Viewing single post of blog Zanny Mellor – a-n Travel Bursary 2016

The central idea to the road trip in Iceland in 2016 was to spend every night on a west facing coast to appreciate the full length of each day and catch the lasting hours. We were travelling west every day, covering a vast 1600km in a week and I became very aware of the changing direction we were travelling in as we snaked through the valleys. One evening as we drove into the Westfjords in the remote north west of the country, the strength of the summer sun was repetitively broken as we drove on switch-back roads facing west, east, west, east…  There was a sense of being plunged into shadow on an east facing side of a mountain and re-emerging into startling sun facing west, even at 9pm at night. At one moment blinded by the light and the next blinded because you are wearing sunglasses in the shadows.

The dilation and contraction – an oscillation from one binary to another in quick succession, is certainly disorienting and exhilarating. The different approaches in my painting and photograms also seem to exist in this ‘binary dance’. At times they are bold, strongly directional and graphic and at others they are more illusive, ambiguous and indefinable with insecure gestures that conceal their identity by process of removal or use of reflective pigments.

Direction of movement, angle and light were already conscious concerns within my practice but since this trip they have become more geographically concentrated. The concerted effort to maintain a particular direction of travel has begun to inform the direction of a brush stroke on the surface of a painting and the surface itself seems like a kind of territory to be explored.  Compositional studies could be seen as mapping out a painting, mentally tracing your path before you execute it.

The arrow is such a strong form and feels abrupt in it’s clarity. As my strokes bounce from one edge of the canvas to another, formal concerns begin to govern the process. These arrow forms are quick and chance led, exhilarating in their speedy and anxious execution. I become self conscious of the edges as I feel all painting movements should move from right to left aligning themselves with my direction of travel or perhaps the movement of the sun. I feel I need to be faithful to this directional painting with it’s strong correlation to my experience of Iceland’s geography. It takes some time to ‘un-think’ this symbol, realising that you set certain rules for yourself in the studio but it is also important break them in order to forge new ground.

I had hoped to drive into the Westfjords because it is one of Iceland’s most remote areas, a real sense of escape perhaps. In the clear, Arctic sun it was hard to believe this area is seasonally submerged in show and impassable in winter. Occasionally driving the long roads and pothole laden tracks we would encounter a road going ‘nowhere’. Throughout the trip we were of course reliant on a road map and we predominantly stuck to it with very occasional Google map panic usage! Using Google maps you are constantly zooming in and out and it seems like a spatial confusion happens as you choose whichever ‘viewpoint’ or axis you need, becoming ambiguous and changeable. With the paper map however we were constantly aware of our position in relation to the totality of the island country which allows you a sense of your own smallness.

For me this felt particularly interesting to be focussed on the materiality of the map, the paper as something you do not want to get wet, to tear or to blow away in the wind. Without it you are ‘lost’ and I find myself thinking that the prevalent use of GPS means that getting lost is a thing of the past.  I am particularly interested in this as much of my recent practice has invited chance. Being lost is important because it allows you to learn about your environment and yourself, helps to create memory and without it we are entirely reliant on devices. I find now that I want to actively invite a sense of being lost, to understand it’s importance in creating ‘organic experience’ that is not premeditated. I think I shall endeavour to find more ‘signposts to nowhere’.