Iceland Blog: A Week Together in early July in Siglufjordur

Our collaborative explores life, landscape, multi-species culture in Iceland, which is at a crossroads. We met in Siglufjordur, the farthest northern town in Iceland, and stayed together in a four-bedroom house close to the center. Daylight was unceasing during early July, so we often worked into the morning on projects, starting to dye wool at 1am.

The land is sinking nearby Siglufjordur; the rhythmic sound of the chanted epic poetry (rímur) reminds us of the Islamic call to prayer; striking deep purple lupine planted in the 40s is displacing native flora; the ground near Siglufjordur may actually be floating on permafrost and melting; whaling continues; fish farms are on the rise; many said the US had a detrimental effect on Iceland with 55 years of military presence at Keflavik; herring were responsible for a flourishing of the Icelandic economy until the herring moved away; every rock and place has a name and many have a story. 

We didn’t know each other, so we conversed for hours during our week together. We swam in the Arctic, hiked, learned about local plants, birds, ate dinner with local artists, discussed issues with locals in hot pots. We each are creating projects, directly inspired by those we met, or by a plant, or a feeling going barefoot, or by encountering a sheep. A balance becomes apparent in the process of connecting to a place and collaborating. Our relation to ourselves, to each other and to the place/people/beings are intersect, entwine and we find what emerges. All of us are driven by grief, outrage, and terror for the loss, the unraveling of life systems, and engaging in this collaboration is vulnerable, delicate and calls on the same skills as cohabitating well with other species. I think we were each drawn to this collaborative to grapple collectively with questions about sharing land and seascapes with other beings.

Being human within the natural world without exploiting or destroying other life forms may require a different inner stance, a different worldview. Where positive cohabitation among diverse species exists, “correspondence”, as anthropologist Tim Ingold describes it, may be a perceptual quality local community members are attuned to. In other words, correspondence may correspond to cohabitation; they may co-mingle and co-arise.

What is correspondence? Anthropologist Tim Ingold develops what he calls correspondence in his The Life of Lines, drawing on Heiddeger’s phenomenology and the spatial philosophical work of Peter Sloterdijk. Ingold’s correspondence unravels the solidity of the world, the static, separate, discreteness of objects within separate boundaries to reveal an ontology of movement, becoming, meshworks of lives intertwined, shaping each other.  Correspondence is an intermingling of lines, knots and blobs; the blobs cannot exist independently of the lines. In other words, our ties to others sustain us. The focus goes deeper than form and content, to material and force.

“Inanimate” forms are no longer objects but are active participants in the meshwork. Originating from medieval Latin, correspondence comes from the verb ‘correspondere’ which means ‘cor’- together, ‘re’-again, and ‘spondere’-to pledge (Oxford Dictionary). To pledge together again means aligning oneself to the other. Individuals are not isolated, but exist through alliances of various inanimate and animate beings.

Here are a few of our projects:

  •  A written piece dealing with themes from an interview with a bus driver about his previous work as a fisherman and relations with orcas on fishing boats
  • Mapping the locations of native plants within the landscape near Siglufjordur and mapping the psychic connections to these species in dreams, memories, experiences, value and meanings, aesthetics.
  • Studying experiences and perception of the ocean and whales in the context of continued whaling
  • An artwork on themes of Icelanders connection to sheep, landscape and dreaming
  • Video on walking barefoot
  • Body positions, yoga poses in response to land and seascape features
  • A written piece on the separation between nature and culture, developing a critique of ecology and other historical ways of conceptualizing nature out of that separation.
  • A native plant plot

Stay tuned for our first Storied Seas Journal, coming in late autumn, 2017.