Inspirations from Artists and Authors, Friends and Family, People and Places

From around home to around the world

We’re jubilados (Spanish for retirees) on the alert for inspiration from our travels be they near (the kitchen) or far (Cape Horn)


A few weeks ago at VIFF (Vancouver International Film Festival) Magellan and I saw the world premiere of “The Last Tourist,” a Canadian documentary produced by Poon Tip and directed by Tyson Sadler. Think you’re already pretty savvy on this topic? We did too. Until we watched this horror movie.

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Rolling and rising across the country, the fourth wave of the pandemic and the wake it’s leaving behind is dampening not only our travel, but our slippery grasp on feeling gratitude this Thanksgiving. Poetry to the rescue!

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If you asked me to name one of the Mediterranean’s most important fishing ports, I couldn’t even guess the country.

Even if you said, “It has the largest fishing fleet in Italy,” I might not guess Sicily.

If you added a clue, “It’s 200 kilometres from Tunisia,” maybe, but I wouldn’t know the city.

If you gave me a last hint,”It’s one of the most Arab-influenced cities in Sicily with a kasbah in the town centre,” I still wouldn’t know.

So how did we find Mazara del Vallo—one of the most delightful places we visited during our three weeks in Sicily? After a tangential online search turned up a marvellous apartment and I said, “We have to stay at Mirabilia Arab House.”

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One of the joys of travelling, for me, is discovering the literature of foreign authors. Like Norway’s Cora Sandel. “She has a place to herself among the finest contemporary writing,” deemed The Guardian. “A masterpiece,” The Observer called her first novel Alberta and Jacob. Her novels, says The Paris Review, “aesthetically and politically, count as feminist classics.” The thing is Cora wasn’t her real name. And she really wanted to be a painter. So, it was with great delight when I discovered the Perspektivet Museum in Tromsø, located in the building where Cora’s family rented an apartment, had an exhibition celebrating her life and work.

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Damn Markus Raetz!

You are the direct cause of my always returning from Eggum with sheep shit on my clothes and crushing sand between my back teeth. Because the wonderful rhythms of the sculpture have to be experienced again and again. And it works. You have found the past in me with your art piece, Markus. I am continually overjoyed about my new-found childlikeness! Pål Eikås, Stamsund

If Magellan and I lived in Lofoten in northern Norway, we’d be like Pål, returning over and over to see Hode, the illusory sculpture of a head set in solitary majesty on a wild and barren beach near the old fishing village of Eggum. A head looking out to sea. Or not—Hode ingeniously plays with your perception, revealing sixteen versions of itself—immobile yet filled with movement, rhythm and twists, appearing mounted upside down and then voila! right side up again—depending on your angle of observation. A “multitude of personalities in an incessant state of change gathered into a single expression.” Among the multitude of reasons to visit Lofoten, this visually elusive sculpture on the island of Vestvågøy literally plays with your head.

Hode was sculpted by Markus Raetz, a Swiss artist born in 1941 who produced more than thirty thousand paintings and prints before shifting to sculpture in the 1970s. He created Hode in 1992, one of his many sculptures that appear as a plurality of forms depending on where you stand as you move around the work. As Markus said:

The moment of change is the most fantastic.

Except for six months at the Reitveld Academy in Amsterdam, where he learned etching, Markus had no formal artistic training. While trying to establish himself as an artist, he taught primary school and has been described as having youthful charm himself. I get Pål’s childlikeness response to this playful work of deceptive simplicity—remember when you’d turn your head upside down (or for those of you more acrobatic, stand on your head) to see how differently the world looked? Markus shows us the world is full of surprises. If we free ourselves of our habits, venture into new ways of seeing, pay attention, embrace ambiguity. (Did he I wonder, chose Eggum in jest because Hode is an egg-shaped composition?)

Markus had his first solo show in his home city of Bern in 1966, going on to participate in the 1968, 1972, and 1982 editions of Documenta in Kassel and represent Switzerland at the Venice Biennale in 1988. His many other noteworthy exhibitions occurred at the Kunsthaus in Zurich, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, New Museum in New York, Serpentine Gallery in London and Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. A retrospective of his drawings was staged at the Kunstmuseum Basel in 2012–13 and a monographic exhibition of more than 150 works was presented at the MASI of Lugano in 2016. A sculptor, painter, drawer, photographer and graphic designer, Markus died last year.

Hode is part of Artscape Nordland, an international collection of 35 works of art placed in the landscape in 33 municipalities. Lofoten has five fascinating and intriguing sculptures; I think we saw them all.

During his first, week-long visit to Vestvågøy in 1991 when a local guide introduced Markus to the area’s geography, culture and history, he decided to place his sculpture on the storm-lashed outer-northern side of the island. When he returned to Vestvågøy in 1992 with the head sculpture under his arm, he set it on a plinth, straight and true against the horizon where it was overpowered by the wild, lonely expanse of sea and sky and stone. Insignificant as our own, small selves in this vast world.

The sculpture is made of iron and granite and measures 178 cm in height. Artists explain Hode as a form of topography turned into topology, continuously right-side up and upside down, what mathematical types like Magellan call functions that do not lose any of their identities.

When there is a horizon, there is always a relationship, a relationship between the observer and the distant, between the spectators who make simultaneous experiments in sculpture, between the spectator and the sculpture that is metamorphosed under his eyes, and between me and myself…In the case of Markus Raetz’s Head, another dimension is added: that of the memory. We see the sculpture “the right way up” although we have just seen it “upside down”, but above all, for a long time, we have seen an object of no determined form, like a solid, dark stain standing on a pedestal. We must move around it to suddenly see the head appear, but, even when this circular movement is completed, the head does not remain identical. Far from standing still on its pedestal, it rocks from top to bottom, forcing us to synthesize different experiences emanating from one same object. The fact that the sculpture looks at the landscape with the head at the bottom or at the top refers to another dimension of the horizon: its function of separation between top and bottom.

Magellan and I went to see Hode on a weekday morning in September. Grazing sheep outnumbered those of us exploring this mind-boggling work. Arctic wind and aerial mist tongued our cold faces in an open amphitheatre of space. Like children, we encircled Hode, joy multiplying: “Come look at it from over here!”

 

See-ers we were, in agreement with Aaslaug Vaa, another Norwegian who sees Hode often:

As with this work, we are never finished. We are open to the future. We are what we become; perhaps it is now that it is good.

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Skulpturlandskap Nordland is an excellent site for explaining this unique sculpture.

“Markus Raetz (1941-1920).Art Forum. April 16, 2020.

 

On the edge of our province a hundred kilometres from the mainland is Haida Gwaii, the former Queen Charlotte Islands, the ancestral home of the Haida, the West Coast First Nations. In the remote south of Haida Gwaii is a national park reserve, one of the most spectacular, untamed wilderness areas in the world. Gwaii Haanas—place of wonder. An isolated archipelago of 138 islands featuring some of the largest trees on earth, 1,600 kilometres of coastal shoreline, 42 freshwater lakes, thundering surf, fog-hung mornings, rain-deluged days and sometimes, mirror-flat seas. With no roads and limited facilities, the only access is by chartered aircraft or boat, as was our experience three years ago. In deepest summer with drink and book, a particular memory of that trip surfaces, still.

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