Thursday, Mar. 7, 2002
Sunday, Mar. 17, 2002
Monday, Mar. 18, 2002
Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2002
Friday, Mar. 22, 2002

The Grim Nymph: The Rivers that Run Through Us

by Lori Weidenhammer

Friday, Mar. 22, 2002

Today both communication and traveling are hard work. Not much sleep on the night train to Karlsruhe-a town built on Karl's dream of his wife's fan-(guilt for having a mistress?). Dreamt I was singing in a huge Viennese church, and the building began to shake as if it was an earthquake. Woke up on a moving train. Toothache. Trying to learn new words in German-more Confiserie here than Konditerei, more schlagsahne than schlagobers.

"Home" is where this project started. Many artists are trying to make this city and this re-fitted munitions factory into a kind of home. The Kubus is gorgeous, and reminds me of the Chan Centre in Vancouver. The images and sound are more rich with subtlety in this space. Good thing Roberto stuck to his guns, (pardon the military expression),
and demanded the number of speakers he wanted.

Had supper in a busy cozy Thai restaurant. There are good little cookies here filled with ganache and nuts. Damn this toothache. Late night with Peter and Roberto trying to get the bugs out of our new house.

A train is a kind of moving tunnel we use to get from one place to another, like Wolfgang's elevator. One thinks differently in a train. Train travel is an act of faith. I began to doubt, and my dreams became nightmares. It's been a long time since I've slept on a train. At one station there were several illuminated billboards, all the same image, of a woman being carried by a man- strange ghosts in the dark German landscape.

I miss Vienna.

My name is German, but I'm frustrated by not being able to
understand the language.

In order to enter the space you need a special space-age card, the blue card.

Two grand pianos spoon each other in their own wood-paneled storage room.

I miss my child.

Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2002

I found some relevant quotes by Robert Adrian X from his recent catalogue :

'The two basic principals for working as an artist with communications technology are first, that it is necessarily a collaborative activity, and second, that the space between the participants is the location of the work. Both these principals run counter to the normal art practice, at least in the usual western notion of art. This means that it is difficult, but absolutely crucial, to find local collaborators and to develop a network of remote partners...." (pg. 63 Robert Adrian)

"The problem of working with computers is that you never seem to have any tangible result - nothing in your hands. I miss the satisfaction of having a real, finished object at the end of the day that does not depend on the whims of the electronics industry or the reliability of the power supply to guarantee its presence." (pg. 67 ibid.)

The act of sharing images and sound is one of our basic human needs: the need to communicate. We also need to travel, physically and especially psychologically. Without our daydreams, we would go crazy. We need to project ourselves into the landscape of our imagination in order to feed the spiritual strength that keeps us alive. We also need the real sensual pleasure of sitting down and having a good meal with friends.

Conversation is an art and communications art is the art of conversation. E-mails zip back and forth, people complain about the glitches in the technology that get in the way of sending images and sound. Everyone is trying to be seen and heard, just as they would at a dinner party.

As for the physical art object vs. the virtual, I must say I loved the sensory experience of sewing my mermaid tail. The feel of the fabric, the brilliant colors, and the sound of the sewing machine fed my soul.
Today I saw several Klimt paintings and got a real kick out of seeing the subtleties of texture and color in images that up until now I've only seen in magazines and books.

Two days ago I saw a poster made out of a rock. Someone wrote their web address on a rock and propped it next to a stone turtle on the Secessionist Building - the virtual meets the tangible in a quirky example of advertising.

When I go back home, I want to print the nymph imagery and work with paint and collage, flipping back and forth from the virtual and the physical.

Today I saw a lot of statues, half-fish and half-woman in the fountains of the Belvedere - powerful, muscular creatures you wouldn't want to mess with.

Monday, Mar. 18, 2002

I talked to Roberto this morning about his images in Devolve: Cacti from Apulia, underwater face. He travels with his camera, collecting shots and 'performing' his film. Everytime he shows it, he adds new images and mixes the imagery as he does with the sound, creating work that mimics the processes of concious thought. He is influenced by a Russian artist in the 1920's that used to carry his film developing equipment in a train car, shooting and developing film as he travelled and showing it to audiences along the way. Digital work is allowing artists to move away from the idea of a fixed work of art, resulting in new work that is more dynamic, permeable, and contingent on the performance of the artist and active reponse of the viewer.

Another thing that interests me is the drive to create work for a public screening, as opposed to solitary tv viewing. I had been up in the night thinking about whether the images in the installation would have been more effective if they were smaller. The big screens which fill up each end of the tunnel are very "in your face." I found myself tiring of the images because A, I had no control over them, and B, they become very repetitive in the random looping process. I am most intrigued when the images start to break down and merge with one another, but that doesn't happen very often. The sound emphasizes the collaborative nature of the process and the images represent the solitary aspects of the creation of devolve II. This tension is conceptually intriguing to me, even if I find the images not as aesthetically satisfying within the context of a process-oriented group collaboration.

Upon reflection, I think it's important to make the images as large as they are to expand on the possibilities of making the private streaming images suitable for a live group audience. It takes it into the realm of theatre, and also, as Bob Adrian pointed out, it makes the images more painterly.

I think in the digital realm, we must acknowledge the pixel. Rather than being ensconced within a stone museum and protected by archivists and restorers, we must know our work is more akin to writing in the grains of sand.

Sunday, Mar. 17, 2002

I am in Vienna, and severely jetlagged. It's still worth trying to take some notes of my first impressions. Altogether, 6 take-offs and landings on three flights have taken their painful toll on my inner ears. Upon landing in Vienna I saw a hare bounding down the runway, racing our jet, and then laying its ears flat and hiding in the soft brown and green grass. After dropping my luggage off at the hotel, Peter walks me to the ORF building, made conspicuous by a multi-coloured statue of (of course) a giant ear. By the time I listen in on the Devolve II sound streams, my ears feel fine and I am seduced by the improbable collaborative layering of sound and text.

Sound art is ammenable to collaboration. The way sounds can be layered and collaged in the context of an improvised group performance is inspiring and delightful.

Vienna is the ultimate city of museums. Even the ORF building 's hallways are lined with glass cases containing antiquated speakers, mikes and a pair of bakelite headphones from the 1930«s that the rural branches of the BBC in England still use today (!)

Devolve II: Themes of intersectiong, overlapping, displacing imagery and sound. I am reminded that in the process of recording our environment, we render it artificial, change it, and sometimes even destroy it along the way.

The new museums have to be permeable, impermanent, constantly making room for new work. Sooner or later we're going to run out of room for all of history's glass cases.

Thursday, Mar. 7, 2002

" The great rivers of the world are evolutionary miracles. What makes them extraordinary is that they have been tamed by time; history has flowed through their waters. They have witnessed a multitude of civilizations and become a matrix of memory safeguarding our primordial secrets, a bard transmitting old stories, with ritual and psychic access to the invisible world." (Alev Lytle Croutier - Taking the Waters: Spirit, Art, Sensuality)

It is almost certain that a river runs through your life. For me it was the North Saskatchewan river. The word Saskatchewan, which is also the name of the province I was born in, is from the Cree phrase for swiftly flowing water. This is the river of my dreams. This is the river I have canoed over, cross-county skied beside and swum under. I have covered my naked body in her mud, and baked in the sun on her shore. One of my strongest memories is getting off a plane in Saskatoon, driving over the North Saskatchewan River and feeling deeply in my soul that I was returning home.

Taking swimming lessons at a young age gave me a deep respect and fear of flowing water. In spite of our fear of the power of the river, we have not left her to her own means. Has any river on earth escaped the diversions of human hands? I am deeply saddened that in the process of redirecting and "taming" rivers we have been poisoning them, making them uninhabitable for their fish, flora, and fauna.

The Danube
A tourist book on Vienna and it warns me to be prepared for the un-picturesque view of the man-made Danau canal. Ecologists refer to the Danube as "the region's veins arteries, and kidneys." In Greek mythology the River Danube is called the "Ister" or "Hister". Its resident nymphs are Polyxo and her twelve daughters fathered by Danaus. For this project, I am researching the myths of the nymphs and naiads, the river spirits, and the original stories of mermaids. When I am in Vienna, I am looking forward to documenting the fountains, sculptures, and paintings which portray mythological river nymphs.

My grandfather is from Laufen am Neckar in Germany, a town that defines itself by the river it belongs to. The German mermaid myths are a far cry from Disney's saccharine cartoons. In one myth, a man named Brauhard from Lauterberg keeps his mer-wife in his bathtub. His friends considers her so ugly and repulsive that they poison her. In the well-known myth of the Rhine a nymph named Lorelei is accused of witchcraft and sentenced to be a nun. On the journey along the Rhine to her convent Lorelei jumps off the boat to live in the river, luring sailors to their respective deaths. Even Christopher Columbus is reputed to claim that mermaids are not as beautiful as portrayed by artists. The real nymphs are grim reapers, warning us that if we do not respect and protect the rivers, it is they who will poison us, for it is their blood that runs through our veins and kidneys.

Having already portrayed a cartoon sea creature (Stella Seamonkey), I now want to create images of the gothic side of the water nymph, referring stylistically to the fin de si¸cle femme fatale which the painter Gustav Klimt portrayed so well. After reading countless news stories about the high levels of pollution in the great rivers around the world, I wanted to create a character more akin to an oracle warning us of impending ecological tragedies.

Finally, I want to examine the parallel between natural rivers and the metaphorical streams of images and sound we are sending over the internet. Many goddesses take journeys down rivers to find a lost part of themselves. This diary will be a mortal's attempt to record my journey to the Danube via the North Saskatchewan River. I hope to find a few lost mermaid's tales along the way.