Winter Break is the Greatest
End of semester 1 and time to sort through the hurricane of the last few months. The holidays were restful and full of baking and eating, and now that it's the new year I have time to reflect and hopefully get some things made by the beginning of Semester 2. Though I've been largely absent from my studio the last few weeks, I haven't stopped researching...turns out my obsession with documentaries and cooking are finding their way into my work. I guess everything is connected.
To start, my brother gave me the mother of all cook books for Christmas this year:
Magnus Nilsson, the author and photographer, is crazy-inspiring. He and his world-famous restaurant Fäviken are featured in the last episode of Chef's Table, and I HIGHLY recommend checking it out. He uses ancient cooking techniques, collecting ingredients from the extremely limited flora and fauna of Northern Sweden. Plus his restaurant dining room looks like a VIKING HUNTING LODGE and who doesn't love that (I love that). I think I'm most inspired by the limiting factors that he embraces with his work: nothing grows in Northern Sweden for about 6 months out of the year, and yet he uses only local ingredients. The Nordic Cookbook is a manual of home-cooking recipes that show that kind of limitation on a massive scale. I had no idea my ancestors ate 8-10 meals a day in the summer and only 3-4 in the winter. The climate had an enormous impact on everyone's lives before electricity and modern architecture. This connection to nature is something I'm interested in exploring, especially in light of climate change.
And speaking of climate change, I read this incredible graphic novel:
It's gut-wrenching and incredibly scary, and it was written in 2010. Philippe Squarzoni interviews climate scientists and then illustrates their statistics, but shows his own emotions along the way. He has a knack for evoking the blankness we feel when faced with these issues. He talks about the steps he tries to take personally, such as choosing not to fly because of the emissions caused by airplanes. In the end, he sort of leaves things in a hopeful place, but mainly he seems resigned to our fate as if it's already too late.
I've also begun reading the Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. I've only made it through the first chapter or so, all about disappearing frogs, and I've almost had enough. It's a beautiful book and I'll finish it, but I'm starting to feel a wave of rage in my gut. I watched the Ai Weiwei documentary Never Sorry, and I admire his ability to face the horrific problems in our world. His piece about the school that collapsed in China due to shoddy construction, a wall of 9,000 backpacks that spell out "For seven years she lived happily on this earth," just destroyed me. From there I went on to watch The Propaganda Game, a rare documentary about North Korea, and then a Vice TV episode about Russia/US relations, speculating a second Cold War. It's been a somewhat dark time, I have to say! And to top it off, I watched the amazing Kurt Cobain documentary Montage of Heck, just fully embracing the anger I feel about the world and feeling thankful that Kurt got his out into some incredible songs before ending his life.
So, how to move forward? Shit is real fucked up in this world, and I feel a responsibility as an artist to wade out into the swamp of sadness and show people what I find. The light that guides me, the tiny bit of beauty that helps me get through this, is the thought of humanity surviving in the harshest of places. The land of my ancestors, Sweden, as much as I've romanticized it over the years as a utopian paradise, is the harsh place in my blood. Magnus Nilsson's cookbook helped me remember that over the holidays as I brewed Glögg and made WAY TOO MUCH pepparkakor. I traveled to Sweden for the month of December 5 years ago, a month when most people would avoid it, and found the desolate snowy landscape to be profoundly healing. My life was upside-down at the time, and as I trudged through the snow from Lund to Stockholm to Uppsala to Gothenberg and back to Lund, riding the ice-encrusted trains and almost getting frostbite on the bottoms of my feet, I felt like I could handle pretty much anything.
Climate change, Cold Wars, Propaganda, and a tenuous connection to past ways of life. I have no idea where this is all going, but the only way to find out is to make.
Happy New Year!