BIBLIO NORDICA

Terrēnus Paterna (view from above), 22″ x 22″ x 6″, gouache and graphite on paper and thread, 2020

A couple days ago the BIBLIO NORDICA exhibition opened at the Vyhod Media Centre in Petrozavodsk, Russia. I feel honoured and humbled to have my work in this show alongside a group of amazing artists from around the Northern Hemisphere.

Early this year I was asked to be part of this exhibition, at the same place where I did an artist residency in 2018. The organizers have been planning this exhibition for many years and finally it was coming to fruition. The concept of the show was “book of the north”. At first, I was surprised to be included in an exhibition about the north as I live in one of the most southerly places of Canada, but of course on a grander scale I do live in the north, very much so in fact. The artists were encouraged to creatively think about these two concepts, “book” and “north”, and approach them from whichever angle we would prefer.

In February I began working on my art piece. I decided that my book should be about my connection to Russia and so I decided to do a little digging in my family history. Thinking about the locations that my ancestors lived in relation to the “north” I realized they have almost circumnavigated the globe between the 60th and 50th parallels.

I am grateful to have a rich collection of historical information to draw from when it comes to family history. I was able to borrow family history books from my parents and stacks of old photographs. The photos have become intermingled, combining a hundred years of history together in one box. A collection of information about people that are connected to me, but grow blurry and disant as they reach further back in history. The photographs and images from these ancestry books were my source material for this project.

I wanted to share my piece with you now that the show has opened as a way of participating and connecting with this exhibition half way across the world. I created a page on my website (click here to view) with my artist statement and images of this artwork, titled Terrēnus Paterna.

A special thank you to artist Natalia Egorova for the above images

List of partisipants in BIBLIO NORDICA:
Artem Starodubtsev ( Petrozavodsk, Russia)
Alison McCreesh (Yellowknife, Canada)
Aleksandra Haeseker (Calgary, Canada)
Anu Torikka (Joensuu, Finland)
Arja Valkonen – Goldblatt (Heinävaara, Finland)
Derek  Michael  Besant (Calgary, Canada)
Ivan Lisichkin (Petrozavodsk, Russia)
Natasha van Netten (Victoria, Canada)
Natalia Loginova (Petrozavodsk, Russia)
Natalia Egorova (Petrozavodsk, Russia)
Sandra Burek (Kongsberg, Norway)
Sergei Terentiev (Petrozavodsk, Russia)

A special thank you to the Vyhod Media Centre team for the above images

Vyhod Media Centre, opening night of BIBLIO NORDICA (image curtesy of Vyhod Media Centre)

Thank you Vyhod Media Centre, the installation and gallery team and Varvara for organizing, handling communications and curating.

A Quieter Time for Thinking Slowly

Studio Table Book of the North WIP 08

These past few months have been a time of reflection, introspection and thoughtfulness. Of course there have been many other things going through my head too: aprehention of the unknown, feelings of anxiety and loss. It has been a stange experience. One that everyone is going through differentlly. A time that has been isolating and yet somehow bringing togetherness. This picture is of my home studio (i.e. the kitchen table) this morning. Listening to The Jealous Curator podcast, which I highly recomend, and going through a giant stack of photos, books and alblums from my family history (thank you, mom and dad!).

Earlier this year I was invited to partisipateStudio Table Book of the North WIP 10 in an exhibition in Russia. I have been working on my piece for this exhibition since the beginning of March. It is a break from my usual focus of interest (whales, of course) and is by far the most personal art project I have worked on yet. I feel this time period in contemportary history has influenced my project. An intensity of reflectiveness in my day-to-day life. Sorting through an old suitcase of musty-smelling black and white photographs of family members is like holding the past in my hands. Photos that were taken over a hundred years ago of people I don’t know, but I know they are important to my family history. Searching faces for resemblances. Trying to discover something about these people that can no longer tell their story. Seeking to find connection. The pictures are mixed together. Some from Russia, some from the Canadian prairies. Sometimes the backs have writing. I assume the writer is explaining who the people were or where it was taken. A jumble of faded handwriting. Sometimes in English, sometimes in Low German and sometimes in Russian. Studio Table Book of the North WIP 04I find it interesting how the black and white evens out the differences of time and place, making it difficult to tell apart. I can’t help my inner dialogue as I look at these faces. This couple was my great great great grandparents… I wonder what they were thinking when this photo was taken? Was this a special occasion? Was it their first time being photographed? I wonder what they would think if they knew that many years later their photo would make it’s way from person to person into my hands and that I would be carefully and critically observing and then painting them? What would they think of me? And so on. What difficult lives these people lead. Pioneering and farming. Fleeing as refugees. Living through wars. Loosing children. It is hard painting protraits knowing their future and that sometimes they passed away not long after the photo was taken. My family history (and many other’s too) is rich with sacrifice and love and sorrow and victory.

Grandma Clara

My Grandma Clara

I have been enjoying this project (although it has also been emtotionally tiring at points). Art is a great way to process. Not only processing the photos, but also the time period I am living through now. A time of calmness and reflection. As some of you may also know, my grandmother passed away at the end of March. She was my last living grandparent. 99.5 years old. My parents have been taking care of her as she lived with them in their home for 8 years. Over these years, and especially over the past year as I was able to help with her care, I have developed a deep relationship with her and it has been difficult to let go. Sorting through misculanious stack of black and white photos I realize that she was also my connection to these faces I don’t know. I need to create something tangible out of the efermality of lost memories.

To be honest, I have felt a little burnt out this week. But really, it has been a long four months. Sometimes you just need to take a break. Today I desided that before I get too involved in what I “need to do today” I would take a moment to write down my thoughts, take some pitures and share them here with you. It is a beautiful journey to learn about the past and I am so thankful to have access to these pictures and family history books. These past few months have been strange and I hope you are doing okay too. Maybe it is time to stop, take a little break and do some reflecting. I would love to hear about how you have been filling your time and dealing with the past few months.

Orca Everywhere

This month I had the pleasure to exhibit my SUPERPOD installation at the Ministry of Casual Living Window Gallery in downtown Victoria. What a fabulous alternative art space! Especially during this time period when it is not possible to gather inside smaller spaces. The gallery window is a bay window that is accessed and viewed from outside. I would like to say a huge thank you to the Ministry for keeping art accessible and for maintaining this beautiful space so well. Also, thank you to all of you that stopped by to check out this installation. Without you the work is just a private project in my studio… but by viewing the work you actually activate the art and bring it to life. Thank you!!!

I took the installation down on Saturday and wasn’t sure where to store it… then my husband found the best storage spot!

A Historical, Invisible Artform: Diatom Arranging

I just discovered an old artform while watching a BBC documentary (Coasts) that I had not known existed: diatom arranging. That’s right. Organizing microscopic, single-cell organisms into kaleidoscope-like patterns… by hand! Never heard of it before? Me either. Possibly because when it was popular was in the 1800’s. I love this early connection between art and science.

Work by German microscopist J.D. Möller

Work by German microscopist J.D. Möller

The above work was created by Johann Diedrich Möller (1844 – 1907). He had decided to become a professional artist but then discovered the microscope. This changed the course of his future and Möller quickly realized that he preferred working with microscopes and slides to painting. He got a job building microscopes and grinding lenses and eventually had his own business. He created many beautiful arrangements of diatoms which can be divided into three types of designs: geometric arrangements, grid arrangements (for identification), and winding strands of a variety of diatoms (often collected from the same location or showing similar types.

So where exactly does one find diatoms? They are found in practically any body of water: oceans, rivers, streams, lakes and even puddles. And what are they? They are single-celled microalgae contained within thin walls of silica (like glass). They exist in a plethora of shapes and designs and are often referred to as “jewels” because of their beauty and delicacy.

While this artform has all but been forgotten there are still a few sci-artists that continue the tradition. Klaus Kemp is a leading contemporary diatom arranger and has earned the title “The Diatomist” for his work. Click here to view an excellent video where he talks about his work and his process (I highly recommend checking it out).

Work by Klaus Kemp

Work by Klaus Kemp

If you feel like you need to learn more about this, here are a few more resources for you:

 

Interview with Whale Listening Researcher Leticiaà Legat

As many of you know I am interested in using art to build connections and help make science more accessible (specifically marine sciences). Often science and art can feel worlds apart, but at the heart of these two ways of thinking is very often the same motivator: nature.

Leticiaà LegatA few weeks ago I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Whale-Listener-and-Marine-Bio-Art-ologist Leticiaà Legat through Instagram. It is nice to know that you can still meet people and stay connected while maintaining physical distance. But when the other person lives in Brazil, it’s really the easiest and best way to meet anyways. After numerous messages and lengthy e-mails back and forth I quickly realized that Leticiaà is someone that you should meet as well. I asked her if she would mind my interviewing her on my blog and she has graciously agreed to share some of her experiences, thoughts and photos with you and I.

 

Natasha: Leticiaà, thank you for being so willing to share with us! What is it about whales that has drawn you to study them? Can you tell us a little about your background and education history?

Leticiaà: First of all, thank you for having me, and for your kind words! I’ve loved animals (and the sea) since I can remember, and by the time I was 6 I knew I wanted to be a Biologist. Whales entered the game a few years later. My brother was driving me to school one day, and telling me some killer whale tales he’d recently learnt. I grew instantly obsessed. Back then, the internet was not a thing (ha!), but with each new little scrap of info I slowly added together, the fascination only grew. Particularly in regards to their behavior and social structure. That holds true until today! So by age 10 began my dream of being a killer whale behavior researcher, which I’m so incredibly grateful I eventually got to do! The love for animal behavior and acoustics eventually grew bigger, and spread towards a huge range of taxa. Nowadays I’d likely be happy studying any cool vocalizing creature.

Leticiaà Legat doing field work

Leticiaà Legat doing field work

Background and education wise, I have a double bachelor in Biology, an MSc in Oceanography (analyzing contaminant levels in dolphin tissues), and was half way through my PhD when a whole lot of life happened. I am now getting slowly back at it, but have transferred to an MPhil instead. During and after graduating (some 14 years ago) I have worked with bird behavior; coordinated behavioral research in a big marine mammal project in Northeast Brazil, which also included collaborating with, and helping local fishermen and kids understand whales better; taught undergraduate university courses; had the pleasure to be an intern at a Brazilian Oceanographic museum; a visiting researcher at the Vancouver Aquarium marine mammal research lab (where I discovered my love for Bioacoustics); and did a few more internships and volunteering, in Brazil and abroad. I’m currently writing up my postgrad research on whale acoustic behavior. More specifically, Icelandic killer whales and North Pacific humpback whales feeding calls.

Natasha: What is this research about?

Leticiaà:  I looked in detail into two incredibly similar calls that Icelandic killer whales and North Pacific humpback whales use. They are both loud, low frequency, long calls; and are used only in one behavioral context: while feeding on herring schools. So, we have two very different cetacean species (fairly distantly related in evolutionary terms), which live in different oceans, using a very similar call, for the exact same purpose. They haven’t heard the call from one another and copied it, nor do they have similar acoustic repertoires to begin with. In fact, the calls’ frequencies are out of the optimal hearing range of killer whales, meaning is too low for them to efficiently communicate in.

Killer whale off Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland. Photo credit Leticiaà Legat

Killer whale off Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland. Photo credit: Leticiaà Legat. This photo was taken under research license, with a tele-lens and cropped. Please respect all guidelines when in the presence of whales.

This is what we call convergent evolution; a process in which not closely related organisms independently evolve a similar trait, to adapt to similar ecological niches. Meaning the two calls evolved twice (once in each cetacean population), to serve the same end: help in herring capture. These calls have been known and independently studied for a few decades, but never looked into together/ comparatively. By statistical analyses, I could for the first time compare both calls, and show just how similar they are (strikingly so!). The calls seem to be used to manipulate the schooling behavior of herring groups, which (research shows) groups tighter when the calls are emitted. This in turn should make it easier for both bubble-netting humpbacks to trap, and tail slapping killer whales to hit the prey before consuming it.

 

Break between land-based observation sessions in Cetacealabe, Gil Island, BC. Photo credit Sam Rose Philips

Break between land-based observation sessions in Cetacealabe, Gil Island, BC. Photo credit: Sam Rose Philips

Which’s really interesting, since the herring schooling behavior is in itself, originally, an anti-predator strategy (now being exploited by predators!). Interestingly too, the calls frequency is also in the resonance frequency of the herring swim bladder, which could have several implications, and be precisely why this frequency was evolutionarily selected. The call also seems to be spreading, at least in the humpback population, meaning other whales are learning to use it too. Learning has been previously described for several cetacean species, including the ones I’m studying, and this component adds a whole other layer of interest regarding cognition (learning, innovating, problem solving…), and social structure (who hangs out with whom, in which contexts, for how long, etc.). In other words, there’s still lots of missing pieces in this puzzle, including the ones I was to look into before the aforementioned “lot of life” happened… But that’s how science happens, cooperatively. Adding new research (pieces) together with previous data, until we get to see the whole picture. Here’s hoping I get to dive back into it someday soon!

Natasha: Do you have a favourite whale species? And can you tell us why?

Leticiaà: I think I’ll stick with killer whales here (even though they’re big dolphins). Their cognitive abilities (the learning, problem solving, innovating thing again) are very  impressive. And I find it fascinating that whilst having only one recognized species worldwide (so far, despite genetic evidence suggesting otherwise), there are SO many different types, with such different diets, specializations, behaviors, complex social structures, morphology, acoustic repertoires… So many different cultures altogether, even when sharing the same habitat. And it doesn’t hurt that they are beautiful creatures to look at, and sound pretty good as well. That being said, I dream of one day seeing a blue whale, and have a special fondness towards minke whales (so overlooked!), long finned pilot whales, and southern right whale dolphins.

Natasha: What role does art have in your life? Do you find that your research informs the art you create? What type of art do you enjoy making?

Leticiaà: Art has been part of my life since I was a kid. I have experimented with several media over the years, but eventually abandoned all (but nature photography) for a really long time. This was before I connected the arts and science dots in my head, you see. I continued to adore, admire, and respect art.

Bubble netting papercut by Leticiaà Legat

Bubble netting papercut by Leticiaà Legat

But somehow started thinking of all the art I did as time wasting hobbies (even scientific drawing!), and forgot how much nourishment and balance I get out of creating. Of how truly powerful it can be, including for research communication. It took me getting incredibly ill long term, to very recently relearn that, and see how much I need art in my life. That also helped me realize that art and science are simply different ways of investigating nature, and sharing my love for it. And that’s how Biopliliarts was born. I’ve only just started tending to it properly, so here’s hoping it’ll grow beautiful and strong! I do mostly nature inspired art, love to experiment with different media, and aim to share some of my knowledge through it (or at least in the accompanying texts, as I also love some whimsy…).

Fun, bizarre, possibly too disturbing fact: in a way, my research not only informs my art (I have a gazillion whale photos, plus a few animal design ideas floating in my mind at any given time), but it actually has given me the skills required to do some of it… During my PhD I discovered paper cutting art, which in time became my favorite media. You basically use craft knives or surgical scalpels (I use scalpel blades in craft knives, for comfort) to cut paper into patterns, revealing your chosen design. I was instantly fairly good at it, for the weirdest reason: dolphin necropsy skills. During my internship at the oceanographic museum, and later during my MSc, I did countless necropsies and tissue collection on dolphins that had washed up dead (more commonly drowned while entangled in fishing nets…). It’s a really sad reality. But I’ve also always appreciated that with marine mammals, contrary to most other Zoology subjects, we never kill animals for collections or analyses (something I could never do). We only collect either very tiny dart biopsies samples, or sample already dead animals.

Natasha: Can you give a few examples of some of the places that you have traveled to because of your love of whales?

Leticiaà: I’ll start by saying that whales have great taste in places! haha Having grown up over 1500km from the ocean, as soon as I finished my undergraduate degree I started chasing whales around. First in the beautiful (and unbearably hot) Northeast of Brazil, then the Southeast of the country (Santa Catarina – thoroughly worth visiting, and Rio – not really a fan, but also worth visiting), and then I moved to British Columbia (enough said!). I lived in the English countryside (of all places!) for the past 6 years. I chose to move there to study under my brilliant supervisor. Meanwhile, I did field research in British Columbia and Iceland, and brought the data home for analyses. And I’ve visited Scotland often, for courses and such. I have also been to both Washington DC (what?) and Denmark (with a stop at the Faroe Islands on the way!) for Bioacoustics graduate summer schools. Finally, marine mammal researchers have a way of choosing beautiful places for conferences. I’ve been to meetings in Nova Scotia, San Francisco, South of England, Scotland, a different place in Denmark… Ah, and of course, I’ve been to Patagonia! That was my dream destination since I discovered the local killer whales as a 10 yo, and I got to visit (and see them!) ten years later, before even becoming a Biologist.

Natasha: What is it about whales that you find the most interesting? 

Leticiaà: I’m mainly interested in behavior and acoustics, particularly predator-prey dynamics (like the feeding call research for example), and how novel behaviors or calls spread through populations (or across populations at times!). Sound is the most important tool cetaceans use to perceive their environment, navigate, communicate, find prey, find mates, and in some cases, manipulate prey behavior. So there’s a whole lot we can learn simply by listening. And (particularly with increasing levels of anthropogenic noise) it’s very important that we do so. There’s a lot we don’t know yet. And since cetaceans spend most of the time entirely submersed, researchers are at a huge disadvantage when studying their behavior in comparison to, say, wild pig researchers, who can see their study animals most of the time. With increasingly fancy technology though, the underwater world is becoming more and more accessible to us.

Natasha: Can you tell us about your favourite whale encounter or experience?

Humpback whales bubble-net feeding in British Columbia, Canada. Photo credit Leticiaà Legat

Humpback whales bubble-net feeding in British Columbia, Canada. Photo credit: Leticiaà Legat. This photo was taken from shore with a tele-lens and cropped. Please respect all guidelines when in the presence of whales.

Leticiaà: I think most of them happened in Iceland. The killer whale juveniles and calves spent my first field season there chasing the hydrophone array we towed behind our boat (like a 60m huge hose, filled with sound recording equipment). It was a lot of fun to watch them investigating it, and I got fantastic recordings from it. Until one day, after they`d been particularly relentless in the chase, I pulled the array back on board at the end of the day, to discover they had chewed the end bit off! I still don’t believe it and I was there… After that day they completely lost interest though. The Icelandic pilot whale encounters were fascinating too, and are possibly my favorite thing. They arrive in several small organized groups of over a hundred individuals in total. Vocalizing non-stop, with perfectly coordinated movements, they mob the killer whales, charging at them at full speed, and chasing them out of the area. It’s fascinating and terrifying to watch. We started calling them pirate whales…

In Cetacealab, Gil Island, BC (whose researchers generously made their long term data collection available for my analyses), we’d sleep lulled by whale breathing sounds, and watch several species from shore, sometimes swimming right under the lab’s observation balcony… It’s the best way to see (and study) whales when possible, really. Without interfering at all in their behavior.

Natasha: For someone who is interested in whales and would like to learn more (like myself), are there any recourses that you recommend?

Leticiaà: I know and trust the work of @oceanwise, @merssociety, @BCWhales, @soundsciencecollective, @icelandic.orcas, @centerforwhaleresearch, @alaska_whale_foundation, and @themarinedetective (the latter on marine life in general, not only whales), all on Instagram. I also recommend checking out the work of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and of North Gulf Oceanic Society on Facebook. They all do research, outreach, and education, the sacred science tripod. There are plenty more great projects a google search away as well (yay internet!).

Books wise, I remember really enjoying reading Orca: The Whale Called Killer by Erich Hoyt and The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins by Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell. And if despite the use of specialist language you’re at all interested, nowadays it’s fairly easy to get hold of some scientific papers for free. You can either look for them on Google Scholar or Research Gate, a sort of “social media for scientists” type thing. Many researchers make their publications available there, and if not, most will also be happy to send you a copy if you get in touch via email (if they’re not crazy busy!).

Natasha: Finally, do you have any favourite whale related fun facts you can leave us with? 

Leticiaà: Yes!

  • Cetaceans are born tail first, a neat adaptation that means they won’t drown in case the birth takes a while.
  • Blue whales are the largest animals to have EVER lived on Earth. How cool is that? Calves can gain over 100kg a day in the first few months of life by nursing on their mother’s rich, fatty milk.
  • I’ve once listened to a recording of narwhal vocalizations, and no kidding, it sounded like the intro theme for The Addams Family.
  • The sound used for the dolphin in the infamous 90s movie “Flipper” was actually an altered kookaburra bird call!
  • Minke whales have a very particular, strong smell. They are often referred to as “stinky minkes” by researchers.

To learn more about Leticiaà’s art practice you can check out her Biophiliarts website by clicking here and follow her Instagram page by clicking here.

I would send a big thank you to Leticiaà for being so open and willing to share! It feels special to have a peek into the scientific world and learn about what is being studied. And it is always a pleasure to meet someone that also shares a love of sci-art (science-inspired art). Oh, how I love those papercuts! =)

Musings

What I have learned from residencies and traveling is that anything can happen, everything can change and it is beneficial to learn to adapt quickly. Stay flexible. This is something I find myself thinking of right now. Everything looks familiar outside… but I know it is also different. A change of routine… or a lack of routine. A fresh slate, as it were. And so here I find myself in my second-floor apartment at my kitchen-table-studio, trying to get my head around the strangeness of what is happening and trying to figure out how I fit into the picture and how I can adapt.

These past few weeks have been difficult ones for me, as I am sure they have also been for many of you navigating life right now. I am trying to remind myself that difficult doesn’t mean bad. Challenges are not bad. A change of routine is not bad. When life is smooth it’s easy to click into “default mode”, but when something upsets the expected flow I am reminded of the value in paying attention.

Especially when their are voids in life, things that are missing (like a job or a family member), it is important to be thankful. One of the countless things I am thankful for is art. It helps me to process, it gives me space to be quiet, and it settles my brain from working in high gear. To take time to stop thinking about life’s complications and slow down and concentrate on the tip of my pen and the line it is drawing is freeing. Strangely enough, I think when I am unaware I am thinking I think the most effectively (sorry if that doesn’t make sense). I encourage all of you to do something creative today–trust me, it’s not just for the “gifted” or the “artistically inclined”. It is about the journey after all, not the destination.

I have been loving my Picture By Post project! Through it I have had the opportunity to reconnect with friends and make new ones. It has been something fun and encouraging for me to focus on and I have enjoyed many walks down the road to the postbox with a happy stack of envelopes. It’s actually strange to think that during this time of distancing I’ve connected with way more people than I would have otherwise. I am grateful for the conversations, the connections and the lovely photos that people have sent me back through this project. The pictures have been posted all across Canada (from right here in Victoria all the way to Nova Scotia), the USA, England and even to Germany!  I would like to say thank you to everyone who has participated so far (and if you would like to have a Picture By Post mailed to yourself or a friend, please click here to contact me).

Thank you @chirp2lou for bringing your Pictures By Post to the beach and sharing these lovely photos!

I would love to hear what you are doing to deal with all the changes right now. How are you adapting? Have you tried something new? Or maybe picked up an old project to finish?

Stay strong. Be encouraged. Ask for help if you need it. We are in this together. =)

Picture by Post Project

A lot of things are up in the air and changing these days. I am finding myself looking forward to more “time off” (AKA studio time) than I was expecting. As a way to beet the social distancing blues I came up with the following project… Picture by Post! 

Would you like to receive a mystery artwork in the mail?
I have recently been inspired to start a new project… Picture by Post! Combining two things I love – mail & art. For $10 I will create an original 5″x7″ drawing or painting and mail it to you.

Why do it?
🔹 So you can look forward to receiving “fun” mail

🔹 Buy really affordable art

🔹Maintain social distance by receiving through the post

🔹Anticipate a surprise!

🔹Support local art 👍

You can expect any of the following:

  • A watercolour 🖌
  • Pen & ink drawing 🖋
  • Graphite drawing ✏
  • Gouache painting 🖌
  • Imaginary sea creatures
  • Whale drawings
  • Ocean inspired themes
  • Or whatever I feel like creating in the moment!

How to participate:

  • Contact me to request a mystery artwork and send me your mailing address (or the address of a friend!)
  • Payment via e-transfer
  • Sit back and look forward to collecting your artwork from your very own mail box!

Picture by Post poster

Under observation in the studio

As most of you know, my work revolves around finding connections between art and science and looking for ways express scientific ideas visually through art. My husband has been encouraging me for a while to look at my work under a microscope as another way to merge these two practices. I am excited to share with you that this past weekend we were able to finally explore this idea. And wow–it takes observation to a whole different level. Looking so closely that I’m not even sure what I’m looking at any more. It is an interesting reminder that all art is abstract because its not actually an image that you are looking at, but strokes of pigment attached to the fibres of your drawing paper. The picture below shows a tiny close up of part of a salt formation on one of my seawater drawings. I love the circle around the image from the microscope lens. A circle is such an interesting shape because it represents both the infinitely small and the infinitely massive–like a cell or a planet.

Drawing under the microscope

Blinded by Whiteness

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye to new friends

Yesterday I found myself sitting in the shuttle bus looking out the window at whiteness. I turned to see my husband wipe the condensation off his side of the window to see better, but it remained as it was before. White. As I sat blindly gazing out at this alien world of white rushing past my window I was reminded of our arrival a month ago. It was snowing heavily and it was difficult to distinguish anything apart from swirling snow mounds of snow and blowing snow. This journey felt like being blindfolded and brought to a hidden and secret place so you don’t know how you got there. But instead of being blindfolded by darkness, we were blinded by whiteness. It’s about a half hour drive from Skagaströnd to the town of Blönduós, where the main bus stops that goes to and from Reykjavik. I have absolutely no clue what the landscape looks like between these two places. Not on the way there. Not on the way back. Somehow this makes me strangely happy.

It has been a full last week at the residency. This past Sunday was the January 2020 Opid Hus (Open House). It was a wonderful event and many local people came out for it. I had some lovely conversations with people about the work and about living in northern Iceland. One gentleman asked me an interesting question, “But what is it about whales that make people connect with them? Why not other animals? People don’t feel the same way about fish that they do about whales.” I guess this isn’t really something that I have thought much about before. Why whales? I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this question. I think there are many answers, but I think that people are drawn to things we can empathise with, things we reflect ourselves into, common struggles and successes, etc. Whales are mammals, like us. Whales breath air, like us. They generally have one baby at a time and their life cycles are very similar to human life cycles. They are intelligent and learn, they pass along information and have strong family bonds. Whales grieve their losses and seek to develop relational bonds. I think it is going to be different for every person that answers this question. But for me, it also has to do with knowing about something. They more I know, the more I connect. This is why I create art about these amazing animals. Sorry for the tangent. The Open House was lovely! I have some images below of some of the other artist’s in their spaces and my studio space at the end.

Images from the Opid Hus

Drawing class 

I was also asked if I would like to give a drawing class to a girl from the town. I was happy to be asked and enjoyed putting together some drawing projects. One of the artists at the residency came with her daughter and so I extended the invite to her as well. It was such an enjoyable afternoon. The young women were so dedicated to their art and it was a pleasure to be creative together. This was a real highlight for me and I am I had the opportunity to do this.

Natasha leading a drawing class

I traveled back south to Reykjavik with 6 of the other residents and 1 resident traveled north. We said good bye at the Blönduós bus stop and headed in opposite directions. Artist Katya Kan (Kazakhstan) traveled to Akureyri where she and I have an exhibition at the Art Ak Gallery this weekend! =) The perfect way to end my time here in Iceland.

BioPol, Lumpfish and Clouds

I have been in Skagastrond for three weeks now at the Nes Residency. I feel like my projects are starting to be picking up momentum. Since my purpous on this residency is to explore I have been allowing myself to create whatever I had the urge to make. I have ended up with some very strange creations that were not nessicarily what I would call
“successes”. But I feel like it is sometime nessisary to create unnessisary things. Even when I know from the beginning that it is probably not going to turn into something interesting. In the studio everything becomes connected. One thing leads to another and another and so on. Sometimes your brain needs to let go of the pressure of trying to force out a “good” idea and just become engaged in a process. Any process. I find that very often that when my mind in engaged in this way it is able to wander and that is when I find inspiration for new projects. I have been trying to be conscious of this and allowing myself this space and freedom.

Studio work in progress

Another way to find creative inspiration is through research. Earlier this week I had the privilege to meet with Mr. Halldór Ólafsson, founder of BioPol, a marine biotechnology company here in Skagastrond. BioPol is involved with a variety of projects studying marine life that live in the water in Húnaflói Bay. Industry in Skagaströnd has always revolved around the sea, but over the last few decades fishery after fishery has had to close their doors. BioPol’s goal is to find new ways of creating sustainable industry through the sea. It was fascinating to be shown around the facilities. There is even an experimental kitchen–something between a scientific laboratory and a chef’s day dreamy clean kitchen. Halldór showed me around the different rooms of microscopes, people in lab coats and specimen containers. One research project that they are working on is trying to discover the lifespan of lumpfish (Cyclopterus lumpus). What? You’ve never heard of the lumpfish before? Don’t feel bad if you haven’t, I hadn’t either.

Lumpfish, image from icefishnews.com

Lumpfish, image from icefishnews.com

Female lumpfish are caught commercially for their roe which is sold as caviar. Actually a pelagic fish (living in the open sea), these fish come into the bay annually to spawn. The males arrive first and seek out the best place for a nest, often in kelp forests. Later the much larger females arrive and choose the most attractive partner and nest. She lays her eggs and heads back out to sea, leaving dad to fiercely guard the nest and helping to circulate oxygen-rich water over the eggs. BioPol is trying to discover how long these fish live. To do this they are using a well known fish-aging process: counting the annual rings laid down on otoliths–like counting growth rings on a tree. An otolith is essentially an ear bone of a fish–acting similarly to our inner ear as it is used for balance.

Cod Otoliths at the BioPol lab, Skagastrond

Cod Otoliths at BioPol

Depending on the species otoliths come in a broad range of shapes and sizes. In this image on the right Halldór is holding a range of specimens from cod. This labour-intensive work of counting otoliths is difficult when it comes to lumpfish as they have particularly difficult rings to distinguish between. It is absolutely fascinating! Thank you so much to BioPol and Halldór for allowing me to come and see what you are doing. =)

Nacreous Clouds

Nacreous Clouds

While we are on the topic of learning and discovery, I just wanted to share one more thing with you. Yesterday as the winds of the current storm were beginning to pick up we spotted a strangely glowing cloud in the sky (centre in the image above). I have seen this a few times already since coming to Iceland. It is a rare nacreous cloud, also known as an “iridescent cloud” or a “mother-of-pearl cloud”. The cloud turns into a rainbow of colours as light passes through frozen waterdropplets, skattering the light.