Stuart McLean (University of Minnesota)
Paper short abstract:
An experimental poem and video piece, inspired by research in the Orkney Islands, “Sea” combines original material with collaged fragments of other texts to conjure a metamorphic space in which pasts and presents, history and mythology can co-exist and mutually transform one another.
Paper long abstract:
"Sea" is an experimental poem and video piece, inspired by my ethnographic and archival research on the relationship between art, storytelling and the physical environment in the Orkney Islands, lying between the northernmost tip of Scotland and Norway. It was originally written for the Papay Gyro Nights International Art Festival, held annually on Papa Westray (or "Papay"), the second smallest and most northerly island of the archipelago. The festival takes its name from the folkloric figure of "Gyro" - known as Grýla in the Faroe Islands and Iceland - a giantess combining animal and human, marine and terrestrial attributes. Focusing on contemporary digital, multi-media and performance art, the festival invites participants to respond to the distinctive materiality of the island setting. "Sea" combines original material with collaged fragments of other texts, including folklore, oral histories, Norse sagas, the poetry of George Mackay Brown (Orkney's best known twentieth century writer), economic history (whaling, fishing, oil), military history (the Viking era and World Wars One and Two), and comparative material (the story of Sedna in Inuit art and mythology). Reference is made also to the geological prehistory of the islands and to the prospect of an apocalyptic, posthuman future. Instead of conventional academic explanations, the poem and video seek to conjure a metamorphic space in which pasts and presents, history and mythology can co-exist and mutually transform one another and in doing so to explore the embedddness of humanly constructed worlds within other than human materialities that simultaneously constitute and exceed them.
The edgy Northern European imaginaries: cultural identity through the looking glass of fabulous ancestors and ludic realities