Thursday, May 28, 2015

Art and War(planes)

In this artist residency at Ricklundgarden in Southern Lapland, I've been writing a lot and painting and the days pass in a dreamy state of creativity. It's a disorienting place for the quiet and the beauty and the endless daylight. The sun rises shortly after 3am but it's never really dark so my body is unsure what time it is. It can't form a rhythm. And in that disorientation, I feel I'm moving as though in slow motion through another world where there is no time. I paint, I write and I sit dreamily watching the clouds slowly glide across the rounded snow-covered mountains beyond the lake outside my window.

This is such a silent place. Even though I live in the countryside in Ontario, this is a more silent silence. I am moving into it. Yesterday morning the sky was grey with heavy low rain clouds. I was painting in my studio when all of a sudden, a loud booming, rumbling sound came from the sky. I ran outside to see what it was. I couldn't see anything. If it was thunder, it was much longer in duration than normal, or if it was an airplane, it was much louder and longer also. The sound finally died away and I returned to my studio, puzzled, but thinking it must have been a low-flying airplane.

I forgot about the incident.

In the afternoon, my friend and fellow artist resident, Rebecca Crowell, and I got a ride with the local taxi/school bus service out to Fatmomakke, an ancient Sami gathering site about 25km north west of Saxnas. We spent part of the afternoon at this site where Samis have gathered since prehistoric times to meet with their family and friends to trade and to celebrate. They met at mid-summer (solstice), and again in late August before the winter came. In the 1700's missionaries moved into Sami territory and eventually a church was built at Fatmomakke. While I don't know the history of that transition and the struggles involved, in the end, the Swedes and the Samis came together, each building their own style of dwelling, kåtor and log cabins, side by side. They come together to celebrate mid-summer and live in peace.

I learned on the drive home from Fatmomakke, that the sounds I heard in the sky were NATO fighter planes. The news on the internet said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered four days of air combat readiness testing, the third major military exercise staged by the Kremlin in the past three months. This surprise test coincided with NATO-led military exercises over the Arctic region that are part of the Western alliance's response to Russia's stepped-up manoeuvres over the Baltic and Northern European regions. 

A flexing of muscles. The silence and beauty and tranquility of this remote region feels violated. 

I think of the day we just had in the small village of Fatmomakke. I think of the peaceful coexistence of the Samis and the Swedes and how they continue every year to meet there to celebrate the seasons together.

The warplanes have brought me back to earth very quickly. I feel helplessly small in this  military display of strength. But it also makes me feel more determined than ever to do my small part to bring beauty, joy and peace into this world through my art.

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