Monday, December 15, 2008

We remember ourselves

Archives break up intimacies of the afterlife like an icebreaker creates left and right. We are pieces, small pieces, rising with tide leaving our traces. Volcanoes today and forests tomorrow. Dusty-haired and dirty-jeaned from sludging through life's tauntings. And the archive waits for us, lid open.

The hands of our grandchildren close around us. It was difficult for our children to part with us. So they pawned us to those younger who could not visualize the times we lived in. We were their greatest generation who struggled more, who wisened to life earlier. Now they know good times and we get to know ourselves.

This box contains our passports, that one our sledge flags. Letters to our lady friends are separated from letters to our parents. Photos taken with brother and sister become mixed with photos of our first love. We always kept them detached by false walls. Now their only walls distance them from written words. Even in death we cannot remain whole.

In the attic, in the basement, in the warehouse and closet, we are kept. Pieces of ourselves all around, quiet or tempestuous, muffled by box lids and closed folders. We recollect when we were caught, lifted, turned, trampled, loved, thrown, silent, overjoyed. Finally the silence enables us to gaze at projections of ourselves. And those of others, we now see through the snowstorm, their joys and sorrows. We realize the texture of their chaotic emotions endured as much as ours. And all is kept warm by the fires of memory.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Han længes også efter grønland igen (he also is longing for Greenland again)

'Modern memory is, above all, archival. It relies entirely on the materiality of the trace, the immediacy of the recordings, the visibility of the image.' - Pierra Nora

'Lieux de memoire originates with the sense that there is no spontaneous memory, that we must deliberately create archives, maintain anniversaries, organize celebrations,... because such activities no longer occur naturally' -Pierre Nora

It has been a while since I last wrote. Since it is now coming towards the end of December, I have begun to wrap up my project. This has been very hard since I think I could spend another year going through the Arctic Institute's archive and not be bored.

The following writing is a fiction piece I am working on for my show in mid January at the Institute. I have attached a few of the photographs, too. I hope to have about 6 essays, both fiction and nonfiction, dealing with aspects of the Arctic Institute's collections and Archives.

To give you background on the writing and to briefly familiarize you on who Hinrich Rink was: He was a Danish scientist who lived in Grønland for over 25 years. He soon became Inspector of South Grønland. He was a prolific writer and researcher and was quite the humanitarian- he was very aware of the intricacies of the Greenlanders' relationship to the Danes. My writing is based on a fictional version of him, after he has died and is living as a ghost in the attic of the Arctic Institute....

Hinrich Rink resides on the 4th floor of a building in Christianshavn. He has always been a letter writer and wonders if his hair needs to be cut, beard trimmed. While diagramming East Greenlandic archaeological sites from memory he worries if he is becoming too similar to his drawings. Hinrich observes the meticulous spiders waiting for a random bit of food to penetrate through the archive’s airtight barricade. In the evening he paces back and forth for sheer enjoyment, when all is silent and the janitor has gone home.

Thumbing through boxes with folders and documents and drawers with drawings and maps, Rink purges his delight by counting how often his name occurs. This originated a few years ago while going through cases from 1840’s through 1880’s. So many letters and drafts and edits of his musings and good tidings and studies. But soon the practice became too easy for it was either he authoring the documents or his colleagues. The 1900’s would be a suitable jump, he thought. It became a challenge: to see if his work, his drawings and words lived beyond his departure from Greenland. Who mentioned him? What purpose were they using his insight from the 1800’s? Was he or his studies the topic of conversation? Despite his humbleness he had always considered his work of the utmost importance. Critical. He celebrated with a drink of schnapps when his name occurred, though it was seldom.

One day he came across a document that had slipped off the ledge of his memory and into the fjord. Waterlogged and dirty, he wondered what had caused its grave deterioration. Opening the folded brittle pages, he peered into his own handwriting, perfect penmanship of a middle aged man and not the nervous handling from an old, old man. Danish writing on one side and Greenlandic on the other - the lists and lists of words congregated into topics such as kajaking and land. The Greenlandic words swirled with the earth and its relationship to humans and to himself, as community, as individual, as wanderer, as hunter, as woman, as child, as dog, as storm and ice floe. Alive on the page Rink observed himself deciphering grammar and structure from Danish to Greenlandic and back again. The Danish words burned quickly away, offering no contoured landscape to ponder, no animal to bait. He quickly closed the pages, becoming self-conscious of himself spying on himself from 150 years ago. The pages shuddered back into their manila folder, back into their black archival box, back onto their metal shelf. And back he went to his nightly pacing.

This incident left him agitated over what else he may have misplaced. What else had gone missing? Old lovers and favourite dogs? Sunny hillsides and drafty houses? What else had disappeared into the brash waters of the fjord? Were they still traceable, leaving fishing line tails to catch? Did these things leave thank-you or ransom notes behind? The sacred pages that had opened this forgotten realm again lay dormant. He continued his usual shuffling of papers, journaling, diagramming, and sweeping cobwebs from his hair when he didn’t keep up with the lady spiders spinning.

Shyly, he began to play a game, though he would deny it. In his shuffling, journaling and diagramming he would open the black archival box and then proclaim how silly he was, for it was not the box he needed. This flirtation continued for a week. By the following week it had developed past opening the box. Now he took out the manila folder only to laugh and quickly repack it back onto the shelf. How long would this game continue, he finally proclaimed in exasperation as the spiders darted away at the commotion!

The next day, in his feigned confidence, Hinrich Rink approached the shelf and purposely took out the sacred folder that cradled the Danish to Greenlandic words. It was lovelier than he had remembered. He seated himself at his desk with its small lamp casting a glow upon the yellow stains. Again he steadily turned each page, willing himself to recall the strokes of his hand once placing the symbols so thoughtfully onto the paper. So many I’s and P’s and Q’s in this language, he observed. The longer he gazed at the two languages the more both wavered between towers and highways, golden grass prairies and vicious tornadoes, a fleet of schooners and a couple on a Sunday stroll. He glided through the lists of words, intertwining his fingers and toes through them, pulling on them to see if they would move and rearrange. But they held fast to their page, their order and lines.

That evening marked a homecoming. Hinrich Rink returned again and again to the archived folder that contained his own handwriting from 150 years before. In it was a letter from an American written in English. The letter explained Alaskan native populations’ dialects and stated the hope of answering all of Hinrich’s questions. Who was to say now? They may have been his questions then but many scholars had come since to ask and answer them over and over again. Hinrich scripted a response to the cordial letter to see how the fellow was getting along. But perhaps he was too late.

‘A’ to ‘B’ to ‘D’, Hinrich Rink tiptoed into the river of his Greenland memory. It was true that many had already flowed so far out into the fjord that he, in his old age, would never retrieve them. He came to feel ’nalusuunerup taarsuanit’ (out of the great darkness of ignorant people). Yet, now, not people but history’s vastness, and he would never find the point where the edges of light came together.

He remembered a time when Atuagagdliutit was young and infant in its circulation. How far it finally travelled along the Western Greenlandic coast by sledge, by boat, by word of mouth! How wonderful its hunting and trading news and stories flowed, filling the night air with the Greenlandic written word, other than the Bible, spoken out loud. He remembered the printing press crammed into his Godthåb home and its urgent thumping voice sometimes saying faster, faster! There is not enough time! Volume by volume the newspaper grew.

He remembered his friend Aron of Kangeq and the gift of color and line that flowed from the paper. The illustrations he imagined through Hinrich’s descriptions of war and fighting. Hinrich remembered the teacher training college built in Godthåb, 1845, and the Greenlanders who fulfilled curious destinies in contrast to their parents. Strange puddles began to appear on the floor and dew settled on the spiders’ webs. Heinrich recalled reading his paper ‘The Results of the Recent Danish Explorations in Greenland, with regards to the Inland Ice’ at the Edinburgh Geological Society’s meeting on 1886 and other papers he presented to this geological society and that historical society. Water began to cause his socks to remain wet all day. And soon the cuffs of his pants. He remembered………….. and ……………………. Soon his nightly pacing became replaced with nightly wading through knee-height floating text and typographies, folders and photos. Still he remembered …………….. and …………………… Soon he kept a towel close by so that his wet hands would not damage the filmy paper documents. Still he remembered …………… and ………………… Hinrich finally realized he could float on his back in the water. The flood was irreversible. It contained no foundation, no levy and no damn. No tree to push up against its banks, its shorelines. All were washed away.

Memory lifted Hinrich’s feet off the wooden floor. He caught hold of cardboard boxes spewing out personal correspondences from Danes celebrating Jule, caught hold of metal shelves releasing index cards of Inuit language dialects, caught hold of drawings and paintings from artists that he did not recognize. He dove to retrieve glass plate negatives already sinking into the papery sludge on the floor. But there was nowhere to keep them safe, unharmed, catalogued! The water, oh, the water of memory! And the memory of water! Cold, Arctic water, shading seal and whale, unlucky hunter and kajak! Memory’s fjord on the move as Spring turns to summer and its solid icebergs clef and birth! Rumbling and melting down and up over him! How Hinrich wanted to forget! Oh, Greenland! There is no way to forget! Jeg længes efter grønland igen!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Danish Crown Prince visits the Arctic Institute

Last Tuesday the Arctic Institute hosted the Greenlandic Photography Contest winner presentation, which was co-sponsored with a Greenlandic and Danish newspaper.The Crown Prince Frederick attended to present the first prize to the winner who had been awarded a week long vacation in Copenhagen.

Yes, the Prince received a red carpet!

There was a 40 minute presentation with speeches from the Arctic Institute's director, the Representative from Greenland and Faroe Island. The 12 photos that won various other prizes were then shown. Finally the winning photograph was presented and the Prince handed over a nice bound book to the woman who won. She was given a week vacation in København along with (i think) a digital camera and money.

I got to play photographer for the event! That is the only reason why I was allowed to be there! Everyone else was either an 'esteemed guest', on the board of directors, was a photojournalist for the newspapers, or was part of the tour. Yeah Me!

He was then given a tour of the offices and talked with the document archivist and photo archivist. He seemed genuinely interested in what they were showing him and quite informal in talking with them. He was very charming and sincere.

The program ended with a casual reception back in the conference room.

And at the end when he was leaving, he went around and shook hands with everyone. So I got to shake hands with my first Prince!

Friday, October 24, 2008

A walk in the woods

My friend and I drove outside of Copenhagen yesterday after work to this huge park about 20 minutes outside of the city, with a lake and lots of trails.

We started from the Sophiesholm museum's parking lot, which is about 100 feet from the Prime Minister's home. There wasn't a single gate or guard with guns or anything around his house! Just a hedge row! You could have driven right into this driveway and up to his front door! We thought about doing this since he loves America so much, I figured he might welcome me! Or not....

We followed the lake for a while and then cut into the woods and out to the river that runs beside it.

There were a lot of people running on the trails and the weather was that Autumn crisp evening air.

The leaves have really come down here in the past 2 weeks. It was nice to see some actual Fall color in the woods!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Rasmussen's house!

Last Sunday, a friend and I went up to see Knud Rasmussen's house. It was really rainy and super windy all day. Rasmussen was born in Grønland from a Greenlandic mom and a Danish dad. He started running sledge dogs at a very young age and when he got older, established the Thule trading post. He made many expeditions around Grønland and eastern Canada. His most famous expedition was the 5th Thule Expedition across the entire Canadian Arctic all the way to Russia. Actually, he was only in the Russian arctic for 24 hours before he was kicked out. During this expedition, he visited every Inuit group living in the Arctic collecting stories, amulets, songs, and at some point had a filmographer/photographer with him. At the beginning of the expedition, there were biologists and archaeologists also accompanying him in the eastern Arctic doing things such as digs at ancient Inuit sites.

His house of course faces Northwest towards Grønland.

Rasmussen is considered a national hero of sorts. He accomplished a lot during his short lifetime.

A bed with a musk ox fur blanket on it. It was rather rough fur.

Death portrait of Rasmussen along with his trusty Winchester.

It finally stopped raining when we were getting ready to leave but then we were able to walk up to the lighthouse and take super wind blown photos out into the ocean.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Maria, that is her name. She came to Norway and Denmark around 1747 or a little before with a missionary Mr. Sylo. She was painted by Mathias Blumenthal a few years after her death and then again 5 years later. She died on her way back to Greenland in Bergren, Norway, which was part of Denmark at the time.

One painting is hanging in the National Museum in Københagen and the other is owned by an unknown Swedish man. Nivisarsiaq means 'young girl' in Greenlandic.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Itivdlersuak- the long crossing

The Nordic Art Fair 2008 at the Forum, Saturday Sept 20

Everyday I go to the Institute and it is becoming a second 'home'. I feel very welcomed there and am amazed at the amount of knowledge crushed into such a small building! Bent Nielson, the Director, returned from Greenland on Monday and we had dinner that evening to discuss my research at the Institute. It was a really positive conversation and he is totally onboard with trying to get the archive 'awakened' and utilized in a non-traditional way: To display its value differently than mentioning something from it in a lecture or ph.d thesis. He has his own visions for where he wants to take the Institute and it was great to hear that I can contribute in a small way to that.

So now I am concentrating on 2 projects, and both are in their infancy stage and will be totally different than what I had imagined in the end. The first is a photo+text project about the actual archive and documents-drawings-photographs, etc, within it, mixed with the history of the Institute. The text will be addressing the various things that I choose to highlight but will be not exactly 'museum text panel'. Rather more experimental or creative writing of some sort. Also I want to try to utilize the people involved by short interviews such as Bent, and also Leif, the former director, and Mette, the archivist and whoever else I can drag into my evil plan.

The second project I am still formulating but as of now it will be a photographic series about a Greenlandic girl who finds herself in Copenhagen, lost, and encountering the city. It will combine the past and the present tense. She will go through the stages of an explorer in experiencing the 'sublime'. It is a different sort of 'sublime' that the polar explorers experienced in the Arctic but similar in its stages of struggle, fear, and overcoming obstacles. We'll see! I am still writing up the pre-story for it and reading various texts to try to find my girl character and if she already exists in the archive somewhere, which would be fantastic! In 1724, Hans Egede, a Danish-Norwegian missionary in Greenland brought two Greenlanders, Poq and Qiperoq, to Copenhagen. They performed in their kayaks for crowds in the canals and were given very nice contemporary haircuts. The Institute has 2 portraits of them and there is also one hanging in the National Museum in Copenhagen. But I have not found any women, yet.

I also have been learning about Greenlandic place names and their English and Danish translations. I will be using these, too, to inspire and influence the various photographs I take around Copenhagen. Names such as 'Akalua' = that which is between 2 things, or 'Alativik'= where there is disturbance in the water, or 'Perserautoq' = one that continually drifts, or 'Malartarfik'= where the head is generally bent back. I am really excited over the list I have gathered. They are really beautiful phrases that are really rich in meaning. They have a lot of potential for transforming an image and vice versa.

This is my street- Hollænderdybet in Amager. It is actually way nicer in real life than what this photo presents...

The main street-Amagerbrogade that my street is connected to. You can follow it straight into center city København though it changes names 3 or 4 times.

Today I visited a friend who I met through my roommate, Pia, last week at our scary-movie-monday party. Julia works in the public affairs department in the U.S. embassy. She gave me a small tour of the drab grey building. We ate in their cantina which is totally a restaurant with a professional chef and wine.... She also took me down into their American grocery store! It was completely absurd! They had really bad t.v. dinners and things like toilet paper and paper towels! All things that you can find in Danish grocery stores! But they did have duncan hines cake mix and Jiffy brand peanut butter which you can't get here. (I brought my own HUGE jar of my favorite peanut butter with me, it is sad.) And I guess I should also point out the Dr. pepper. It is mainly for the husbands or wives of the Americans who work there who miss these items, or, perhaps are nervous (?) to venture out in the a ssscccarrrryyy Danish grocery store... I don't know. They didn't have Lucky Charms, though, and even center-city Accra, Ghana, at the nice grocery store they sold them when I lived there is 2003! Well, sold them for the equivalent of 15 bucks!

As I mentioned in a previous entry, the Nordatlantens Bryggen has an anniversary exhibition about the Danmark-Ekspeditionen 1906-1908. Leif, the former Arctic Institute's director, and I walked over there last week to see it. It was the expedition that surveyed the final stretch of Grønland- the northeast section- and where 3 men died. I just finished reading the book written by Ejnar Mikkelson, the man who went back up to northeast Greenland to find the bodies and diaries of the missing 3 men. He and his partner ended up wintering over 2 years in a row and barely made it out alive themselves! It was a great book! Like any polar narrative, it is filled with near survivals, dying dogs, hunger and fatigue, and weather reports.

During this expedition, they did all kinds of scientific studies and collected many specimens.

The Danish artist Achton Friis was also along and did many wonderful landscape paintings, drawings, portraits of each of the men, and watercolors. This photograph is part of the Arctic Institute's photographic collection. They also have the actual painting of the ship that he is making!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

plants and paintings

On Thursday I got a full tour of the building that the Institute is housed in. Mette, who was back from a conference, showed me around and told me more stories and historical facts than I could write down! We went up into the archives and she spent some time showing me a few little drawings and watercolors done by a few people.

After, I joined Leif (pro. Life), the old director of the Institute who holds an honorary seat of course, at the Noratlantens Brygge, the building next to us that houses the Icelandic embassy, and representatives of Faoa Islands and Grønland. They have a show up commemorating the 100 years since the Danmark Ekspeditionen closed the gap in Northeast Grønland in 1906-08 and finished the circumference of Grønland. Three men died on this expedition. I will post some photos later of the show.

We also went on board a schooner that just got back from retracing the Expeditions route! It showed up on Wednesday barked outside the Institute and we got a small tour of the berths, a shot of Cuban rum, and talked for a while with the Captain. Leif had just met him and they are planning to do some event to show the public the ship before is leaves on the 26th.

Friday I joined Leif and his wife on a drive up to the coast to go to the retrospective of a famous Danish artist named Pers Kirkeby at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. It was a very windy day and so the waves were all crashing up along the coastline. The Louisiana Museum is a fabulous museum that was once an old villa that they then added onto.

It had rotating shows plus a great permanent collection.

No photos were allowed at the Kirkeby section of the museum but he did huge paintings, sculpture, drawing, and these interesting brick architectural structures around Europe. I think I liked those the best. Some of his later paintings were intriguing, too. He was trained as a geologist and his work is influenced by this.

We then walked around the rest of the building.

Yesterday I biked around Copenhagen and it again was a very windy day. Only about 60 degrees but the sun was out so it did not feel as cold. My first stop was past the National Museum to see the 5th Thule collection again. Last summer I visited it but I wanted to see if they had changed around the collection. This was the expedition that Knud Rasmussen and 2 other greenlandic Esquimos made across the Canadian Arctic all the way to Siberia. He was trying to establish a theory of how the Inuit basically got to Grønland and their history. The collection is gigantic and amazing full of amulets, kayaks, furs, blubber lamps, needles, goggles, harpoons..and on and on. The museum is free and is focused on peoples around the world and through time.

I then biked over towards the ponds and into Norrebro and then met Pia, my roommate, at her university to get coffee.

She is in the anthropology department which is housed in the university building for Health and something, I can not remember. There are university buildings all over the city, each focusing on a different area of study. Last year, Pia spent a year in San Francisco doing her research on healing hands practices, the non-religious healing of the hands, more based in alternative medicine. That is what she is writing her dissertation on.

After parting ways, I wandered through the botanical garden which is right across the street from her. Lucky!

Shrub Monster!