By mornayoung, Apr 20 2016 05:21PM
I have been in Ólafsfjörður for only one week and, yet, it feels much, much longer. A persistent feeling of deep time, all that has come before and all that will be, is suffocating. Here, in this abstract landscape, I am in a constant state of dreamlike thought. Time has become a surreal concept.
I have been trying to find a way to describe this feeling and, yet, words – my usual currency – seem decidedly insignificant. A few years ago, I came across the Japanese word “yugen” pertaining to 'a profound awareness of the universe which evokes feelings that are inexplicably deep and too mysterious for words'. I believe this means a state of awareness although I cannot say for certain. The word feels bigger than my knowledge but, all the same, it pops into my head whenever I consider the insignificance of man next to nature. This is precisely what I feel here in Ólafsfjörður.
A blizzard has hit. Snow falls and snow falls again and again. On arrival, the sun shining deceivingly, I could see the surrounding mountains dominating every view. Now, they are hidden in the whiteout. For some unidentifiable reason, this makes me uneasy. They are hidden in plain sight.
Ólafsfjörður – a small town in the northeast of Iceland - is both familiar and unfamiliar. The pungent stench of fish, the harbour, the boats – they are part of my habitual history. But their familiarity is tainted by an intangible difference. It is my world through an alien lens.
We are inside a valley, connected to the outside world by two mountain road tunnels, one on either side of the village, great long passageways that seem never ending. Another word that I cannot fully comprehend – claustrophobia – seems appropriate. Inside these tunnels, my skin crawls and there’s a pounding weight inside my head. It is a feeling of being trapped.
I feel a similar pressure inside the village. I usually spend great amounts of time on the road; travelling, searching, asking questions. I have a strange obsession with ‘freedom’. If I stay in the same place for too long then cabin fever forcibly kicks in. Indeed, when the blizzard came, I found myself pacing back and forth, fighting some irrational fear of being confined. The imagination flies.
There is, of course, another escape route aside from the tunnels: the sea. Ólafsfjörður’s harbour and fleet of boats is precisely the reason why I am here. I am working with Sound Artist, Kate Carr, on a collaborative project for the stage. As yet, we don’t know what this will be but our key research centres around fishing culture, memory and musicality. We’re gathering film, photographs and stories with the eventual aim to create a fully immersive performance.
So far, we’ve been working with a community choir to record Icelandic and Scots fishing songs. Kate has been experimenting with rebroadcasting these and I’ve been on the research trail including joining an Icelandic fishing crew and heading out to sea. Much of my study has touched upon the mythology and folklore of Iceland but I am, as yet, only scratching the surface of one area in this magnificent country. I have no idea what I’m searching for but I have a million questions and a growing intrigue. I can sense a gathering force in my dreamlike state.
We’re building the foundations of a story that we cannot yet describe but there are floods of ideas and themes and potential. It is the stage of creative development that I love the most; where anything and everything seems possible. I am especially excited to see how text/performance can be woven with Kate’s incredible soundscapes and how these forms can influence each other.
And, so, with a lack of words, it seems ever more fitting that this project will focus on storytelling through sound. Perhaps my senses are heightened through working with Kate because I find myself listening acutely to everything. The dull silence of snow is deafening. The feelings of abstract time, sense of myth, wonder of nature, the extraordinary in the ordinary and insignificant words. Themes of isolation, loss, memory, being on the outside… I can hear it in the sound. This clip shows a small sample of what we're exploring. Happy listening and imagining.
N.B Our residency in Iceland has been kindly supported by both Arts Council Australia and Creative Scotland.