The Dwindling Horizon: Bodily self-perception in altered spatial perception
Associated work: Driving at the speed of the Nordic sun
Dredged across the Northwestern Icelandic landscape are veins of iron oxide streams springing from groundwater, carrying dissolved iron from nearby mountains. Most Viking era iron was smelted from bog iron found around these streams.
In the bog, the iron is concentrated by two processes. The bog environment is acidic, with a low concentration of dissolved oxygen. In the acidic environment of the bog, a chemical reaction forms insoluble iron compounds that precipitate out. But more importantly, anaerobic bacteria (Gallionella and Leptothrix) growing under the surface of the bog concentrate the iron as part of their life processes. Their presence can be detected on the surface by the iridescent oily film they leave on the water. In Iceland, the film is called jarnbrák (iron slick). When a layer of peat in the bog is cut and pulled back using turf knives, pea sized nodules of bog iron can be found and harvested. Although the iron nodules are reasonably pure, there aren’t many of them. They are, however, a renewable resource—about once each generation, the same bog can be re-harvested.
Coming across one such stream on a seaside hike at the edge of the village and finding it unusually beautiful, I decided to trace it from its mouth at the Sea of Greenland back to its origin, documenting it with photographs and videos. A poetic gesture of accepting the self-imposed artistic exile I had placed myself in, it turned out to be a failed topos of the explorer as the stream flowed for only 192 meters whereas I had expected day-long hikes and cold camping through and up in the valley of the mountains.
Nonetheless, I traced it back and forth many times over, across many days, and many daylights that were shortening faster by the day. One day the stream said ‘No more.’ It froze over and I never saw it flow again. The result is eventually captured in the last perfect days of autumn in the wind-ravaged coastal village of Skagaströnd.
1. Perception of Distance and Spatial Dimension
Walking southward each day to the rusted stream, I watched the sun’s altitude change. On the 9th of October, noontime sun was 22 degrees and by the 19th, it only made it as high as 15 degrees prompting an urgency to shoot before sections of the stream fell in permanent shade until March.
With acknowledgement of our awareness of the galactic nexus and movement within it, I will focus on the very small and relational scale of the body to Earth, and the movement, time, scale and distance of the realm we perceive as a 1:1 relation to our body and senses, a scale common to an average adult. The body is where we begin to understand everything, and I will use it as an archaic start point for a thought experiment on our perception of time and space.If we understand the world through an immediate relation with our body, distance can be understood by the turn of the gaze along the horizon, or the sweep across the landscape of the pointed finger on an extended arm.
A curious disorientation of perception of scale in relation to space relates to where the sun rises and sets. For those accustomed to a temperate zone on our planet, the rise marks the eastern point of distance and the set the western point. In California that distance is far greater than the distance of rise and set in Icelandic winters, in effect marking different distances, altering our perception of the vastness of space.
Could it be that at the North Pole, where the east and west points as marked by the sun converge to a circular path around a point, perception of space therefore collapses to a point?
2. Perception of the Duration and Passage of Time
Unlike Southern California, where sunset happens in a flash and the onset of twilight is quick and its duration only slightly longer, the autumnal rising and setting of the Icelandic sun is an event spanning more time preceded and succeeded by a far greater and extended process of twilight. From one day to the next, it is twilight that stretches, that in-between time of darkness before or after the horizon crosses the sun, the point of crossing referred to as either sunrise or sunset.
The time between sunrise and sunset sets a perceptive clock, one that runs faster as the day shortens, or runs slower on the flip season. But these perceptions are both a priori and a posteriori, from my previously trained knowledge of conceptual truths, and the knowledge from my perception by living in an environment where the duration of each event and the transitions between them are spaced and timed differently.
If a noontime sun on summer solstice at the North Pole registers a circle above head, can we argue that the marking of distance has stopped and therefore time has stopped, as movement marks distance and traversing distance marks the passage of time—we cannot get from one point to another unless by existing in time, therefore we will perceive a pause of time. If distance is collapsed, and keeping in mind that based on previous empirical perception we have knowledge of time passing and movement taking place, more accurately we experience an extended Now by being in a perpetual state of a perceived singular, momentary sample of time. We can now exist outside of time.
To ponder this deeper to find our position and scale in this system, we can view the Sun and Earth as being in an experience relative to each other by an orbit. Our experience of the Sun is relative to Earth. We are not in an experience with the Sun, and have no direct experience of it. What we have is an experience linked to Earth. Earth is how we experience the Sun and its rise and set. Our language is proof of that. Because our body is linked to Earth, how we speak of natural phenomenon is by how we perceive our body to be experiencing them. We say ‘sun up’ and ‘sun down’. The sun does neither; we are the ones in movement. What happens if we experience the sun exactly as we verbalize it? What kind of body do we have to be in order to experience that?
To be in a direct experience with the Sun, we must either break the link of Earth, which we do with Space travel, or we must assume the being of Earth: We take on the scale and movement of Earth. To assume the scale of Earth, I manipulate the distance the sun traverses to mimic our language of sun up and sun down to create an extended point—a luminous line that goes up as the sun rises and returns downward on the same path as the sun sets—there will be no marking on the horizon of distance.
By car, I am driving at the speed of the Nordic sun, against the path of the sun’s travel.
In this view of sunrise and sunset, a dwindling horizon drawn by the horizontal path of the sun’s rise and set, instead stretches upward with the sun, as if a domed tent rising on a pole, and releases with the sun’s set. Space is now weighted and expanding and contracting. This view of the sun as a centered object on a linear path is only possible if our angle of viewing is wider than our planet, meaning our scale is greater and our body is encompassing Earth.
It was a year of calculations. Multiple factors that varied daily needed to be taken into consideration and cross-referenced in order to calculate two key elements of the film—the length of the film and the speed of the moving image, which is basically the speed of driving:
· the aesthetic points of the sun’s rise and set on the landscape
· the distance of the sun’s path of travel and obstructions
· the angle of the sun’s path to the road
· the max altitude of the sun
· the sun’s azimuth
· the available distance of road
· the start and end points of travel
· the relation of these factors depending on the day
Over a limited window of opportunity to film and test this direct relationship with the sun, my assistant and I would leave Reykjavík in pitch black of morning on days with a forecast for sunshine and return in pitch black at night. The window was determined over the course of trial and error in 2013 and 2014. Over-cast days and winter storms limited filming days. Over the first three weeks, seven attempts were made. I was warned of that by my Icelandic friends: “There is no sun in winter,” they laughed. The final film is shot on the only possible day in this window. It is one-take and 4-1/2 hours long.