“Our Patient Day’s Allotted Span” show at NEPO House as part of the Little Treats Series. December 2012
Part of The Solstenen Project: project blog
Conflating the private and public — traveling to places unknown, but working as a unit — the Mandy Greer-Paul Margolis clan of multi-generational artists set out to engage with the natural environment of Iceland in an intimate and hermetic approach. Through fiber and film, play-acting, intuitive performance, obsessive accumulation of found natural and man-made artifacts, many of the artistic results explore and tear open the archetypes that each family member inhabits.
Through play and repetition, the roles each member played became refracted, as each sometimes embraced, sometimes rejected what seemed inexorably inevitable. The family culture became medium, and that microcosm was expressed in the macrocosm of the geologic, a move that transcends the heartbreak of the day-to-day.
In this way, the emotional force of the child became the slow but constant pressure of a glacier, both a monumentally creative and destructive force. The maternal instinct both emerges and retreats from isolation, like squeezing water from a stone and oppositionally, an endless gorgeous torrent of a glacial swollen river. The distant but shelter-building father figure moves earth and fire in an autonomic process of both steadfast strength and hapless misadventure.
Greer writes, “By locating our bodies at the center of this work about familial bonds, we are attempting to confront, repair and heal rifts in our lives that have both made our artistic life together possible and also strained it to near-breaking. In breathtaking geographic isolation, an honesty emerges about the possibilities and failures of blending our roles as artists, parents and partners.
This presentation of photographs, installation sculpture, video, and performance artifacts is but one outcome of Mandy Greer’s ‘Solstenen Project’, a series of residencies over the course of a year exploring themes of weight and physical burden as external symbols of internal self-transformation — identity metamorphosing into the environmental — including 5 weeks in Iceland in the fall of 2012.
‘Solstenen Project’ residencies were sponsored in part by grants from 4 Culture, Artist Trust and the Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs.
Little Treats is about finding new options for sharing and experiencing art, more approachable, less hierarchal, as “a series of exhibitions, performances and screenings at NEPO House. Our goal is to provide a platform for local artists to show new work and an opportunity for the audience to experience artwork in an intimate setting of a home. Ultimately Little Treats is about hospitality, our encounters with art and with each other. In order to avoid moving too much furniture the shows take place only and entirely in our entry room.”
As I was conceiving this project in early 2011, trying to coax something concise from the jumble of ideas, I was reading my son my favorite book from my childhood, The Fairy Caravan by Beatrix Potter. This one scene struck me in the gullet, a powerful monolog spoken by a Herdwick ewe named Belle Lingcropper, about the strength and tenacity of the sheep, as well as the transitory nature of our time here. She says
” What though the hailstorms sweep the fell in winter–through tempest, frost, or heat–we live our patient day’s allotted span.”
Both the wisp of legacy and transience, from the mouth of sheep (but of course Miss Potter really). For awhile I have been fixated and inspired how Beatrix Potter managed to craft a life for herself as a woman writer of her time, as well a attain a certain independence and ultimately to use her own earned money to become a major conservationist of land, of a way of life, and the Herdwick sheep breed. She used her patient day’s allotted span well, and I aim to do the same, somehow.
Anyhow, aside from my admiration for her ability to make a living as an artist, jumping over hurdles, I’m sure, I have never had to deal with — her ewe’s speech seemed to draw me to a place in my mind, not Britian, but to a fantasy of Iceland where things would play out, questions would be met with answers on the wind and stone, if only for a brief time.
But that brief time was wedged in the legacy of the maker, the creator, the individual who has crafted their life’s work from the the air, the land, the water and all that comes with it. My collaborators –my son, my husband — we went on that part of our journey together, a different but interrelated meaning for all of us. Something lasting for all of us, but the geologic text written on the small island of Iceland loomed in my mind as a different time table than our own brief human span.
And Potter’s imagining of the mind of her dear Herdwicks seemed to speak of a pride of one’s place in a long span of time, not just what we experience.
Here’s the entirety of little Belle the ewe’s speech. I was startled by the tenderness I felt for the Icelandic sheep we would encounter, their soft eyes and the intense soft warmness they seemed to radiate in the harsh rocky landscape. I always imagined them saying this…
"Cool is the air above the craggy summit. Clear is the water of the mountain keld. Green grows the grass in droughty days beneath the brackens! What though the hailstorms sweep the fell in winter–through tempest, frost, or heat–we live our patient day’s allotted span.
Wild and free as when the stone-men told our puzzled early numbers; untamed as when the Norsemen named our grassings in their stride. Our little feet had ridged the slopes before the passing Romans. On through the fleeting centuries, when fresh blood came from Iceland, Spain, or Scotland–stubborn, unchanged, UNBEATEN–we have held the stony waste."