Walking with my camera, looking for the right spot to record the sea and the sky, half and half, “after Sugimoto”, feels inspiring and relaxing after a rather long pause, since Christmas, actually. It feels good to return to looking at the horizon, and here, on the northern coast of Bornholm in the southern part of the Baltic Sea, an open sea view is provided all along the coast. The footpath following the shore from Tejn past Sandkås towards Allinge, a former fishing village now serving as an idyllic tourist centre, is a joy to walk on and I feel tempted to make pretty pictures here and there. On Friday, when I arrived, the sky was grey and with some drizzle every now and then. After walking the path back and forth I decided for a rocky platform at the beach closest to the hotel I am staying at, and recorded the soft grey view, after Sugimoto’s seascapes, which of course are black and white photographs.
The camera on a tripod on a flat rock at the beach at Sandkås and the Baltic Sea opening towards the north.
The view from the same spot along the beach to the left, towards northwest.
The view from the same spot to the right, towards southeast.
Today, Saturday, the sun was shining bright from early morning. I returned to the same path with a plan to record some of the magic views, the small coves and the cliffs covered with yellow lichen that I saw yesterday. Without the soft mist and the mellow shades at dusk the landscape was no longer magic in the same way. Merry and noisy people with children or dogs were walking along the path. Everything looked beautiful, but also mundane. I decided a new version of the horizon was unnecessary and resolved to begin by recording some of the benches I looked at on Friday, fascinated by the spots chosen for contemplating the view. It might be a good idea to take an image of the bench and then another image from the bench.
The view from the first bench I tried.
The bench itself, from behind.
In some places the benches were placed in such a way that it was impossible to get behind them to take a picture, but in several places it was possible to make an image of the view from behind the and then sitting on it.
A third approach, standing with my purple woollen sweater among the yellow cliffs at various distances, remains to be tried out – perhaps tomorrow.
Ao Nang in the province of Krabi in Thailand is a crazy place to work “After Sugimoto”, or rather his “Seascapes” with water and sea in equal measure without any disturbing details, since the peculiarity, speciality and beauty of the landscape here consists of the karst islands rising up from the sea in the most weird formations. Moreover, the local long tail boats are dotting the sea. To look for an open and even, undisturbed horizon here seems rather funny. But that, too, is possible of course, since there is plenty of Andaman Sea to enjoy. I do not have my zoom lens with me, so it is not that easy to find a place with open horizon between the islands. What makes it even more difficult is the strong sunlight; it is hard to distinguish what is there, in reality, in the image, and what remains outside the frame. And although I walked to the more secluded, or let us say less popular beach, called Nopparat Thara Beach, there are still plenty of people around. I waited patiently for one couple to get up from the water, and put my tripod next to the waterline. Funny enough a local woman, or a semi local tourist, perhaps chinese or japanese, came to take a photo with her phone next to my tripod, as if trying to understand what I was recording. Her ‘thank you’ is audible at the end of the second take.
I walked along the beach until the gate to the national park at the end, and marvelled at the change of the landscape at low tide. There were plenty of warning signs declaring ‘NO ENTRY’ or ‘CONSTRUCTION’ and then also some information about the low tide, when you could easily walk to the small islands near the shore and also advice what to do if attacked by poisonous jellyfish.
I was warned, and walked over along the ridge of sand, no short cuts through the mud. The rocks looked like strange houseplants rising directly from the sand. It was nice looking at the rocks at close distance, but there was nothing really interesting. On the way back, walking along the beach under the trees, trying to find some shade I stopped at a small pavilion and decided to document the view with all the hazy islands rising on the horizon, when a bulldozer suddenly appeared in my image, like some prehistoric monster.
Besides doing my “After Sugimoto” images I tried to write “God Jul” or “Hyvää Joulua” in the wet sand. It did not look that good, really, partly because of my boring handwriting, partly because of the greyish sand. And I realized it might be a better idea to write Happy New Year, anyway! Why not. I thought I could try to write the text with the small sea shells lying on the beach, since I saw a love note written with them on the other beach yesterday, and it looked quite beautiful. I was too tired and sweaty after my walk to try any serious work, and chose to return home as soon as possible. But the next day I finally returned to write my Seasons Greetings. So here they come:
Missing the possibility of recording an ocean view from Southern Australia, or more specifically Melbourne, was out of the question. During my short visit to the conference New Materialism VI – matter, ecology, relationality at Victoria College of Art University of Melbourne I had no time to see anything except the city centre; no desert, no kangaroos, not even the black swans. But I really had to get to the ocean. So I jumped on the tram and headed for St. Kilda beach, the seashore of the city. On the way I listened to two students who were discussing doctors that travelled out into the desert with an airplane that was equipped like a small hospital, making brief stops in the villages to help sick or old people there. And I realized I had no idea of this vast country after visiting this one city, which reminded me of San Francisco, probably because of the trams and the cold nights. Once at the beach I was impressed by the fun fair atmosphere, the beautiful empty beach and the small marina, but there was no open sea view. I started to walk southwards, and asked an old lady for advise. She told me how to find the path that followed the shoreline. It turned out to be a double road, one for runners and the other for bikers. I walked for a while, until I reached a spot with what I imagined to be an empty horizon and made my image “After Sugimoto” from there. Actually I am not sure if the horizon was really open, or whether the other side of the bay was simply so far that one cannot see it with the naked eye. The image with the sea and the sky looked fine, though, with waves on the sea and clouds in the sky. When I turned back and looked at the horizon towards the North, I marvelled at the skyscrapers of the city of Melbourne. I returned with another tram, along another route, to see at least a glimpse of the city, if not of this huge country or continent that I really would like to explore one day….
Arriving in Cala’n Bosch, a tourist resort on the west coast of Menorca, I immediately took a walk to the shore and looked at the open sea view thinking, this would be an easy piece. Just pick your spot, since there it was, everywhere, the open horizon. The blue Mediterranean Sea was spreading out in front of me undisturbed by islands, piers, boats or anything. So on Monday afternoon I took my camera and tripod and headed down to the shore, to the same rocky spot I first saw when arriving. I thought that would be a place where people would not be lying on the beach and I would not have to be embarrassed carrying a camera amongst them, as if wanting to document naked flesh or whatever. I walked out on the cliffs, which were surprisingly sharp and uncomfortable to step on, and found a place for my tripod. But to my horror, I saw a spot on the lens. I had my camera cleaned just a while ago, so this seemed like an ironic twist of fate. I did not return back to search for a vacuum cleaner, but resorted to my handkerchief in order to remedy what I could. And it helped a little bit, yes. But now, by the time I was all set up, a boat came by, so I waited for the waves to pass, and then another boat. And then a rubber boat parked right outside the cliffs, and I thought they might start diving or something, so I decided to move. But when I had packed my things and walked halfway up to the road, the boat started to move again, so I returned. Finally I managed to record almost three minutes of the view with an empty horizon, half of the image sea and the other half sky, à la Sugimoto, before two sailing boats showed up. Funny enough, even with plenty of empty horizon, recording it might prove to be a challenge.
The real challenge was nevertheless ahead of me, that is, finding enough of an Internet connection to be able to upload these images and this text as a blog post. It took me two days.
The initial get-together and the first key-note presentation of Fluid States North, which is part of the all-year and all-around-the-globe event Psi #21 Fluid States took place in a beautiful wooden bath house on Amager Strand, a recently renovated beach area in Copenhagen during midsummer, 18-21 June 2015. Unfortunately the weather was not the best possible, with drizzling rain and a chilly wind, so the experience had an element of endurance performance to it. I decided immediately, however, to return to the spot with my camera after the conference, in order to look if I could find a slice of an empty horizon.
And that I did this afternoon, Monday 22nd June. After a rainy morning the sky cleared at least partly and there were moments of sun when I stepped out from the Metro at Femoren, a stop between Amager Strand and the Airport. And the mud in the adjacent park and the noise from people taking down something that looked like the stage of an outdoor concert from the weekend before, the place was much more inviting, and looked almost like a beach. There was nobody on the beach proper, of course, midsummer in Scandinavia is rarely suited for such activities, but some people were enjoying the walk. And nobody was disturbed when I walked out to the small pier and placed my camera on a tripod on the large boulders in order to find a spot were no islands or windmills or boats or the famous Orebro bridge in the distance would intervene with the horizon. The clouds were dramatic, though, and no evenly grey image like the one captured on my iphone during the first visit could be created this time.
This time – one more attempt to begin the series of videos with the working title “After Sugimoto”, referring to Hiroshi Sugimotos’s famous Seascapes – I was using a new objective in my camera, and now the camera was properly cleaned by a professional, too, so presumably no dirty spots on the lens would disturb the view. It was not so easy to find an “empty spot” on the horizon, but I think i almost succeeded this time. The windmills to the left and the bridge to the right were hopefully cropped out of sight. While standing on the rocks, as immobile and silent as possible during the recording I listened to the surrounding sounds, inspired by all the recordings on Amager included in the audio papers I heard at the presentation of Fluid Sounds yesterday. At least the music listened to be the roadies taking down the stages on the shore, the airplanes landing on the airport nearby, the signal beep of the trucks backing, and occasional sounds of people passing by, talking, as well as the soft splashing of water against the rocks next to the ripped were easily discernible. Perhaps i should try to use a proper microphone and record the sounds for my videos in a more conscious and deliberate way…
Finding an empty horizon is not so easy, not even in coastal cities like Venice. I started playing with the horizon because of a small green line in my new camera. It is indicating when the horizon is in balance and dividing the image nicely in two equal halves. After playing with the idea of images cut in half by the horizon I encountered the famous Seascapes, the minimalist black and white photographs by the Japanese master Hiroshi Sugimoto. Although a video image brings in the temporal dimension, and adds color and movement, the still images look almost the same so I soon realized whatever I did would be “After Sugimoto”.
After a few attempts in Helsinki my first image in Bilbao was blue on blue as planned, but there some dirt on the lens destroyed my attempt. In Helsinki the weather was bad and the raindrops were blurring the image. Another day the sea was rough, spraying the image again; it seemed almost impossible to get a “clean” video clip. The simpler the image, the more all kinds of imperfections stand out. In automatic still images the camera seems to be able to clean the spots, but not with a video. Thus I carefully cleaned my camera, and decided to start again, and then once again.
Venice should be no problem, I thought, once one gets a little further out of the historical city. I looked at the map, and realized Lido di Venezia would probably be my best bet. I have been there before, for the first time in 1996, when I tried to write the radio play Via Marco Polo (living in a pension on via Marco Polo). So I headed out there after a nice lunch with colleagues on Murano. We were visiting the place with the glass factories as an antidote to the overload of contemporary art we had experienced during the opening week of the Venice Biennale. The sky was turning dark in the afternoon when I took a vaporetto first to San Marco and then another one to Lido.
On Lido I walked straight across the island, heading for the beach, in opposite direction to the crowd returning from there, and already felt the first rain drops on my skin. As soon as I had found my way to the shore and placed my tripod in the sand the rain started. I managed to frame the image properly with the help of the zoom and stood there in the rain, clutching the tripod in the wind, recording a sequence of three minutes. When finishing I realized the camera had slowly moved downwards, the horizon was no longer exactly in the middle. I considered for a moment whether I should try to find shelter and wait for the rain to pass, but decided I could perhaps return the next day. Only in the vaporetto on the way back, looking at my “catch” did I realize the water spots on the lens in the video recording, and almost wanted to cry. The spots felt like some weird form of curse. Should I perhaps make these annoying disturbances part of the project? The biggest spot is clearly visible in the still photo taken with manual focus.
The next day I made a new attempt, returned to the same “free beach”, walked out on the rocky pier where people were sunbathing and placed my tripod at the edge. Everything was fine, although a woman nearby was speaking on the phone, which irritated me at first, but then I realized that might make quite a fascinating soundscape.
The sun was shining, life was smiling and the ice cream I picked up on the way back tasted delicious until I saw the results: the same spot was still there. Now all I can do is take the camera to be cleaned by a professional and hope for another chance to visit these shores. The idea of abstract minimalism is turned upside down on video, at least in my hands, so it seems.