is the quality of this experience? What can we actually achieve?

In the afternoon we went back to our artificial island...we put a tree in it, and some weeds. Our island grew from a small pile of rocks to a fully deserted island with a sort of palm tree and a small connection to the beach. This would be independent ground, an island where only one person could stand, but from which we could look out from...We put more rocks on it, photographed and filmed it, created stories for it, and Atleland comes into being.

On the walk back, more explorations of the forest territory - finding markings on the trees, walking, talking, rolling on the moss, collecting sounds...enhancing the experience. In the beautiful but rather uniform forest, we began to imagine potential scenes to be played on the forest. Strange animals that could appear (since there were no aninals in sight on the whole islands, not even a single rabbit), the swirls of the wind through the branches, and the collection of the venomous mushrooms everywhere. Much of it felt like stepping into the mirror of Alice in Wonderland - we were literally throwing ourselves into each other's imaginary worlds (but without help of the venomous mushrooms :) ).

Before dinner, Samon made a beautiful composition with the wind chimes outside the house, leading us into a meditation state that brought us together even more.

After dinner and after creating more stories about Atleland, Cecilia and Samon shared their work and we came to understand the inner world of each one better. Cecilia showed her storytelling performance on a megaphone in the forest, and Samon showed a film made of still photo shots from an island in France, which reminded him of Hashima, in Japan. The island and the voyage themes became stronger and stronger threads throughout this time.

After that, we would return to the forest, and go to another beach. Isabel and Per each guided a group in their own native languages, which were languages the other members didn't speak. As Per embodied a tourist guide from Göteborg, Isabel tried to get her group to understand directions to the meeting place. While lost, Cecilia found PVC tubes which Samon readily converted into instruments, and we decided to create a PVC symphony in the dark of the forest. We had also previously decided we would do something together - put our heads together on the forest soft ground and create sounds going around the group - only to be interrupted by laughter. We took the PVC tubes to another beach, Valerio made us a fire, and started the PVC symphony which was really beautiful and cathartic.

We returned to the house for a late night supper, and discussed the day's events which yielded so many ideas, and already some beautiful projects: Atleland (and its genesis, history, politics and imaginary), the mirages on the forest, the guided tour in a foreign language, the collective 'head' experience, the PVC symphony, added to all our other ideas of rabid dogs and talking rocks.

Day 3:

Waking up early for a fantastic brunch with eggs, smoked fish, waffles and everything else that we were entitled to. We made sure the house was clean and tidy and set off with kilos of leftover food, bags, memories, and thousands of photos of our days on the islands. We set off to Stockholm on the noontime boat. The weather was still as gorgeous as in the previous three days, and the itinerary of the boat through the archipelago was different than our way to the island. We noticed again the little houses standing alone on lonely rocks across the sea, were marvelled by how close the boats can sail past the islands, making us imagine scenes and performances to be seen from the boat. we studied closely the speed of the boat and how that affected our experience, and did more documentation of every detail of the trip. We began a final discussion on the boat, but decided to do it later at dinner in order to really pay attention to what was happening in the landscape outside. This also made us realize that any experience inside the boat has the capacity to shift attention away from the landscape and the surroundings - this becomes an important issue in the molding of the experience of the exhibition itself... how can we play with attention shifting and how do those impact the senses, and one's sense of travel?

It was interesting to see how drastically the landscape changes as we go further and further towards the city - wild nature turns into a progressive urbanization, until we reach Stockholm and its labyrinth of islands, fortresses, industry,history, and boats docked all the way onto the quay. We had been immersed in a rather 'natural' environment for a while, and the city feels foreign at first, crowded, intrusive, polluted....this is important to consider in our voyage in and out of the archipelago for our final trip.

Upon landing, we go to the Vasa museum at Atle's invitation, and he gives us a beautiful introduction to what is Sweden's greatest fiasco, but also its greatest achievement for what this ship represented at the time, and what we can learn from history just by looking at a magnificently preserved artifact such as this ship.

We end the day back at Pipersgatan for dinner, bountiful with leftovers from the weekend, and still amazing. We have our final and decisive discussion. We realize that boats and islands are related, of course, but perhaps not in the way we were imagining all along. Perhaps a trip is already fully realized the moment one starts it. Perhaps the island is really just the idea of the island - perhaps the idea of a voyage is stepping on the boat - and what happens on this boat, how it moves, and how its movement affects our perception is what we can aim for.
Next meeting in icy February in Stockholm, hopefully including the missing members. Please keep mid-February open, if possible.

And we are working on finding the perfect boat until then.

All the best,


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