So now it’s December 21st, 2015 - the shortest day of the year. I’m currently in my home town for the holidays - Dawson City, Yukon, which is located in the North of Canada on the 64th latitude, just shy of the arctic circle. The shortest day of the year isn’t a concept here, it’s a serious reality - just as the longest day of the year was in the north of Sweden, where I spent just over a week this spring with four friends.
Right now there is something close to daylight (though no direct sun) for two hours from 12-2pm with a brief stretch of some greyish blue twilight that lasts for half an hour on either side of the "day". Obviously on summer solstice we were dealing with the opposite - only just 1 brief hour of indirect sunlight just after 1 am, but otherwise that relentless sun was not setting - tricking us constantly into less and less sleep.
I’m trying not to be romantic about this whole contrast, but that’s hard; and what I find so interesting about these two locations is that exact tendency to fall directly into complete romanticism towards them, or nothing at all. The concept of making work here, or there, when I am in it, has always been a struggle for me. There’s the pure purpose of documentation - documentation of something beautiful/strange/wild. Documentation signifies experience and seems to write off the necessity for justification - documentation of performance, documentation of happening. If you call it as such - what am I looking at? Am I to look at the performance or should I look at the documentation? Or if you are not documenting any “work” in particular but your own experience of something/ somewhere - am I to try and imagine your experience of that thing, or should I look at a photograph? When it comes to remoteness and documentation there is, and always has been, some form of taking advantage of the viewer - relying on the fact that maybe not so many people have seen this thing that I’m about to show you, and on top of that (at best) look how well I see it.
So what, though? Should that anxiety write off the desire to do such a thing? If it should then why does it seem to be the only thing I can manage to get through in these places? The only thing that comes out of them? Now, that sounds like my experience of these locations is tragic, uninspired, desperately searching for something to take away, but that is far from the truth. So far in fact, that I stop searching, stop looking - anxiety isn’t a feeling that registers any longer and pressure - ha, what pressure? Documenting the experience is so far the only thing I can manage to take away from these places because it doesn’t ask anything of me other than to keep doing something and to keep enjoying it. Fair enuff, amiright?
There’s another contrast to be made. The daily reality of having lived in Frankfurt, Germany for going on 4 years now - a place that seems to challenge you every morning to a “I dare you to find this romantic, you idiot”. And try as I might, I don’t, it’s a harsh city with pointy edges and the only eye contact you’ll meet is a judgemental tram 11 stare down. But then, coup me up in a studio in the industrial area and that work that seemed like a distant memory in the north of Sweden or the north of Canada happens. Is this some sort of masochistic fuck you to “having it all”? Does that pleasant daily reality not get to go hand in hand with a good practice; does a good practice require some form of alienation from daily surroundings?
There is something to be said of historic and socioeconomic context as well. I can’t speak as candidly about the north of Sweden as I can about Canada, but I imagine there are some similarities, though not entirely. First and foremost - Canada (as we know it) is a helluva lot younger than Germany. Culture itself might not take much time to develop but a grosser appreciation for it certainly will. So that might mean - what is going on in Germany, a sort of overarching belief that the position of the artist is relevant to society, is partially a result of aged exposure to the culture produced and engaged with by the artist. I’m not the first guy to talk about Germany’s long history of having a leisure class - a class of people who had the time and the money to enjoy culture and support art. Whereas both Canada and Sweden are nations occupied primarily by working class ideologies, and though this may shift from time to time and from coast to coast surely, there is some sort of over arching blue collar omnipresence. Artists, in these environments, are perceived as the only ones engaging with the leisure class - and god knows leisure to the working class, like luxury to a protestant, is something one can only earn through hard work - anything other than a long week ending in sleeping in on Sunday til 9am then heading to the park with the wife and kids, is frivolous.
So what are we dealing with? Germany - urban, industrial, very few open/ wild landscapes, and a long history of the leisure class engaging with culture and thus supporting the arts. Canada - natural, vast amount of open/ wild landscapes, a younger country founded on working class morals leading to very little leisure time and freedom to engage with culture and thus a confused form of support for the arts. Canadians idealize the European art world, considering it to have seniority, romanticizing it’s model as the model. Germans idealize the Canadian wilderness, considering it to put their natural world to shame, romanticizing the freedom it represents. Romanticism is a tool used by both, but in different arenas - the new world romanticizing the structure of the old world and the old world romanticizing the freedom of the new world. Again, I’m not the first guy to talk about that. But, for someone who believes (forgive me) in energy/ vibes - how can these sort of generalized over arching sentiments, that are so location specific, not effect the artists mentality and work ethic as they move about (as they are expected to do) from place to place? This all may sound like some sort of rambling diatribe of excuses, and maybe it partially is, but they are excuses I’ve think about a lot, literal contrasts I’ve been occupying for some time now, that will probably always be an unsolved personal obsession of work, place, life and intent.