Process – ADA (All Digressions Aside) PT.2
Juli 9 – 10 2015: I have returned to Kirkenes to continue with practical preparations for ADA, a two-fold outdoors installation which will connect Kirkenes to Nikel. During two short term residencies at BARinternational in Kirkenes and Nikel last summer 2014 and this summer 2015, I get to develop ADA for Barents Spectacle 2016, a border crossing festival aiming to encourage cultural collaboration in the Barents region. How the installation will look like exactly, I cannot tell you yet. It suffices to say that through technology, I together with a team (architect Cristian Stefanescu and IT-developer Sindre Sørensen), are aiming to exchange two core elements of Kirkenes and Nikel (two geographically near but social/politically distinct places): namely landscapes and experiences (through stories, a book of local herbs, home made pickled cucumbers). The stay this time will be dominated by collecting stories on both sides, reconnecting to the people I met last summer and continuing some of the conversations we’d started. Also we need to scout for suitable locations and check out available materials. The arrival yesterday was very pleasant and warm. I was met by Pikene’s new member Cornelius, Franziska and Mike. In the evening I was pampered with a charming and unique dinner at Gapahuken Restaurant, in a charming architectural setting overlooking the water and the border crossing offices between Kirkenes and Nikel.
Last summer when I was exploring Kirkenes and Nikel I encountered individuals who I longed to meet again due to their stubborn and strong willed commitment to the local community. One of these is Karin, ex-teacher and pensioner, one of the most energetic and fierce seventy-seven-years-old I have met. I will spend a few of the coming days working together with Karin on publishing a humble booklet on local herbs, flower and plants which have either medicinal purposes or other. Working together on the book is a good way for me to enter the local landscape, to see it through Karin’s eyes, eyes that have been observing this changing landscape for a few decades now. Making the booklet is also a manner of making the landscape accessible for the Barents Spectacle visitor, in case they are eager to return to explore the surrounding landscape. I will also meet several other locals: tomorrow I will meet Jostein a seventy-five-years-old pensioner, who worked most of his life in the mines. The people chosen are from different backgrounds but they have one common trait : They are closely tied to the given locations and they are engaged with it. I will report a bit as I go, if it feels right in relation to the individuals who have agreed to meet me or work with me. Below you see some snap shots of my first day working with Karin. As for Kirkenes in general – Time is deceptively slow here and behind the quiet doors there is a hustle and bustle: retold stories monitor the changing face of a seemingly subdued town. Don’t be deceived, I have met some exuberantly colorful and happy people here so far…
Juli 12 2015, Kirkenes has been grey, windy and cold. Despite these minor set backs, which is in the far North barely worth mentioning, I had a lovely excursion and re-acquaintance day with the moody and dramatic landscapes of Grense Jacobselv and Lanabukt. Together with Pikene’s Cornelius, my local contact person, and Mike, an Australian photographer we drove around. At Grense Jacobselv we met a lovely German chocolatier, who is a self-proclaimed richest man of the world, because as he puts it: ‘I have all the time in the world’. Then we were joined by a Swiss tourist who had just caught a proper size fish, he was just about to filet and grill his catch. After a warm chat about life, work and exploding hearts we said goodbye. We continued to Lanabukt and grilled hot-dogs, Norwegian style, hiding between a few rocks trying to heat up fingers from the windy freeze. The barren and harsh local landscape is unforgiving, but you learn to appreciate the simple things. As Cornelius puts it: optimism is vital here. Possibly it is also contagious?
Juli 13-14 2015, The past two days were intense working days. Karin and I drove around in the surrounding pine green landscape to take pictures of herbs and flowers in the wild. We worked in the library on the lay-out of the herb booklet, decided how many herbs and plants we will include, what their purposes are, what the structure of the booklet will be, etc. I met a research fellow at the Barents Institute, architect Morgan I., he told me about the data he has been collecting trying to map out the city and to gather information as to how the locals would like to see its development in the near future. His undertaking is much more extensive then mine, although we share many similar interest. His main concern is, as he coined it, knowledge to action: to gather data that might/will nudge people to initiate project in the city.
I cooked red Thai curry with cod, two days in a row, first for Karin and her husband and then for the Pikene crew and friends. That is the one reoccurring element of different social encounters: cooking Thai food, and gathering around a table. Tonight I just got back from visiting Pikene’s Daglig leder Franziska and her husband Mikka, at their lovely home out on Jarfjord. We watched their happy and highly energetic kids running around, playing and watching television until they fell asleep neatly snuggled up together in the large living room sofa. I learned that Germans love to eat their ice cream with a splash of Vodka. Surprisingly, the ice cream does taste much better, but I am not sure if that is my taste buds talking… We discussed a range of topics, going from types of showers and bath tubs in Germany, Russia and Canada, to dog communication, fake potato chips, hunting beer and moose. We held a toast to Nasa’s visit to Pluto, the first close photographic shots of its surface and the peculiar heart shaped mark. Eventful days, filled with many little humble things.
Juli 15 2015: I met Olaug G. at her home in the morning. Olaug is eighty-years old, and she is the catalyst of many initiatives. She was one of the first to support and take care of a cross border cultural exchange between Norway and Russia. Through organizing workshops, exhibitions, and other events which provided for a circulation between people from both countries and art productions from both locales. She also single highhandedly started a money-award for young adult who wants to learn arts and craft, each year she uses her own private funds to support three projects/travel-study initiatives etc. She wrote a book on the occupation years in Kirkenes, which includes many anecdotes, paintings, ceramic imagery and other cultural products. After lunch Cristian, my architect-collaborator arrived and we started scouting for location, material, making a mock space in the local hardware and building store. In the evening we went to meet construction engineer Morten U. and his wife Stine, who have their house up on Fjellveien, overlooking the city and the fjords. After an intense day, we went to have a ‘see-you-later’ beer on the terrace at the Thon hotel, cheering on the midnight sun, while it paints the sky in a dramatic purple toned hues.
Juli 16 2015: After a quick goodbey to Pikene’s Francie, Ingrid and Kjetil we were on our way to Nikel. Kolya, taxi driver and the brother of our guide Roman, came to pick us up at the office, after which we had a pitch stop at Antons Hagesenter, near Sandness, to check out our tip on a garden and construction material which is a fiber textile fabric. However it did not seemed like the most suitable material with regards to fire and available width per roll. We crossed the border to Russia and received a warm welcome from Roman. Almost straight away we head out in the sun to explore the city, scout location and to have some lunch at an eclectic diner. We have spotted one possible location for the structure, but we will keep on looking, just in case. We explored some electronic shops, interior/household shop and some other stores, to get a feel of whats available. As I write this blogg entry, Cristian is having a short nap and Roman went to see his sweetheart. I reflect upon the days and feel a bit overloaded with many things to think about. However, I’d rather all troubles and headaches come now, and I’ll save the trouble free days for exhibition production days,… it’s possible, why not (as Roman would say)? Later tonight we will drive around to check out some industrial areas, another option we are still entertaining.
Juli 17 2015: Late morning we drove to the Zapolyarny mine, an hour drive away from Nikel, to look around and take pictures. Then we explored a local grocery store, checked out multi colored bottles of wine, vodka and canned beer. One of the bigger local beer brewery Baltika has numbered their beer by taste, the number ranges from 0 to 12. Some car companies do the same, as we have been told. We went to the flower store and bought a lush white orchid and headed back to visit Yevgenia. When we arrived we were told to wash our hands and to dig in to the food she had prepared and spread out on the table. Yevgenia showed me how to make picked cucumber with lots of herbs and garlic. We perused through photo albums, looked at magazine articles, and tried to talk with translation help from Roman. We ate and drink from three to seven. We tasted chicken rice, chicken wings, cheese, cold cut meat, salmon wrap with dille, pancakes and many more things. We drank plum vodka and a special Russian herb liquor which was reminiscent of Jägermeister. She showed me a racoon hat which her daughter gave her as a gift, and we danced in front of the flat screen to her favorite eighties tune. Then ‘inspiration’ came, as Roman would say. Our stomoch got heavy and the head light. It was time to head home. We relaxed a bit after which we went to the local gym. There is a sense of routine and familiarity to revisiting people and places. Maybe things feel less fragmented in that way. Some things repeats itself, with a distinct awareness of what has changed.
In the evening we went to the gym. Kolya, taught Cristian and I some basic boxing moves. Roman was trying to prepare me for possible violent attacks. He came running and screaming, wearing a head protection case and holding a stick in his hand: he wanted me to experience what adrenaline would feel like. He is an effective assaulter, I jumped a few meters high. After sporting, we walked around a bit and continued location hunting, trying to find a place to put the webcam. They are still many hindrances, but tomorrow there is a new day…
Juli 18 2015: There is a zoo in Nikel, and you find it at the local culture house. There is a small number of animals on display, in small cages they pace around. The green monkey is the locals favorite, because she likes to be caressed. Children and adults alike, push their fingers through the cage, while she presses her tummy and head against the cage so that people can reach. Some of the other animals also like to come near the cage to sniff about. There are mongoose, rabbits, fish, rats, a rattle snake, turtles and iguana, paws peacocks, … The walls inside the cages were faded murals depicting the animals natural habitat.
In the afternoon we went to visit the local art secondary and high school. We had a nice chat with Marina, the history teacher whom I’ve also met last summer during a shared taxi drive from Kirkenes to Nikel. We chatted about the structure of the school, kinds of courses they offer, other educational structures and collaborative cultural exchange endeavours between Kirkenes and Nikel. We discussed the possibility of using the school’s court yard as one of the locations for ADA. Straight after we met Liza, Alexandr and Denis, three young employees who work respectively for the local news paper writing articles, as economic consultant for the municipality, and as graphic designer for the local news paper. We discussed possibilities of getting support for announcing ADA to the locals, generating interest and how to draw them over for a visit. We also got some good tips and support in relation to locations and infrastructure. In the evening Dennis took us for an intensive walk up the hills, peripheral to the center of Nikel. We looked for gun powder in the ground, talked about his trans humanitarian interest. Or I should better say, that it was mostly Cristian and Denis who had a long conversation while we climbed the hills, while I was staggering behind quite a bit. I caught some interesting parts of the chat about place names, how most places both had Sami and Russian names, activities he used to do as a child up on these hills, trying to find remains from the war such as gunpowder which they would turn into home made rockets. All in all it was a satisfying day. The sun glared softly while it accompanied us downhill again.
Juli 19 2015: We visited Shuonijoki waterfall, a fifteen minutes drive outside of Nikel, and on the way we saw a military training camp. Then we visited Liza and Alexandr at their home, had coffee and fruit, while discussing different topics ranging from elections, to education, to traveling and especially worth mentioning their ambitious project of renovating Nikel: they want to start an artist in residency connected to an exhibition space, draw entrepreneurs to the city, get them to invest in rehabilitating the general outlook of the streets and parks. The plans are numerous, and it sounds like Nikel has drawn in some fresh blood that is highly necessary. Liza took us around town, she showed us Finnish houses, the stadion, the mining area, and the building that will become a temporary studio for visiting artists. In the evening we had dinner together, with Kolya and Roman and accidentally ran into Carolina and Thomas whom I had met in Kirkenes just a few night ago. We shared a meal and a beer. I was a bit worn out from an intensive fourteen-days stay. I sneaked outside every now and again, while others were in discussing about city planning and the latest Wes Anderson movies. It has been good, and as the sun turns brightly orange and red as it does this time a night when it hangs lowly above the horizon, I know that I will be back in not so long.