Dark Icelandic Literature

Dark Icelandic Literature

One of the ways for me to retain the feeling of Iceland is to read about it. However, of late, these have been dark books.
Arnaldur Indridason is the well-known writer of detective fiction. In “The Draining Lake” what is revealed when the water goes down is a complex back story of the Cold War and Icelanders abroad in East Germany. Protagonist Inspector Erlendur’s investigation reveals the truth–although his character is often revealed as a troubled one–repressed and depressed, and haunted by its own losses.
“Last Rituals” is essentially suspense lite. Author Yrsa Sigurdardottir brews up a stew of witchcraft and dysfunctional family, but not much about the book seems particularly Icelandic–except maybe the bad driving.
Olafur Gunnarsson’s “Troll’s Cathedral” is long and sprawling–and indeed very dark. It hinges on the rape of a child, but equally compelling is a plot that revolves around ambition, debt, betrayal, and in the fashion of the Scandinavian playwrights, architecture. At first I thought this was a masterpiece, then it seemed too slow and laborious, but after it was done I found myself haunted.
I really should just buckle down and get well into “Independent People” by Nobel prize winner Halldor Laxness. Yes, it is about sheep, but so is Iceland.

On a lighter note, some luminous work by artist Kristveig Halldórsdóttir of Gullkistan Residency.

3 Questions for Alisa Dworsky

1. What is you personal/aesthetic relationship to the line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.
 The line is at the basis of all of my work: architecture,  printmaking, installation and of course drawings. In architecture when we first conceive of a solid building we explore it’s potential with sketches. As the building design develops  we explain our specific  ideas for this  solid three dimensional structure through  a set of construction documents;  a  series of drawings, slices,  differing views, all constructed of lines.  In construction we start again with the line as we lay out the footprint of the building’s foundation, stretching nylon cord between wooden stakes. I think of a building as the slow accretion and layering of lines , so dense and full of information that eventually a solid form takes shape.

 So, I see lines everywhere even within seemingly solid forms. My drawings describe volumes but the character and insistence of the line is always paramount. The crocheted installations, some dense, some netted and open, follow from these drawings. What I love about crochet is that my material is a line, a length of rope, which I shape and knot and transform into something three dimensional. I feel like I’m drawing even though I’m working in three dimensions. The most recent crocheted work uses a fillet crochet technique associated with the making of lace. I can make open cells of different sizes, a complex netted structure in which the character of the negative space between the crocheted lines is as important as the lines themselves. Also of interest to me in these works is how a load, in essence the weight of the work, is transferred through these lines as the work hangs suspended in a space or from a building. This weight and the counteracting forces put the line into a state of what architects and engineers call “tension”, and in tension a strong material with a very small cross section can support a great deal of weight. In other words using a line is a far more efficient way of supporting a structure than piling material on material to build a compressive wall or column. So I love how efficient a line is both literally and figuratively.

 I have developed a new set of prints titled “Fine Cord”. Here I use a literal line, a length of fine nylon, to make the mark in the prints. The texture and character of this cord is transferred to the metal plates  with a soft ground technique.  I enjoy the layering of perception required when viewing these prints; one sees an abstract graphic line and a literal , represented line,  simultaneously. By layering multiple plates, multiple registrations, a mass of color and texture is built up into an image that some have likened to plant forms.

 The other thing about line is that it embodies movement. When we draw a line, we draw in a direction, our body moves and the line is a record of this movement. I think living in a rural area, I’m particularly attuned to the movement in the landscape:  the wind blowing the bare November branches, the snow swirling in funnel forms in a storm, the braided shifting surface of water. The very basic understanding revealed to us through quantum physics is that in all matter there is movement.

 2. Do you find a relationship between sculpture/installation/drawing and the human body? Or between your art and your body?

 About 13 years ago I spent a few weeks at an artist’s recidency in Vermont where I had access every day to  a figure drawing session with a model. So I started drawing the figure again after what had been a long hiatus. I drew the figure in a way that  was new for me; instead of drawings the outlines I saw, I modeled the figure as  one might model a landscape in a topographical map or a computer drawing. I defined the figure through a series a wrapped contour lines . This experience blurred the distinction for me between landscape and figure and these figure drawings directly influenced my current abstract forms.

 3. Is there anything you dislike about being an artist?

 What I find most difficult and most liberating is that as an artist I must define for myself what I consider success in my work. I’ve experienced many an ah ha moment, moments of clarity, when I know that I have had a breakthrough, an idea for new work or the satisfaction that a completed work has attained all that I might have hoped for it. Those are very pleasurable moments. But there are many other moments when it is easy to doubt ones endeavors, to question the ultimate importance or reason for doing what I do. I wish I could be spared that doubt but stubbornly and with a bit of mischief I continue because I love to define a problem for myself, to follow a path of discovery that is completely non-utilitarian, not a building, not useful in any particular way except that it might affect how people see the world. The freedom that comes from being an artist is very hard to live with but is also indispensable.

For more information on Alisa Dworsky:


Her piece entitled Points of View:

City of pickpockets and the dead

City of pickpockets
And the dead…

The Hondoran cabdriver
Points to the full moon
(solstice, eclipse)
Says: it is my favorite
How do you say it
In English?
My favorite…astro…

A sign in the bar:
And at the voodoo shop
(feathered boas, pole dancers, palm readers)

And for some unknown reason
Every other block
A reflexology parlor
(Chinese? Vietnamese?)
As if the foot
Were a map
Of the city
And the city
A map
Of the world.

City of pickpockets
And the dead…

No oysters in the little hotel
With its fountain
Of boys riding dolphins.
Necropolis of vaults
Ominous oven-shaped graves
Above ground so the dead don’T float
In a city where the living
Floated–a dog, a child, an old woman
In a wheelchair,
Where X, the universal sign for rescue
Is X’d on the voodoo graves
In groups of three
And I, who am accustomed
To light candles
Won’t leave a copper penny here.

Across the destroyed ward
It is Al Baba still
Where the robber king
Marks the door
Of his intended victims
With a chalk X;
Next morning every door
Is marked.

The silver mime
Turns on the corner
Yells at a tourist
Who fails to tip
“How’m I gonna buy
Dog food…”
A girl belts out
“There’s gonna be a heartbreak tonight”
Which for years I thought
Were lyrics saying
“There’s gonna be a party…”

And the beautiful ass
Of the stripper
Simmers in an argentine G-string
Girdled like hoochie-coochie
Who rises
From this
Muddy water.

Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights

When we were kids, my mother used to like to drive us around in the evening looking at X-mas light displays. It seemed an innocent way for a Jewish person to appreciate something about the holiday, particularly in Italian neighborhoods in New Jersey.
I’ve retained my love of X-mas lights, and Rich has truly indulged it. We’ve seen Christmas on the Pecos twice–a boat out of Carlsbad, New Mexico to view individual houses decked out in competitive glory, and been twice to the Zoolights in Phoenix, which is glorious and where I’ve enjoyed the sense an escaped tiger might be lurking around a corner. The Winterhaven neighborhood in Tucson is psychadelic and extensive (but can’t help wondering, do they evict you if you don’t decorate?). The Albuquerque botanical gardens is sweetly lit up in season.
But here in Alabama on the Gulf Coast trip I think I’ve just seen the greatest of all– Bellingrath Gardens. We started at dusk to see the gardens themselves, with camellias and roses still blooming, lots of pansies in urns, beautiful trees, fountains, pools, and funny decorative beds of parsley and cabbages. X-mas lights everywhere–acres and acres–3 million lights creating everything from intimate holly berries on holly bushes to enormous lake displays of flamingos, golden fountain, and swans floating on their own reflections. Not to mention a huge Chinese dragon, red lanterns, a pagoda, fireworks in lights, golden carp, lily pads…southern flowers, a creche, unicorns and rainbow, beavers, a train…we’d entered a world of glittering images where magical creatures co-exist.
At home, our across the street neighbors lovingly put up a dazzling display on their roof each Christmas. Reindeer nod and the whole house glitters. this trip is coming to an end–I look forward to seeing the lights of home for a few days more before they come down.

Beach Houses

Lots of houses up on stilts–big houses on massive ones. Some look odd–Italianate villas boosted up in the air like trucks on hydraulics. It must be practical, but I don’t understand it completely–as a big storm might wash away your car parked below…
There are a few of these fun UFO houses in Pensacola Beach.

These small, fiberglass houses were made by a Finnish company called Oy Polykem ab in the early ’70s. It was called the “Futuro II” and had a single bedroom, bathroom, U-shaped kitchen area, separate dining area, a curved 23-ft. couch and a central fireplace that doubled as a grill.
Essentially futuristic prefabs!
A lovely house on the beach–like a huge scoured shell:

As is often the case when I love a place I fantasize about buying a house…but here I’d worry all the time that it would be swept away…

Black Tideline

Pensecola Beach on the island of Santa Rosa–National Seashore–Fort Pickens. Ruins of a 19th century fort–brick, ruined curves, like a Piranese sketch of something classical….oddly beautiful in the way of ruined things with a neoclassical shape…built by slaves. Huge cannon–thinking how frightening these must have looked in the eras before bombs. And a shock–the haunted faces of captured Apaches on a Park Service flyer–Geronimo was imprisoned here so far from home. More recent fortifications–1st and 2nd World Wars.
The beach is long and flat and perfect and exquisitely white–pure white sand beach. The oil spill is covered by sand. We did dig down six inches–the amount we were told at the visitor’s center–but found no oil. The tideline, though, was black in places…a black lace of petroleum on the white white sand. It was in rice grains, not clumps–whether natural or chemical decomposition I cannot tell.
There has been a great deal of clean-up here. But tourism is certainly down–we were the only people on the beach although traffic picked up towards lunch. I soaked in a hot tub and swam in the heated pool and picked up shells and saw the dark distinctive humped shapes of pelicans cross the sky and the orange ball of the sun drop.
The volunteer at the visitor’s center claimed to not be eating fish due to the oil spill. I am eating fish, but then again, I am a brief tourist.

What I Have Eaten

What I Have Eaten (or tasted) on this trip so far:
4 kinds of gumbo
2 kinds of oysters Rockefeller
oyster cocktail (a heap of raw oysters on lettuce)
fried oyster
shrimp stuffed with crab
shrimp remoulade (mayo/mustard sauce)
fried catfish
fried calamari
red beans and rice
a dish of pasta with parmesan, shrimp, onions, green peppers and medallions of fried eggplant (this was one of the best dishes so far–eaten in a roadside place in Mississippi, with perhaps the weirdest table service I have ever experienced. Weirdness included the order in which things were served: appetizer and main dish together, condiments for appetizer at end of meal, then a dinner salad at absolute end of meal. Another dinner salad, asked for to go as it was so late, just never appeared. Also, multiple waiters, not all of whom were completely sober. An extremely long wait for the check. Neighboring patrons who left after never being served.)
oyster and artichoke soup
roast beef po’ boy (actually very good version of hot roast beef sandwich)
blueberry cupcake with inches of blue frosting
key lime pie
pecan pie
New Orleans dark beer

New Orleans to Pensacola Beach

I like a party town in the morning, sidewalks cool and just hosed down. Left New Orleans–its golden statue of Jeanne D’Arc, its silver mimes, its architecture of the dead at St. Louis Cemetery (with groups of 3Xs marked all over the voodoo graves), with its Cathedral full of jazz (heard Irwin Mayfield) where I lit fat candles for everyone’s troubles–and drove east.
Three states and their welcome centers: Mississippi with X-mas trees and a fireplace, Alabama with live oaks, Florida with citrus juice and an electric shiatsu chair–$1 for 3 minutes.
I do love oddities–things that don’t belong together, or that do, but only metaphorically. The Rocket Propulsion Center was near the Mississippi welcome center–so the parking lot boasted the trainer of the lunar landing module used by the Apollo missions. And there was a huge model of a rocket made out of Lego.
Saw an ominously tall high water mark by the exit #13 off of highway 10 in Mississippi. Long–miles and miles–of totally empty pure white sand beaches curving around Biloxi. No sign of oil spill. Casinos. Florida and its magical causeways with the fat orange ball of the sun sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. More white sand, palm trees, cold evening, a few strands of X-mas lights, take-out gumbo.
The odd geography one inherits from one’s family–or I did. Florida–a real place but bad (hot, sad old relatives). New Orleans–heard of it, barely on the map. Mississippi, Alabama…not actual places or just mythic places of civil rights struggle but no physical beauty. How a lot of this map is filled in, how it is a palimpset, layers of meaning and imagery.
I do know that in the last thirteen or more years of traveling with Rich I’ve come to love a beach town with palm trees at winter solstice.