a ballad for be[long]ing

As a cross-disciplinary artist, my aim is to create connections, to engage with the more than human using various media. An encounter with driftwood from Siberia on the west coast of Iceland is the catalyst for this interactive cross disciplinary installation combining charcoal, paper, ceramics and recorded sound. The work explores the notions of location, migration, belonging, and what m[other]land could be if borders were fluid. This project creates a dialogue between driftwood, found in Iceland, that drifted from Siberia with clay found in Isokyrö, Finland, my new home. Drawing from personal and collective history (the migration story of my family, their exile to Siberia during WWII), this project will attempt to distil a sense of belonging by reflecting on the alchemical process of wood turning to driftwood turning to charcoal, to ash, to image, to story. 

A few years ago, while visiting the west fjords of Iceland I came across a coastline that was scattered with large driftwood. These trees had been there for years – I photo documented  them, the decaying wood. Back in the days these trees would be used for construction, but since cheaper materials had arrived to Iceland, they had been left untouched and became unwanted. As in many migration stories – history repeats itself . These trees had made their way from Siberia, and here the puzzle pieces started to fall into place in a personal way. During WWII my family had been displaced from Poland to Siberia to work in a work camp – a fate shared with many in the annexation of land by Russia in the early war. One of the tasks of my great grandfather was to cut down trees. Those trees would be floated on the river for transport, the ones that didn’t fit the requirements, would be drifted off to sea (and drifted to Iceland). I collected some pieces of driftwood that came with me when I relocated to Finland. As trees have different lifespans than humans – i hold wood that was growing when my great grandfather was alive, hold charcoal of a tree he might have cut down. my hand on his..

Driftwood – wood washed onto shore of sea, lake, or river by action of winds, tides currents or waves – food and shelter for birds, fish and other aquatic species – slowly decomposes by means of gribbles, shipworms and bacteria –  becomes nutrients – nuisance when entangled with plastic debris that accumulated overtime – foundation for sand dunes. – result of logging, flooding, high winds – drift lumber – jetsam – flotsam – According to Norse mythology, the first humans, Ask and Embla, were formed out of two pieces of driftwood, an ash and an elm, by the god Odin and his brothers, Vili and Vé. The Vikings would cast wood into the sea before making landfall. The location of the wood would be an indication as to where to build their mead halls. – main wood source for some Inuit and other Arctic populations living north of the tree line.

Charcoal – lightweight black carbon residue – wood heated in oxygen minimal environment – track keeper of time – radiocarbon dating – burns hotter than wood – no smoke – though burned still maintains its shape. In Finland and Scandinavia, the charcoal was considered the by-product of wood tar production. The best tar came from pine, thus pinewoods were cut down for tar pyrolysis. Tar production led to rapid local deforestation. The end of tar production at the end of the 19th century resulted in rapid re-forestation  – used for filtering – purifying – as cooking fuel – beauty product – art supply – for medicinal purposes

Ash – solid remnant of fire –  disinfectant agent – makes soil fertile – or contains toxins. symbol of mourning – the last step of the cycle before we return to the ground. 

The English word ash is derived from the Biblical Hebrew word for fire, אש (esh/aysh).

The installation consists of 3 parts:

Ceramic sound object:

working with clay from Isokyrö, Southern Ostrobothnia, Finland, some of the oldest earth on the planet. Digging up the clay. Creating a resonating vessel, glazed with ash glaze – made from the Siberian driftwood. A cycle closing, timelines bridging. An object that will sound out the story. 

Floor installation:

the exhibition space floor is covered in paper, at the entry to the space a defined surface is covered with charcoal. The visitors must walk through this part, and will create migratory patterns on the floor.

Charcoal drawings:

large scale drawings of driftwood created with charcoal made from the driftwood i found on the west coast of Iceland. Those trees had been left untouched on the beach for decades. One of the jobs of my great grandfather in the work camp in Siberia during WWII, was to cut down trees – trees were transported on the river – the ‘bad’ ones were floated out to sea, subjected to the currents. The driftwood I brought with me to Finland could have been cut down by my great grandfather.I make charcoal from the collected driftwood – the same driftwood that is being portrayed – the subject is drawn with the subject. I draw portraits, not his, but of decay, time passing, transformation.“Some stories take two generations to tell” – was the first line i wrote when starting on the concept.

video created for United Cowboys ‘Seasoning Spring’ 2020
small fragment from the M[other]land text 2020

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