Friday, September 04, 2020

a modern take on the church fresco

there's a little church on the island of fyn that has stirred up big controversy. a local businessman commissioned a contemporary danish artist named jim lyngvild to do a modern take on the church fresco. lyngvild is a costume designer and photographer and designs elaborate costumes and then does traditional, very painterly setups with real people that he photographs in hyperreal HD. they look like they'll step out of the frame and when you look, you can almost hear them.


lysets engel (angel of light) - based upon john 1:1-5

"in the beginning was the word, and the word was with god, and the word was god. the same was in the beginning with god. all things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. in him was life; and the life was the light of men. and the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."

i might also mention that lyngvild lives not far from this church in a viking-style longhouse and practices the viking religion known as asa. you can definitely see the influence of that in these modern frescos. i want to call them paintings, because they are extremely painterly, but they are photographs. he is not a fan of photoshop, so all of the details are meticulously set up and staged and not just photoshopped in afterwards. i have no idea where he got the lions, but they look a bit like they might be in a museum of natural history somewhere. he's the kind of guy with connections to get him access to staging a photoshoot such a place.




grebet i ægteskabsbrud (the grip of adultery) - based on john 8:1-11

"they say unto him, master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?...woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? she said, no man, lord. and jesus said unto her, neither do i condemn thee: go, and sin no more."

my photos are just snapshots taken with my phone, but i think i found this particular of the photos to be the most powerful one. the woman holding an iPhone and filming is such a statement on modern stoning - or condemnation, or canceling, as it's come to be called. i also love the ambiguous and not-so-ambiguous genders in this photo. it's both an echo to the traditional fresco (which were also quite graphic in their way at times) and a very sharp look at today. that the woman jesus forgives is a lesbian makes it even better. the tattoos, the naked bodies, the clear viking influence make it even more powerful and thought-provoking. i stood in front of it a long time and even went back again for a second look.

opstandelsen (resurrection)- from john 20:1-18 

"...and they say unto her, woman, why weepest thou? she saith unto them, because they have taken away my lord, and i know not where they have laid him. ... jesus saith unto her, mary. she turned herself, and saith unto him, rabboni; which is to say, master."

more animals from that natural history museum. and i'd love to see the wings in person - lyngvild must have made them, as he designed and sewed all the costumes. for me, the animals signify an exoticism - they're not ordinary farm animals, but wild animals found in africa. 


nedtagelsen fra korset (removal from the cross) - from mark 15:37-40

"and Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. and the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. and when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, truly this man was the son of god. there were also women looking on afar off: among whom was mary magdalene, and mary the mother of james the less and of joses, and salome."

one of the giant works contains the chairman of the local church counsel and we think it's this one, though we couldn't really find confirmation of that. we think it's the younger man on the right side of jesus. and it's kind of ironic, because this summer, the church counsel voted not to put the works back up after their upcoming renovation. apparently some of the older members of the congregation and the church counsel were a bit offended by the nudity and the rawness and were provoked by the works. but perhaps it's not that surprising, as church counsels are not often known for being modern and forward-thinking. it's a shame, because the frescoes were attracting 1000+ visitors per week to the church in what's otherwise a forgotten corner of denmark and a sleepy little town.


moses & loven (moses and the commandments) - from exodus 20:4-5

"thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for i the lord thy god am a jealous god, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me..."

this was the only one based on the old testament. i especially love the golden bull's head. in denmark, it's a clear symbol of a butcher shop and they must have borrowed it from one for the photo. it also made me think of the logo of a steak restaurant that's in tivoli. there was something playful about that - it felt like an inside joke. it also felt a bit like some of the commandments might be about to be violated within the picture - bare breasts, heaped fruit, extravagant gold fabrics and furs. it's the 7 deadly sins waiting to happen. 

bebudelse af jesu fødsel (tidings of jesus' birth)- from luke 1:26-38 

"and the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with god. and, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name jesus."

the richness of the dress in this photo exuded luxury. that's not how i had thought of mary before. it also seems medieval, rather than biblical. i like that twist. i found myself thinking about the location where it was photographed - trying to remember which danish castle might have had such a room. i couldn't help but think of kronborg castle in helsingør - it's the hamlet castle, but i suppose that any castle from the area has such bricks and arches. what that has to do with the virgin birth, i don't know, but maybe it's not really about that anyway.


jesus on the cross

and the last photo, a striking jesus on the cross. he set it up on a beach in south fyn. awaiting the wind being just right. though how he got that dove to sit there like that, i have no idea. it does make me think that his supposed loathing of photoshop is more myth than truth. i find this one especially painterly. and i find it also to be the one that most pays homage to the tradition of christ on the cross and the bloodiness of it all. 


this painting is clearly not one of jim lyngvild's, but i thought it was amusing to include it, because it's such an old-fashioned contrast to the others on the walls and it made me think of the small-minded, conservative church counsel that voted not to keep his amazing works. don't they look a dour group?

Saturday, June 20, 2020

first steps towards danish citizenship


when the spray-tanned one became president, i vowed that i'd seek danish citizenship. as he sank lower and lower, i wondered what i was waiting for. i'm not sure what made me finally do it, but last autumn, i signed up (and paid some hefty fees) to take the danish citizenship test and the danish language test that i need to pass for citizenship. back when i got my permanent residence, you got it after 3 years and there were no tests involved. but times have changed. and that's fair. if you want to be a citizen, you should speak the language. and you should know the history and culture of the country. and it's perfectly understandable that you should have to prove it.

i took the citizenship test a couple of weeks ago and have officially passed it. this week, i took the written danish test and on monday, i'll do the oral exam. i'm reasonably certain that i did well on the written part and i'm ready for the exam on monday. i have to prepare a whopping 1 minute monologue and also answer some questions from the examiners. i can do both.

but these tests are only the beginning. after i have the results, i'll have to file my formal application and then wait for maybe two years while my case is handled and my eventual second citizenship is written into danish law. because that's how they do it - it becomes a law.

and in these times, i've been thinking a lot about what a privilege it is, to have a citizenship that affords me a sought-after passport and voting rights, which i exercise to this day. and to be in a situation where i can seek a second citizenship in a country that's also a desirable citizenship - where there's a safety net and national health care and free education and where being a citizen gives you the ability to easily work anywhere in the european union. and when so many people are persecuted and stateless and have so many fewer privileges than i do, it somehow feels like a luxury that's unfair. and it surely has to do with the color of my skin. an unaccountable privilege, one i didn't ask for. but, if i'm honest, one i wouldn't trade away easily either. and so i'm jumping through the hoops, taking the tests, and doing my best to fulfill the requirements to acquire a second passport. and most importantly, voting rights where i live. right now, i have taxation without representation, and feeling not so good about that, after all, is a product of the citizenship i hold now - and will continue to hold, as denmark no longer makes you give it up.

but thoughts about fairness and privilege are on my mind as i go through this process. and i honestly don't know what i think, or where i stand, or what to do about it - to make it easier for others who might not have the privileges i do. i feel these are turbulent times, but also i see so many signs of hope. i honestly don't know what i can do to help, other than do my best to read and understand and learn and try to do better. i think voting is an important part of that, and i think our individual votes count. and i guess that's why i'm seeking danish citizenship.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

finding surprises in your own neighborhood


a most amazing experience today. one which proves that you can still discover something which will inspire you and make you think, within 20 minutes of your home, after a decade of living here. christina saw a program on DR this week, with gardener søren rye, who visited a place called skovsnogen, out near kibæk, where a guy has put up all sorts of art in the forest around his home over some years and it's open to the public to wander through, for only the price of a free-will offering. there is a huge variety of art, from things that look like maybe stalin ordered them, to the namesake skovsnogen, which is a winding wooden snake that's painted bright yellow and which you can crawl around inside, to a brick wall that spells out HATE and which was built in 2011, before trump made a wall of hate his trademark. it was so powerful to come upon this in the forest, to able to climb on it and walk through it.


another powerful work was what i would call the ildsjæl - a golden woman's head, where her hair was sticking upright, like a flame, atop a stylized fire pyramid. She had a peaceful, beatific look on her face, her eyes closed, not the least disturbed by her position the pyre. there was a bench where you could sit and look at her. The more you looked, the more you were affected by her peacefulness with her situation. There was something of the buddha over her, with that zen attitude over what was arguably her plight. but perhaps there was a message in it that it wasn't a plight at all, but freedom and a relief. some small boys came and exclaimed to their parents, "look, mom, it's a fire person - ildmenneske." that's exactly what she was. as we walked away to leave the experience to them, i remarked the she was an ildsjæl, and gave myself goosebumps.


i had moments where i wished we had the place to ourselves. there were many cars there, thanks to an appearance this week on DR, but once you were out, walking the trails, there was decent space between people. though at times, i wished we had more time there for ourselves. and i definitely wished that some of the whining kids that were there weren't there, which made me feel a little old and crabby. but, it was because it was such a striking, intense experience, and i wanted to savor it and that was difficult when there were people crowding up from behind.


there was a huge gong out the trees in one spot. we were recording it, and experiencing the reverberations, and a family came up behind us, chattering away. we definitely wished we'd had it to ourselves.


there were two uncanny figures which were in the vein of our exhibition last year. they were so striking the forest, and only slightly spoiled by an older couple with politiken glasses on, saying, "er det her virkelig kunst," (probably in more correct grammar than that) in a very snotty way. we felt a bit sorry for them with their snobbish view of the world, unable to give themselves over to the experience, needing to hold on to judgements in the face of a world that's changing and where those judgements may be falling away and the world becoming something else.


it will be interesting to see what kind of art arises out there, after corona. maybe christina and i should try to make some, as a reaction to this experience we are in. what would it look like? it would surely be uncanny in some sense. and surprising and unexpected. and it might be frightening and anxiety-causing, but it might also be a relief and somehow freeing.


it's so hard to know the affect this whole experience is going to have, when we are right in the middle of it. but to figure it out through art and in harmony with another artist or artists, and the landscape, could be the very best way to process it - in words and paint and things which hang from the trees.


one thing that was so interesting was that there weren't any artist names or names of the works anywhere visible in the forest, you had to just experience the works for yourself, figuring out what they said to you and only you, through your direct experience of them and the feelings that they gave to you, or the echoes they sounded of your lived experience - like a little hut up on stilts that made me think of Baba Yaga and which made Christina think about whether the hut or the nature around it came first. a thought-provoking experience for both of us, but a very different experience for each of us as well.


it also seemed like a place where you'd want to go on an artist's retreat. to sit in the brutalist shelter, light a fire and settle down to some writing. or to wander among the trees, capturing the sounds of the birds and wind and the leaves. or whether you'd want to record yourself reciting a poem you'd written, or a favorite poem in the amazing acoustics of the metal ball that's all alone, unexpectedly, in the middle of a field.

it definitely won't be my last visit.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

a magical secret chair


yesterday, i took a walk down around the lake after work. i needed to get outside and get some fresh air, so i donned my rubber boots and headed down there. i walked closer to the lake than usual, thinking that the mama swan was on a nest somewhere along the edge. i wanted to find her and see the nest. the papa swan was out on the lake and didn't flee as usual when he saw me. he actually seemed a bit aggressive, so maybe the nest was on our side of the lake and i was looking in the wrong spot. but, in looking, i happened upon an amazing handmade lounge chair. it was made of sticks and held together by fishing line. it looked like it had been there for a few years, so it wasn't newly constructed. i didn't try sitting in it, i just photographed it. but i might want to go out there and try it out. i wasn't sure it was strong enough to hold me anymore, but i will try it this weekend. i rather want to sit there and look out on the lake. it was quite idyllic and in such a peaceful spot. it felt a bit like happening upon a secret magic haven. if it's nice this weekend, i want to go down and feel the magic.

Monday, May 11, 2020

living well in the time of corona


apparently, the prolific slavoj zizek has already published a book about the pandemic, entitled, appropriately enough, Pandemic! i haven't read it, being currently stuck in an endless mrs. pollifax loop, but the article where i read about it quotes zizek as saying, “we need a catastrophe to be able to rethink the very basic features of the society in which we live” and apparently goes on to inquire into what it means to live well. apparently, this is that catastrophe and perhaps some good will come of it after all, if it really does cause us to use this pause to rethink what it means to live well.

i find so much of what i'm reading and hearing to be so negative and dark. and i have to admit that i haven't really experienced it that way myself. perhaps i've been lucky not to know anyone who has had the dreaded virus. or perhaps i live a place that has handled it well and sensibly and so i don't really know anyone who has lost their job (some are on leave with pay, yes, but they expect to return to work in june and i've had one colleague already called back early because we were so busy). i was nervous at the beginning, since i was just starting a new job then, but things are already picking up for our company and it's been nothing but one big exciting project since the day i started.

perhaps it's because i'm fortunate to live out in the countryside, where i haven't felt trapped inside. when i've had to make a grocery store run, shelves are stocked and people are largely practicing social distancing (it comes easy to the danes). i don't have any sense of panic at the store, so the segment on the washington post's podcast about that last week just sounded artificial and contrived to me.

we've actually spent more time with family both in person and virtually during the pandemic than we have in years. several visits from husband's girls and then his sister and her family, who came to enjoy the wide-open spaces and good food. there were friday night drinks with the family in sweden via zoom that we'd never have done without the pandemic. we facetime regularly with sabs in arizona, so even that hasn't been so bad, though her being so far away has been the biggest source of worry to me in this whole thing.

so what does it mean to live well? i've been very busy with work, so i haven't really felt like the pace of life has slowed down, but in some ways it has. it's been nice not to have to get up early, decide what to wear, rush out the door, drive 45 minutes and then sit in the office all day. i have spent entirely too many hours sitting at my computer, mostly in my pajamas, without makeup, but it has on the whole worked really well. we do have the technology to do our jobs from home.  and it turns out that i also have the necessary discipline. and i think having that mutual trust in your colleagues - that they're working hard and also that they're depending on you to do so too, even though you're not sitting together, that is part of having a good quality of life. and let's face it, our work is a big part of our lives, so when work is good, a good chunk of life is good.

and outside of that, it's been great to be at home, hanging with the cats, being able to take a walk around the garden when i really need a breath of fresh air, to be home to let the chickens out and gather the eggs and water in the greenhouse. i learned a new route to walk around the lake and discovered a beautiful hidden place where there's a bend in the creek i never knew about. i've also taken the back roads when going places, exploring small roads and stopping to take photos as spring has come on, enjoying that i don't necessarily have to hurry up to be somewhere at a particular time.

i've made good food and i've also had some days where i didn't feel like cooking and so i didn't and we ate digestives and brie and had a cup of tea for dinner. this time has helped me let go of expectations and all the musts and have tos. and i've discovered that life can have another pace and there can be room to write 750 words a day, and work a whole lot, and cook, and laugh and snuggle with hollister, and get my hands dirty in the garden, and make 15 liters of rhubarb cordial that future me will thank me for. and get a good night's sleep. and spend less and just BE more. and i have to say that i have a hard time seeing the downside in all that.

* * *

i've got news for you, it's not just the workers at mcdonald's in denmark that pity america these days.

* * *

so nice to get another perspective on this whole thing...
don't shoot the messenger, a podcast from the daily maverick in south africa

* * *

speaking of living well (in a fairy tale?), read this beautiful thing from the paris review.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

eddies in the space-time continuum


i found an old ring in a box today, one that i hadn't been able to find for some years. i even swear i'd looked in that box already, several times, but today, there it was. it's the black hills gold ring with the marquise cut diamond. the ring was my mom's and the diamond a remnant of my first, mistaken engagement. i would occasionally have pangs of sadness that i had lost it, but apparently i only mislaid it. for about a decade or so. i hardly ever wear gold jewelry anymore, but i'm glad i finally found it. the other ring is my mom's engagement and wedding ring. when i found the lost one, i went digging in a more recent jewelry bowl, looking for mom's ring. they kind of fit together, but also don't. but it was in a way that was pleasing to me today. i think it's part of the always surprising grief process. i even put them back on after my shower. i just need to be wearing them right now. for some reason unknown even to myself. they make me feel close to mom in a way that i seem to need right now. which is perhaps why that ring showed up today in that box that i swear i had looked in before. perhaps it was there today because i needed it to be. when things like that happen, i always think of arthur dent, stuck on that planet where he perfected the sandwich made of some strange beasts that periodically ran through, slipping between worlds on some eddy in the space-time continuum. today, an eddy brought the ring back to the box where it belonged. just at the moment i needed it.

* * *

in these days of zoom meetings, what's on people's bookshelves?

* * *

whenever i had a break today, i read some of this old interview with murakami in the paris review. that made me happy. and made me want to write. and maybe even made me want to go for a run. but not so much that i did so.

* * *

there were a bunch of great quotes in the murakami article and i want to save some of them here, capital letters and all:

"When I start to write, I don’t have any plan at all. I just wait for the story to come. I don’t choose what kind of story it is or what’s going to happen. I just wait. " 

”I myself, as I’m writing, don’t know who did it. The readers and I are on the same ground. When I start to write a story, I don’t know the conclusion at all and I don’t know what’s going to happen next. If there is a murder case as the first thing, I don’t know who the killer is. I write the book because I would like to find out. If I know who the killer is, there’s no purpose to writing the story.” 

”When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.” 

”All human beings have a sickness in their minds. That space is a part of them. We have a sane part of our minds and an insane part. We negotiate between those two parts; that is my belief. I can see the insane part of my mind especially well when I’m writing—insane is not the right word. Unordinary, unreal. I have to go back to the real world, of course, and pick up the sane part. But if didn’t have the insane part, the sick part, I wouldn’t be here.” 

“…a sense of humor is a very stable thing. You have to be cool to be humorous. When you’re serious, you could be unstable; that’s the problem with seriousness. But when you’re humorous, you’re stable. But you can’t fight the war smiling.” 

”Experience itself is meaning.” – Murakami (i might have to have that one tattooed.)

kind of appropriate that, since the other phrase i'd like tattooed is from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "reality is frequently inaccurate." said by Ford Prefect, not Arthur Dent. and one more, from Bitov, "unreality is a condition of life." that's it, my next three tattoos.





Sunday, May 03, 2020

because the world needs more cat pictures







just some of the great pictures i've taken of bob and hollister recently with my new iPhone 11 pro. my favorite part of working from home is definitely hanging out all day with these guys. hollister gets in his soft instagram impulse purchase bed under my desk, purrs loudly for some minutes and then goes to sleep. it's so nice to have him nearby to keep me company.