|"Looking for the Ice", cyanotype print with mixed media. |
Gray December days. We're closing in on the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year - the very darkest of days in Greenland. Would I see the Aurora if I was still there, spinning through low slung stars overhead, the snow creaking with cold like old bones and the patchy sea ice signaling danger?
Thinking of the Arctic and how, whatever our measure of darkness this time of year, we are all waiting for the light. It unites us.
In the meantime, I'm working and making art as if my life depended on it.
One of my favorite projects right now is the series of porcelain skeleton ships I've been sculpting. They'll be installed in a gallery from the ceiling, resting on... nothing. Kayaks inspired by my own powerful Arctic water voyage but also by dying seas and rising tides and temperatures - hanging in delicate balance just as we are.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
|"Galaxy", cyanotype print with usnea, wild rose, river pebbles by Rebecca Barfoot|
It’s a fertile place, this focused frenzy- but again, as ephemeral as our waking hours and numbered earthbound days.
|Smuggled Arctic seal bones adorn- incongruously- a bed of autumn leaves|
I can’t say with precision what happened for me internally in the icescape of the Arctic- but something did happen. As if the cold sharpness of bedrock and glacier ripped me open like a storm running down the middle of my life, then tossed me back to sea to find my own way back to shore and sanity.
|Glacier meets bedrock, NW Greenland|
|Aspens in full glory at a secret spot in southwest CO|
Beyond the poetic is the scientific: trees give us oxygen, clean our air, filter the soil, and manage to transform greenhouse gases into wood. No wonder I’m smitten.
I won’t ask you if you’ve ever hugged a tree, but when was the last time you laid down beneath a canopy of, say, an enormous live oak- to be cradled by the forest floor, branches and leaves twining above and the open sky beyond? (Now’s your time! Autumn is perfect!) The pungent dirt-smell of moist leaves returning to the earth delivers me to a mysterious yet familiar place of yearning.
|A winter live oak thrives in west Texas|
|"Skeleton Ship", porcelain paperclay by Rebecca Barfoot|
|Untitled, by the young, gifted, and tragically fated Francesca Woodman, MacDowell Colony, Peterbough, NH, 1980|
Sunday, September 9, 2012
|Summer splendor, San Juan mountains, Colorado|
August 8. My first morning back in the US. COLORADO!! I wake at daybreak- courtesy of jetlag- to the lavish splendor of this temperate latitude, in awe. The tangle of oak and elder outside the bedroom window and the delicious fragrance of greenery after rain is puzzling at first, a little shocking to my senses. I’ve become too accustomed to Greenland’s stark horizon of rock and ice, and the pungence of rank seal blubber and sea. A hummingbird hovers outside my screened window, vibrant amidst vining purple clematis. Like dormant lichen gathering moisture after drought, I soak it up. I'm so content.
I left the Arctic in a dual state of inspiration and overwhelm. Here at home, I continue to be overwhelmed by the abundance that exists on so many levels: the lushness of the mountain landscape, the ubiquitous excess of food and amenities, the prevalence of conversation, chatter and gratuitous human interaction.
|Dusk becoming darkness at my wintering site in remote northern New Mexico.|
And ohhh… the NIGHT. I stepped off the airplane onto the tarmac late last evening, smiling into the velvety darkness. Shrouded by a blanket of stars overhead, I’d forgotten how the night calms me, enveloping and protecting me like the warm embrace of an old friend. Ahh, darkness- after 40 days of light.
|Young friends show me the way, La Plata River Canyon.|
August 9. I walked into the grocery store today and had a meltdown. (You mean I can have whatever I want?? But there are so many choices!) Avocados, eggplant, tofu, chick peas, and tamari-roasted almonds. Pears and spinach, fig cookies and peaches. Corn tortillas, coconut, arugula, jicama. I’m skinny since Greenland. I can’t possibly buy or eat all this. I consume visually, with my eyes, my hands pausing over tidy mounds of plums from California, grape tomatoes from Mexico. Squeeze. To have so much- is this bounty or gluttony?
I am giddy with the effortlessness of communication, and from being in a place where people know and care for me. It’s not just the commonality of a shared language, it’s also the sub-culture of familiarity. Both friends and strangers regard one another, often, with a fluency and ease that I find heartening. I can talk to people here. I can connect.
It’s hard to describe the sense of quiet
exuberance that possesses me at the moment.
I understand that it's the result of accumulated longing amassed beneath
and beyond my Arctic travels, magnified under the pressure of ten months away. Something in me releases now, and I breathe a
long exhale after waiting, enduring, thrashing over countless obstacles. Fulfillment after yearning. Relief.
My time in Greenland, though in many ways a refuge, was as austere as the rock and ice that surrounded me there. Returning to a landscape of green and a profusion of growing things echoes the renewed bounty of my internal landscape.
|Apache Plume, cyanotype photogram|
Postscript- August 31. I’ve been back three weeks now and my sense of wonder and delight in the world remains. Eventually the bustle will claim me again, but for now everything still sparkles, as light-filled and luminous as the ice of a northern glacier.
Monday, August 27, 2012
August 3, 2012. Baffin Bay is stormier lately and I can tell that fall is coming at this latitude. The air is cooler, there are fewer bright sunny days, and the sun dips a little lower on the horizon each evening. Nights will be returning to this part of the Arctic soon, darkness finally engulfing the world after months of constant daylight.
It feels like a time of hunkering down or moving on. For me, it’s time for the latter.
I’ve been in Greenland for only a matter of weeks, in a timeless place with no end or beginning. I’ve stood on the brink of something eternal here, and I’m sure I will spend the next several months trying to unravel the mystery of it. How, what, why. Seeking order out of chaos, answers instead of questions.
In the final days of my residency at the Upernavik Museum, I’ve been so encumbered by the maelstrom of my own mind- from the trivia of the mundane to the vast overhwhelm of the monumental- that I don’t know what I feel about leaving. Happy? Sad? Relieved?
All the above- and exhausted.
I do know that I will miss this little red house terribly. I have loved the quiet here and the time to contemplate new ideas (and old ones ad nauseum). I gave up my own rental in Colorado last fall when I left on my long year of artistic sojourning. It makes leaving this place of refuge so much harder.
Still, I’m eager to find my way back to the Rockies and the remains of summer there, to say hello to old friends and reacquaint myself with my mountain bike and the solace that deep forest and high ridge trail riding brings me.
I’m incredibly excited about all the artistic possibilities I have to explore as a result of my time in the Arctic. With time and space in the US over the fall and long winter ahead, I will preside over a studio burgeoning with the chaos of multiple creative projects being born at once.
What struck me most about Greenland is its mystery and ineffability- a landscape of rock and ice I can scarcely put words to. And all the beauty and tragedy of an ancient culture experiencing the growing pains of intense transition.
What will strike me most about the US is the noise and frantic clutter of life- the same aspects that I so easily leave behind every time I travel, and that greet me with such savage bluntness upon each return. The ease of communication will also be immediately apparent- a common language and familiar customs. I have to be careful not to lose my curiosity and keen sense engagement. I’m afraid of drowning in the comfort and convenience of it all.
I leave Upernavik on Sunday with a backpack full of notes and paintings, my memory adorned with indelible, indescribable impressions that, like the slow rise and fall of the sea itself, speak of forever. The journey is over- or is it just beginning?