Tag Archives: Nida


I wanted to share a little of the writing I am doing for my (s) AND project, a multimedia art installation piece. (You can read more about the piece on the “research” page on this blog.) The work brings together a media-mythic kind of haptic sensory experience created from a fused history of the Lithuanian landscape around the dunes of the Curonian Spit and the rocky shores of Blekinge in Sweden.  (How’s that for an explanation!) It includes a series of poetic reflections on sand, stone, Baltic waters and the impossible histories that unify the elements and sites. (Sand is, after all, in part, eroded stone, and the Baltic sea has helped carry, both figuratively and literally, rocks and sand across the ever shifting shores and borders, over millennia, defying site-specific claims of uniqueness. So there.)

nida studio with bottles

Blue bottles in my Nida studio workspace. (Photographs of the dunes on the walls.)

While in Nida I was inspired in part with my writing for the first section of the (s)AND text–a  poetic text that will be remixed with others as part of the experience of the installation–by  the death of my high school friend Gordon. I have elsewhere discussed his passing as part of my Message in a Bottle project.

The bottles sort of moved from window to window in the studio. Against the snow, they really stood out and sort of glowed.

While struggling to find a way to begin “writing” the Nida landscape, to create a text that might facilitate the basis of the abstract story-telling experience I imagined at the heart of the installation, I sat with my blue bottles in my studio and tried to conceptualize the writing. Processing Gordon’s death at the same time, mourning while pondering how best  to represent him in my bottle project, I remembered a secret connection we shared, and realized it could be a gateway to my writing for (s)AND as well.

In high school, I recalled, I had actually paid Gordon $10 to write a geography paper for me on “continental drift.” It is truly the only time in my life I have cheated academically, and even now as I write about it, some 30+ years later, I am mortified and ashamed. As I recall, it was a sort of innocent thing that began as a joke between us, a kind of dare, but then he agreed to do it, and I just went with it. I believe I even received an A on the paper. It was short and not worth much toward my final grade, and at the time it seemed quite hilarious.

“Ah Youth. What idiots we were.”

Nonetheless it was an academic deception I’d never accept or excuse now, but at 16, it seemed like innocent fun to trick a teacher neither of us liked very much, for an assignment neither of us respected, and so we saw it as harmless fun. It was never discovered, except by me, again and again as the memory bubbled up to taunt  me when I challenged students for plagiarism. Years later, I shared the memory with Gordon, and he couldn’t even recall it. I assured him it had happened, and he too couldn’t believe we would be so reckless. “Ah youth. What idiots we were,”  he wrote. We were truly thoughtless and oh, so rebellious, or so we thought.

ancient continents map

The ancient continent Baltica is center stage, waiting for the squeeze play by super-continents via tectonic shifting.

But as I thought about Nida, the sand dunes, and the Baltic sea, and as I thought too about the stony shores in Sweden where I lived (where sand was a rarity) and then wondered how I could merge the coasts, I thought about tectonic plate shifting. Naturally. Makes sense, right?  🙂 But, in fact, the reshaping  of shorelines through the manipulation of continents, dragged across the sea floor, configuring and reconfiguring them as masses of stone moved together and moved apart along underwater geological conveyor belts, leaving sea trenches in their wake, heaving up mountain ranges, certainly defied the idea that Lithuania and Sweden were somehow separate. I remembered too the theory of ancient super-continents, huge land masses that were the fore-bearers of our “modern” continents. And I remembered little Baltica, a smaller land mass “kicked” around” by the bigger ones, but often joined to them too before moving on.  And then I thought more about unity, rather than separation, coming together, suturing coastlines, and the pain of that joining.

What was the history of drifting as collision, and how could it serve me through seeing connections, no matter how painfully massive the union might be?

My curiosity and research lead me to Pangaea, an ancient super continent formed 300 million years ago, in part, from the collision of Baltica (a continent that now contains much of Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Russia), and Laurentia (North America’s parent-mass), and Gondwanaland, (a messy mass of pretty much everything else). I realized a telling of them, their union and separation, might help me form a basis for the other legends I hoped to tell in a series of poetic reflections at the heart of the (s)AND piece.

My "Pangaea" poem, cut up and mixed with obituary text, before going into bottle. Looks like a little jagged super continent, I think.

I realized too, as I was writing and preparing to send my bottle for Gordon into the sea, that drifting and collision too became a metaphor for us. We had shared an intense and personal history at a key time in our youth when the normal growing pains of becoming-adult were particularly charged for each of us, in different painful ways. But we also shared huge gaps of time, watery distances in between, which we never fully reconciled as grew up and on in our adult lives after college. I always imagined one day we would reconnect in person (rather than via occasional email) and really share our pasts, but it never happened. We had other secrets, much more painful than a plagiarized geography paper about continental plate tectonics, and I know now we will never get to compare scars.

Beautiful sunrise, the next day, at place on ferry where I tossed the bottles overboard into the icy Baltic.

My discovery of his death while in Nida, through my stumbling across his obituary online, was a stony reminder of how far we can pull apart, drift away, and never necessarily get a chance to float backwards and heal. Backstrokes are hard, especially across oceans. I am hoping my inclusion of the poem I wrote and dedicated to him, that is both in my blue bottle drifting in the Baltic, and within the (s)AND project, will help me tell for both of us…

I am including only an excerpt of the poem here, from the beginning and the end. Necessarily, I must leave out the center, the core, and let you guess about what it left (out)…

Pangaea Drifting
for Gordon

The formation of the supercontinent Pangaea
was undoubtedly
a triumph
of tectonic shifting
and mass manipulation.

First it was Laurentia and Baltica that collided.

Although, in all fairness,
Paleozoic time counters
the dynamism and force collision evokes.

They drifted together, more likely,
the scientists say,
as continents are wont to do.

A slow bump and grind,
never natural and yet geologically determinate.

In the stone. Sure as amber.

Crawling into each other,
determining the proper thrust,
and then zigzag fitted,
they roughly sutured
their coastlines
beginning a connection deep in magma earth-boil,
deeper still than sea-bottom,
before even swimming liquid life
and blue-green algae,
long before
articulate brachiopods, graptolites, tabulate
and rugose corals.

Before even that.

Finally, shifting upward, breaking water-surface,
they heaved mountains
in the slow exhalation
of pained

Blue foam trails, mixed with smoky plumes
and rock strata,
a wake
of stretching
back to water,
with each expelling
that pushed
rocky earth

Boulders fingered up from water
and layered life-worlds
each stony spasm,
each deposit
eons in the making,
trapping and animating
each tier.

Fossiliferous by nature.

abandoning effort in high shallow air,
in the unoxygenated peaks,
they gave in.

Merging done,
they steamily gazed back down at their wounding.

Together, they saw the criss-cross scar
they had propelled across
the surface earth-flesh,
a scabby chain,
bearing treacherous witness of drifting,
and daring others to traverse, full-across,
away from level coasts.

But deep as it was, and jagged,
they knew the rawness
soon would heal,
and then numb.

These peaks too would wear down and new joining would begin.

Pangaea was coming.

[ …a  long part in the middle of the poem, describing the coming together of Baltica, Laurentia, and Gondwanaland is left out.  Suffice it to say, it was a painful joining. So, I jump to the end of section 1 below…]

Pangaea was done.

Patient work this devastation,
this drifting, exacting coalescence
from mass and liquid.

So much effort just for one-ness.

Pangaea ( “all-earth”)
surrounded by Panthalassa (“universal sea”),
one plus one,

For now.

Equatorial crossing and stitching over
entire seas,
hiding them under rock face,
land mass trek,
the poles.

Such is the heavy work
of moving away and moving together.

Scientists call it drifting.

But really it is only massive collision.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

sea journeys

So for my inaugural post, I thought I’d share some details from a small project I recently participated in with my fellow artists in residence at the Nida Art Colony in Lithuania. We were each busy with  our own works and research but decided to come together with a “message-in-a-bottle” project to document our residency and to connect our experiences while in residence. I’ve included below an overview of the project and each artist’s description of the messages she chose to send over the border to Kaliningrad. (We were all women, by the way, at the colony.)

snowy dune

Looking across the snowy dune in Nida to Kaliingrad (icy Curonian Lagoon on left)

This was a particularly emotional and reflective time for me, as I had learned of the death of two old friends while I was there in Nida, and I found myself with long hours in my studio, and out on the stunning dunes, to reflect on the nature of connection and lost communications. Regretfully I had fallen out of touch with both friends for extended periods of time, and never imagined I wouldn’t have the time to reconnect again in person. Both were friends from periods in my life of creative intensity and personal growth (from college and high school) when art and theater were, appropriately, center-stage in my life, along with these friendships.

This “bottle” project allowed me to channel my reflections, and though it is quite simple in its method and aesthetics, my message (described further below) and the way I came to select it, was surprisingly therapeutic and meaningful to me.

ship at sea

the ship's railing (at sunrise the next day) where I threw the bottles overbord

This is particularly true, as in the end, I was the one who cast all the bottles into the sea for the artists. Originally we were going to send them out into the Curonian lagoon with local fisherman, but the water froze the day before we were going to give them to the fisherman. Fortunately, I was traveling by ferry back to Sweden via the Baltic, and so I threw them overboard a few hours out to sea, on a very dark and chilly night. Given the great distance away from Kaliningrad (as opposed to the Curonian route), they are even less likely to make their way to their intended destination, and yet  I like that even better…

Message in a Bottle: Nida Art Colony, January 2012

 (*The text below is a modification of the collaborative project description we  wrote  together while  at the colony)

The Message in a Bottle project takes its starting point from the desire to go for a trip to the Kaliningrad region during our stay at the Nida Art Colony. We quickly discovered that travel to the region would be impossible during our residencies as we couldn’t obtain visas in time, and the procedure was cost prohibitive for some.


all the bottles, from left: Heidi; Yulia; Lissa (2 blue); Cecile

In the midst of the frustration of being so close to a border we couldn’t trespass, we decided that we could still cross over using the Baltic Sea as our slow and more uncertain collaborator. We then each considered the personalized messages we might send out in bottles to begin a dialogue with Kaliningrad.

Historically, messages in bottles have traveled worldwide and vary from love notes found floating at sea for more than 80 years to historical messages sent from prisoners during WWII. Drawn to the diversity as well as to the uncertainty, we each designed a message for the sea.  In our digital age when communication is so often defined by its speed (near synchronous models of email and text messaging, for example), and when technology claims to erase our borders and to globalize our villages, we decided on a slower alternative to distribution and connection. Using the sea as our carrier, we embraced the uncertainty of reception and reached out to those who might never know us, but to whom, nonetheless we entrusted with our personal expressions, affirming (we hope) our mutual and borderless bonds.

The participating artists are: Lissa Holloway Attaway (CA/SE), Cecile B. Evans (US/BE), Yulia Startsev (CA/RU) and Heidi Hove (DK).

Bottle Messages:

Deep Blue (for both): Lissa Holloway-Attaway

This project is inspired by the recent deaths of two old friends whose passing I learned of during my residency stay in Nida. Both have connections to times of my life strengthened through intense periods of creativity and self-discovery. Both too represent the ways in which we may find intimacy through our unspoken secrets. To say is only one way of telling. These bottles contain both memory and anticipation. Both entreat connection and appeal to a spirit of compassion and universal co-belonging that bypasses prejudice. Both balk at conformance and celebrate difference without dissent. Both trust that borders invite trespass, and both welcome the opportunity to test territorial and political demarcations with natural human curiosity. Both are Blue.

blue bottles

"Deep Blue": assembling the messages

The first bottle contains images of art-work, made by my painter friend Steve, along with self-portraits and photographs from our past.  The paintings are focused on the sea as a setting for unspoken narratives of intimacy, particularly among men. Although silence was a recurrent theme in his work, he said too that “the body of my work has given a voice to my life, the lives of others, and in doing so, the dignity of all people.” The second bottle contains one of my poems, inspired by my friend Gordon, about the heavy work of drifting, both away from one life and towards another. Included also are phrases from his obituary, which I found online when searching for his contact information.

cut up text

cut up poem and obituary fragments

The opening line, which declared that Gordon had died “after a period of prolonged suffering,” haunts me with what it says so directly and yet asks me to complete with compassion and deep sadness to process the reality of his passing. Cut into pieces, the two texts will require perseverance and curiosity to know more about the man beyond the message in the blue bottle. My name and email address are taped to the cap inside both bottles with the words “Are you curious? Ask me more.”

[Blue is pejorative slang for “gay” in Russian.]

The Buried Robot: Cecile B. Evans

My contribution is a request, stored on a USB stick, for the finder to upload a picture of the House of Soviets in Kaliningrad to a live blog.

Never having faced restriction from crossing a neighboring border, I started researching into all the things that I would miss. I came across the House of Soviets, a cinderblock bastion constructed in the 1960s on the site of the majestic but severely damaged Königsberg Castle.

This construction, reminding me of my own Eastern Bloc plattenbau (‘cement-house’) apartment building in Berlin, is commonly referred to among the locals as “the Buried Robot”. Its bizarreness and symbolic endurance seems similar to other soviet monuments that many wish to demolish, make it a site I regret I am not able to visit on this journey.

In a time where these images are so accessible, I saw this as an opportunity to challenge my own notion of digital access by transforming it into a physical vessel. I have written a letter to a citizen of Kaliningrad and asked them to take a personal  photograph of this buried robot for me- from Wikipedia to personal media, their perspective on the experience. The letter is stored as a JPEG on a USB stick and dressed for the journey in rice, a nod to the technological device’s stronger support but uncertain longevity. Rather then send the image back, I’ve asked the finder to upload it to a blog: theburiedrobot.blogspot.com (included is the user password). The blog, visible to the public, adds an element of suspense, and more likely, absence.

More rationally, it alludes the impossibility of this challenge. The likelihood of this bottle making it to the Russian shores, to be found in a rural area by someone who has the desire and ability to follow the instructions, points to certain greater problematics that this wide open platform still retains, especially in regard to a population from a recently dissolved social regime and the persistence yet of others.

The bottle is a Russian soda bottle; I found it interesting that though I could not easily travel there, I could very easily buy one of their products.

Invitation Letter, 2012: Heidi Hove

A bottle with the message of an invitation letter, that is inviting the finder of the bottle to Denmark.

bottle with invitation

Heidi's bottle with formal invitation inside

This is a reaction to the fact that you need an invitation letter and VISA for entering for instance, Russia and also to the discussion, that has recently taken place in Denmark concerning the increase of border controls. Before 1914, it was possible to travel from Paris to Saint Petersburg without a passport but today the land borders have increasingly been highlighted again and free movements controlled. With this bottle, I am trying to start a discrete cross border communication and inviting the finder of this bottle to Denmark. However, the changes for this bottle to vanish on sea are at big risk – and the communication will then get lost.

Язык: Yulia Startsev

My approach to the Message in a Bottle project is directly related to my experience of the Russian language. I was born in Moscow, and have a high comprehension of Russian, however my attempts to speak are broken. Full of pauses and searching. Further, my associations to the language are of a child, where words become connected on a purely formal basis. For instance the similarity of the sound of sand (pesok) and the verb to write (pesyat) have become connected. As the words to breath (duhat) and soul/spirit (dusha) and breathing (dihshat). My letter is a broken poem, hand written and full of spelling and grammatical errors; full of associations and misplaced words, which, for a native speaker of Russian will probably be little more that gibberish. Included with the letter are cut words and phrases that are the correct phrases and spellings of what I was trying to say. If it is found the letter becomes a puzzle that must be spoken aloud, in order to connect the correct phrases; in order to understand the meaning. In this way I hope to recreate my speech in the speech of a native speaker; or; to have my tongue travel in a bottle.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized