Several years ago, I spent the summer in Newfoundland, Canada, at the Pouch Cove Artists’ Residency on the Atlantic coast. Our studios were situated in a defunct schoolhouse, unencumbered by electricity but boasting massive windows that filled the space with clear, North Atlantic light until quite late in the evening. The basement of the schoolbuilding was filled with thousands of old books- the Residency’s director had been a book dealer in a previous life- and now, rummaging about in the must with a flashlight, the artists could find everything from 1980’s diet books to hundred year old ship’s logs, written in thin script by sailors trolling the Grand Banks for cod.
I spent my days hiking restlessly along boggy trails through a pea-soup fog, bundled in multiple layers of wool. The waves of the Atlantic boomed distantly; some weeks later the fog thinned and cleared with the advance of summer, and I discovered that I had been tramping right at the edge of shockingly steep cliffs, falling hundreds of feet to the churning water. The odd, slightly lucent patches in the opaque fog revealed themselves to be icebergs, the size of city blocks, white and searing blue against the dark Atlantic. These cruised slowly south along the coastline, pulled by the current from the ice sheets of Greenland, and diminishing visibly as they passed. Occasionally enough of a berg would melt that the thing would be forced to rotate, flipping with a sudden watery roar as its center of gravity shifted. This was ice melting to sea- ice that had been frozen for perhaps thousands of years, those same exact molecules in stasis for millennia, hoarding microscopic information about the composition of ancient water and atmospheres. They made me think of the books in the schoolhouse basement, archives crumbling and melting and largely ignored. They also made me think of forgotten and irrelevant mythologies- Nordic giants, immortals that fade and die with modernity. These forgotten folklores, allegories for our relationship with a once too-forceful and capricious natural world, are revived now in contemporary art and design, in the endless stream of deer antlers, nature photographs, and images of wood grain gracing contemporary galleries. These images are emasculated by nostalgia, irony, and a modern life buffered by comforts and technologies. My own disclaimer; I love this stuff. I love images of pine trees, and wildlife, and stark romantic landscapes. These images of nature become more poignant and seductive with every degree of displacement into contemporary life- and I believe that nostalgia for the natural world serves some purpose for our modern digitized psyches. To discover that purpose is, I suppose, one of the objectives of this blog.