Amphibious Trilogies

Dark Islands

AMPHIBIOUS MOVEMENTS –TECHNIQUES OF THE UNCANNY IN VARDØ
2 April 2018.

Here I am. The snow lays heavily on the ground. It’s rather chilly. I am standing outside the Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA) Vessel Traffic Centre (VTC) in Vardø. VTC shares a home with the Directory of Fisheries and the recently added analysis unit. Each unit has specific responsibility areas. Together, the main task is to analyse available information of vessel activities and movements, and to detect unregulated transport of goods and unregulated fishing. By means of radar monitoring, ship reporting and Automatic Identification System (AIS), they cover a vast stretch of water; from the coastlines of Troms and Finnmark, to nearby Russia and further away islands of Jan Mayen and Svalbard.

Behind me stands a redundant Arctic Ocean observation buoy for realtime logging and transferring of environmental data. Eye catching, resembling a classic UFO. The buoy, called Wavescan, is particularly amphibious, rigged to gather oceanographic, meteorological (metocean) and water quality data. Wavescan runs on solar power, GPS positioning and two-way communication. It is able to function in very extreme environmental conditions, such as in very deep water, strong currents, high winds and in remote locations. About a year ago the buoy was one of several floating nodes of a national research project. As I understand, the main goal of the project was to make a tool to monitor and map the motion of the ocean from different positions around Norway’s northern coastlines. The results of the research contribute to anticipate and warn ships of potential dangers at sea. I asked the VTC staff if the buoy would be able to work today. The answer was ‘probably’, but the battery would need to be replaced.

In the background are the Globus 1 and 2 Satellite Stations administered by the Norwegian Intelligence Service(NIS). Close by, the Globe 3 Station is under construction – a joint project between NIS and the US Air Force Space Command. While the radar stations are outwardly highly visible, what goes on in the inside is highly secret, fortified by security fences surrounding the military site with staggered warning signs in English, Norwegian and Russian. ‘KEEP OUT”.

A statement given by The Norwegian intelligence service proclaimed that the tasks of the new radar will be to follow and categorize objects in space, monitor national interest areas in the north, as well as collect data for national use for research and development. To expand on this comment, the new base station would have the same function of the Globus 2, only better. However, in a storm the covering of the antenna was blown away, exposing the orientation of the radar dish. It was rather embarrassing, pointing directly towards Russia.

To be clear ‘Vardø’ is both the name of a town and the administrative centre for the wider Vardø Municipality in Finnmark, Norway. The town lies on a small island called Vardøya, near the mouth of the Varangerfjord, on the edge of the Barents Sea.

Vardø is the easternmost town of all the Nordic countries. Located at 31°E, it shares a meridian line with the Great Cheops Pyramid in Giza. To mark this a small non-invasive pyramid has been planted on the top of Reinøya, close to Vardøya, on the exact same altitude as the pyramid in Giza. Both Reinøya and its neighbouring island, Hornøya, are protected nature reserves. In the spring about 10.000 polar seabirds migrate from the south pole to make their nesting places on the steep cliffs. Thanks to the fabulous Biotope Architecture Bureau, flocks of bird enthusiasts come from all over the world to take part in this spring mating ritual. They bring with them their money; a source of income for a small island trying to survive through the thick and thin.

In conversations with island people, they say that Biotope has inspired a new approach to the bird life on Vardø. Something so habitually overlooked. Overlooked is the BBC series who were working on Hornøya when I visited the island. Something to appreciate and take joy in. They were filming puffins with a stealth camera installed in a kind of a robotic puppet Puffin. The Puffin puppet was programmed with several behavioural movements and smells, and with a stealth camera to record the violence of Puffins in the mating season. All that they left was their money for services rendered. What they did not acknowledge was that they were filming on the island – Hornøya. This I have found is symptomatic to Vardø. People come and go. Researchers like to come here, but they do not leave a footprint on Vardø once their studies are over.

In good times the rich waters of the Barents Sea provide ample food for the bird colonies. In recent times climate changes, fisheries, pollution and various other human and non-human activities have contributed to the decline of seabirds. Fishing and seafood processing still remains to be a main source of income of Vardø, despite the virtual collapse of the fishing industry in 2017. There is a saying of islanders, when the ocean thrives, the birds thrive, Vardø thrives. So called non-indigenous species ( ‘invasive species’) such as the King Crab do also thrive. They come in hordes are proficient eco-engineers eradicating the natural ecosystem of the sea bed, hey, they taste deliciously in the Vardø Hotel restaurant and in Vardø College where you can both purchase and eat such local delicacies for a smallish price. If you are lucky, then you can have an almost free meal from the fishers on the newly half-restored fishing processing plant.

I am inspired by this resilient community. I want to bring something back. At the time of writing I am thinking of a project where the buoy is put back into the sea. I would like to engage with the youths of Vardø and Kystverket to make visible/tangible the data that the buoy can produce.

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Pacific oysters on Hovedøya

To recap: I have been spending my time on Hovedøya in my boat for over 8 weeks. During this time I have been monitoring the Pacific oysters (C gigas). Until this summer I have never observed such oysters (or any other oysters) in the six year  period of living aboard a boat. My first observations of such oysters in July 2017 were scattered patches of oysters – some smallish, others looking more mature – about 25 of them on the edge of the stoney beach besides my boat.  Since then the water has been clouded by sporadic bouts of rain, high winds, higher temperatures causing green sheens of algae, all of which has hidden the underwater world.

Yesterday, at 7am, I did my practice of removing mainly glass and plastic debris coming onto the shore. The temperature had dropped, the water was clear. Clinging on to rocks,  about 10-30cm underwater, were a multitude of very small pacific oysters – about half the size of an infant’s little fingernail, unmistakable from other shell fish in shape and form.

Under my nose and through the green shroud of algae, the few oysters had been spawning larvae …. but how long does it take from spawning to become a ‘spat’ cemented down to rocks, glass and other shellfish?

Please do read the taxonomy, anatomy and life cycle of oysters  that this image is a part of. Then read the negative and positive impacts of such non-native oyster species..

In the meantime I will watch over the little oysters to see if I can fathom out how many will survive. There are too many to count. What I really need is a visual scanning system that can show growth and mortality ranges.

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Beachcombing on Hovedøya

Since April I’ve been staying on my boat on Hovedøya, just one of the little islands in the inner Oslo fjord. Large parts of the island are protected by the Cultural Heritage Act. This is were I live in the summer season. I mostly stay on the island unless I really need to leave (for example, to buy provisions), even though the city is very close. Almost every day I clear up the stoney beach close to the jetty, finding all kinds of plastic, glass, syringes and a lot of other rubbish washed up on the shore. Today I found something quite alien and alive.

I have observed the urban development of Oslo Harbour from my boat for the last six summers and have found that this development has contributed exponentially to the amount of rubbish I gather each morning. ∼ Many people crowd onto the recently constructed city beaches to enjoy the sun and sea. When this happens many castaways, such as ice cream wrappers, chicken bones, tampons, condoms and doggy poo bags, come floating over to the little stoney beach. The ferries that go to the small islands depart from a more accessible location than before, greatly increasing the number of persons that visit the islands. In the high season I dream that Hovedøya is sinking under the weight of all the visitors.

This morning the water level was very low, exposing less contemporary objects in the mud; thick broken glass (cloudy coloured, dark brown, green and black) that must have come from very old bottles, pieces of old pottery and large iron nails from traditional wooden boats. I also found a scattering of Pacific oysters (natives of Japanese seas) anchoring themselves to the rocks. Never before have I found a wild oyster on Hovedøya.

Recently there has been a rapid expansion of  Pacific oyster (crassostrea gigas) populations on the Scandinavian coasts. The oysters have been referred to as ecosystem engineers; species that have the ability, directly or indirectly, to modify, create or destruct habitats.

Unlike the ‘native’ oysters of Norway, which are oval and rather flat in form, the shells have sharp edges and are shaped by the environment they inhabit. I found such oyster shells filling in the niches between rocks. In Apr 2016 I helped organise a seafood foraging course at Steilene, just a little further south from Oslo. The oysters we harvested were much larger than those on Hovedøya and more conformable in shape. I presume that the oysters on Hovedøya are young ones, first cementing themselves in the gaps between rocks before growing bigger. Given time, they may establish themselves as a large colony. Given the right conditions Pacific oysters can live up to about 30 years.

Foraged food on Steilene, Apr 2016.

Oyster on Hovedøya, Jul 2017

Much like the invasion of the Alaskan king crab some years back, the explosion of wild oysters along parts of the Norwegian coast are about to displace native species, and may also account for the very low count of mussels in Norway this year. The normally shy eider ducks that migrate to Hovedøya in the spring  must be feeling this recession too. Each day, family groups pay frequent visits to my boat, diving under the water to feed on mussels living on the keel. From inside the boat the collective noise they make is phenomenal, sounding like a sea monster trying to find a way in. I try to supplement their diet with bread crumbs, but they just they throw their beaks up in distain. Not surprising really, as they feed on mussels, clams, scallops, sea urchins, starfish, and crabs. Mussels are their favourite food. Oysters are mine.

If I had been given the option of oysters or bread, I would opt for oysters – breakfast, lunch and dinner (preferably with a slice of lemon and a glass of champagne). Gobbling them up seems a good way to go to restore some balance  in the local ecosystem. Others have been thinking about this too. I found an article in The New York Times; Chinese Offer to Eat Denmark’s Oyster Problem to Extinction (28.04.2017).

Briefly; soon after the Danish Embassy in Beijing released an online report about a ‘plague’ of Pacific oysters along parts of the Scandinavian coast, over 15.000 social media comments and recipes came flooding in.

Most of the advice offered by commenters boiled down to a simple solution: Send armies of Chinese tourists to scarf down the oysters. But that advice often came with a witty twist: “Free up visas and introduce oyster-eater visas, 10 years unlimited re-entry,” said one of the initial suggestions. “I’d bet that these oysters would be exterminated in about five years.”

Another comment;

“I solemnly swear to join the Danish Oyster-Resistance Volunteer Army,” said another. “I will dedicate my tongue and taste buds to Sino-Danish friendship until these oyster invaders are vanquished.”

To such comments, the Embassy replied;

“Thank you to the righteous advance team of oyster eaters,” …. “The beaches of Denmark await you.”

Like the king crab, Pacific oysters may become a lucrative export product, but whether this will have a positive effect on local ecosystems remains to be seen. A recent article, DNA analyses reveal secrets about the Pacific oyster (NIVA 28.06.2017) probes this issue. It is one of global climate change, larvae drifts, simulated ocean models and genetic analyses.

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Island field notes 2016-17

Island field notes 2016-17

Island field notes (and what gets let in and left out of the pond?)

FOURNI  ISLAND

‘If I were The Ocean’, the working exhibition, held at the Norwegian Maritime Museum at Bygdøy in August 2016, can be seen as a map and a compass for the entire Amphibious Trilogies project. Amanda Steggell and I used this map and compass at the isle of Fourni in September 2016.

Instead of circumnavigating the island, or climbing its highest peak, we navigated the northern shores of the island by walking as far as we could in every direction. When we found we couldn’t get any further by foot, we would enter into the water and swim to the next shore, and then continue to walk. This is the amphibious way of getting about. We also tried to find passages between different islands that were close enough to swim across. (⇐ ?)

Every morning Amanda would go out with the local fishermen to get the catch of the day. And every evening we would sit in the fish restaurant and eat what they had caught. This became another of our routines that gave a variation to the otherwise sleepy fisher village. One day there was a great deal of fish, octopus and lobster. Other days almost none.

Besides walking, swimming and fishing we would read, draw, do tai chi tai chi (⇐ ?), dance (⇐ ?), photograph, film, speak to locals, gather herbs and document the events as they unfolded. Amanda´s practice of enquiring could be considered to be of an enquiring journalistic approach.

In my opinion, the first trip to Fourni was a way of testing out all the different directions that Amphibious Trilogies can take in the coming three years.

SAMOS ISLAND I

In September of 2016, while staying at the island of Fourni Amanda and I visited the neighbouring island of Samos. We met the volunteering group Samos Volunteers who are working at a camp for boat refugees coming over the water from Turkey. We joined in for two days teaching English classes and gave swimming lessons for refugee kids at a shelter at the Paradise Hotel. The meeting with Jasmine Doust of the Samos Volunteers and encounter with the refugees sparked the idea to come back to Samos again in 2017 to work for a longer period of time. It also sparked the idea for a ‘pond ballet’, a colouring book and making plastic rope out of plastic bottles. More about this later.

SAMOS ISALND II

We arrived in Samos, Greece on 3 April 2017 and worked for Samos Volunteers daily from 6 am until at least 6 pm for 3 weeks (until 23 April) at the shelter at Paradise Hotel and in the refugee camp.

There were around 700-800 persons living in the camp at that time. Around 200 of them were children. Around 40 persons, mostly families with small children and/or pregnant women, were staying in the shelter. Every night there were between 20-30 new persons arriving to the island by boat from Turkey.

The everyday routine of activities consisted of working at the tea kitchen, library, English lessons, children’s activities, playing chess and backgammon, walking on hikes and arts and crafts; drawing and dancing workshops. During these activities there was no time to reflect upon the overall situation. We could only deal with each moment, one at a time, or else the graveness of the overall situation would make us unable to do any practical tasks at all.

Meeting with the refugees was very intense, direct and often resulted in laughter despite the harsh conditions, the lack of common language and many chances of misunderstanding.

The two events that Amanda and I were responsible for, the dancing and drawing workshops, didn´t not necessarily require words.

The grown-ups:

In the workshop for grown-ups every Tuesday and Thursday we facilitated a welcoming atmosphere in which the men would feel free to participate and start their own activities. We would be holding the space rather than activating it, so that the men could join in or bring their own activities to the space. An Algerian man spent several weeks painting a sign. A man from Kurdistan would bring his Udh to the classroom and play wedding songs. Then other men started to dance traditional wedding dances, and we joined them. A deaf man from Syria could easily join in dancing and drawing.

The kids:

The dance workshop for kids was held at the shelter at Paradise Hotel. There was not much explanation needed because the children would simply copy our actions. The workshop consisted of a warm-up circle where everybody got to suggest a movement and then everybody else copied them. We then moved as slow as we could, like we were moving in water, to some electronic music. Afterwards we did the Dance of the Evolution, starting as a one-cell-creature, going through all the different stages of development before ending in John Travolta-disco dance. We would end the workshop again in a circle with a breakdance movement called the wave. Everybody held hands and watch a wave move through body of one person at the time through the circle.

One kid that came over to Amanda and me during library and wanted to skip rope. After asking many times Amanda gave in and we started to make believe that we were swinging a rope. The kid saw that there was no rope, but still he started to jump. Everybody else around saw it and started to smile at the fact that the kid didn´t care if there was no rope there, but nevertheless jumped to 100. The smiles spread all around the main square of the camp. For Amanda and me this was the purest moment of belief in our whole stay at Samos and an example of how performance can create hope.

On our first visit to Samos in September 2016 we asked several people what the refugees needed the most. One man, a former refugee himself, answered that they need money and hope. When we asked Jasmine Doust of Samos Volunteers what was needed, she said that the kids love to colour, and that´s how the idea for the colouring book came. Amanda asked me if I could make one, and I drew five images. Two were of superheroes, refugee boy and refugee princess with whom the kids could identify. The other three were of a paper boat, a paper plane and a kite. The idea was that the drawings could be coloured and also images of objects that could physically be made simply by folding paper.

Together with the kids we folded paper planes and boats out of the blank pages in the book, but we didn’t get around to make kites. The idea behind the boat was to physically deal with their past of traversing the sea by boat, and by colouring it and folding it into a paper boat, also mentally deal with the fact that that’s how they got here. The planes were to symbolise their future; hopefully they would be allowed to fly to Athens or to another place in Europe.  The idea for the kite was that the kids could draw their past on one side of the kite, and their future on the other side, and that when they later would run with the kite on the beach it would give them the feeling that they were in charge of their own life.

On the cover of the colouring book there is a smiling frog under the big block letters saying REFUGEES WELCOME. The Refugees Welcome movement are very visible in the west, but is not very visible in the periphery of Europe. The idea to put an amphibian on the cover came from Amanda. When showing it to my cousin, Charlotte Bik Bandlien, she asked if the frog was meant to resemble Pepe the Frog of the Alt Right movement in the US of A. First then it became clear to me why putting a frog under those letters had resonated with me. Mixing the logos of the two political organisations that are the furthest apart in one drawing, and also the refugee children colour of it, it makes for a powerful action that produces a strong image of the present reality.

Every evening Amanda and I would debrief and recap. We would talk about the day, what had happened and how we felt about it. We would let down our guard and tell each other thing we liked and didn´t like, and we would allow ourselves to laugh about situations that were no fun at the time when they happened. This relief helped being in the tense atmosphere camp.

The Samos Volunteers:

Every Wednesday there was the volunteers’ weekly meeting at the Paradise Hotel where we would update one another on the events of the past week and discuss new issues. Meeting with the other volunteers was challenging in the sense that Samos Volunteers consist of persons of diverse backgrounds and from equally many different nationalities as the refugees in the camp. All of them arrived to Samos with the good intentions to help out, but there are many different ways to help out. We soon found out that there was an established hierarchy among the volunteers, which determined who got to help out, where and how.

This became clear on the second week when Hans-Jørgen Wallin Weihe, our collaborator, arrived. Since our visit in September the year before the volunteers had adapted a structure more similar to the one that we found between the police, the army and the other NGOs found inside the camp. Hans-Jørgen was only allowed to work with the refugees outside the camp. His wife and her sister were refused access when they approached the camp on their own. Hans-Jørgen, and ultimately Amanda and I, got to feel the tensions that this situation created. The encounter with the hierarchy of Samos Volunteers echoed a part of the project; what is allowed in and what gets left out of the pond? And who decides?

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Impressions of Samos

Being in Samos was an impression of the great contrast between then tourist Samos and the harsh world of the razor wired fenced in area of refugees. At the same time the reality of the volunteers with all their competencies and lack of competencies, personal hierarchy  and rivalries contrasted to the complexity of the refugee community 

– some of whom being real refugees – some coming from other reasons – the male dominance – the female group and the children – then the workers, some of them working as part of a condition for social welfare benefits – some professionals of various professions and some dedicated to their work with humanistic motives and some into the work because of the income.  

During my period – a week – the camp was open – however I experienced the camp as a trap – ready to be closed down whenever demanded. Guns and razor wire a reality that could be used  whenever external forces required them to be used.

 There are many games and actors some of them puppets in a puppet theatre – some of them with independence and willingness to act outside of the scene and the theatre. Then the children always ready to attach themselves to humans and individuals who can give them some kind of humanity and learning experiences. They were like seeds ready to germinate if conditions were right – and vulnerable to draught and lack of fertile sound.

 The camp was a pond with amphibious beings – ready to move on and develop – and just as ready to succumb all possibilities if draught and human pollution would come. Predator fish could make the pond a trap – predator birds could make the pond a trap – and humans could pollute and make it into a deadly place.

 Around the pond a beautiful landscape – recreation and humanity with an invisible wall to the other reality.

Ladies all covered up – still undressed and vulnerable. Men behaving like dominating men- still controlled and subordinated a system of individuals and bureaucracy – undressed and blind to their vulnerability – still very much aware of their situation – then everyone giving their censored selected truth through mobile telephones to another reality somewhere some other place.

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Cape 1. Video 1

Fieldwork documentation

Kalk Bay, Cape Town, Mar 2017
Amanda Steggell

  • Find a safe place to climb into the water while paying attention to white shark alarms.
  • Locate a suitable Giant Kelp trunk.
  • Attach an underwater POV video camera to the trunk. Press record!
  • Leave the Kelp alone for a while. View your catch later.

Location data

Off Main Road, Dalebrook, Cape Town, South Africa.
Hidden between St James and Kalk Bay and opposite the Dalebrook Place.
Access from the road is by a pedestrian tunnel under the railway line.
Area code 7975, 7990

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Island 1. Video 10 – 16

Fieldwork documentation

Island 1, Fourni Island, Greece, Sep 2016
Amanda Steggell, Brynjar Åbel Bandlien
Island ∼ Life 

Double role approach: artist / co-worker (apprentice)

    • Volunteer to work out on a traditional fishing boat
    • Do ‘real’ fishing tasks, while paying attention to the self-given fieldwork tasks. (Such as surveying the lay of the land the water, learning about island life tactually and through conversation. Keeping senses sharp to take in the surround).
    • Documentation: Handheld, iPhone 6+

 

Janis pulls up the net from the bow of the boat. He says that in total there is 800 m of net.

 

Miltos, captain, owner of the boat and a seafood restaurant, receives the net from the stern.

 

Georges helps to untangle the catch from the yellow nets – fish, crab, lobster, eel, octopus, squid.

 

Location data

Fournoi Korseon, more commonly simply Fournoi, is a complex or archipelago of small Greek islands that lie between Ikaria, Samos and Patmos in Ikaria regional unit, North Aegean region.  – Wikipedia

Area: 10 km²
Area code: 22750
Administrative region: North Aegean

 

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Island 1. Video 8&9

Fieldwork documentation

Island 1, Thymaina Island, Fourni, Greece, Sep 2016
Amanda Steggell, Brynjar Åbel Bandlien
Island ∼ Island ∼ a green patch artificially inserted in the surround

Island ∼ Island. Probed.

Mixed methods for probing unfamiliar surroundings in a 360° manner

  • Gaze (outside eye)
  • ‘T’ai chi ∼ T’ai chi’: A kind of personal expansion pack for  T’ai chi.
    – You can make up your own moves.
  • Documentation: POV camera on the Heart Chakra.
    – Forget the camera, examine your catch later. (failed)
  • Documentation: Handheld, iPhone 6+

 

Location data

Thymaina is a small Greek island in the Ikaria regional unit, in the eastern Aegean Sea. Thymaina is located just west of Fournoi Korseon and is administratively a part of its municipality – Wikipedia

Area: 10 km²
Area code: 22750
Administrative region: North Aegean

 

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Island 1. Video 6&7

Fieldwork documentation

Island 1, Thymaina Island, Fourni, Greece, Sep 2016
Amanda Steggell, Brynjar Åbel Bandlien
Island ∼ Island. Probing the surround Isadorably

Island ∼ Island. The talking tree.

Mixed methods for probing unfamiliar surroundings in a 360° manner

  • Modern dance. ‘Isadorables’
    – originating from Isadora Duncan’s dance troupe
  • Moving gaze and conversation
  • Documentation: Hand-held, iPhone 6+

 

Location data

Thymaina is a small Greek island in the Ikaria regional unit, in the eastern Aegean Sea. Thymaina is located just west of Fournoi Korseon and is administratively a part of its municipality – Wikipedia

Area: 10 km²
Area code: 22750
Administrative region: North Aegean

 

In the surround

Boats on the mountain

Lifeboat cover as water trough

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Island 1. Video 4&5

Fieldwork documentation

Island 1, Fourni, Greece, Sep 2016
Amanda Steggell, Brynjar Åbel Bandlien
∼  Cove to cove amphibiously

Mixed methods for probing unfamiliar surroundings in a 360° manner

  • Swimming to coves and beaches that are most easily accessed via the sea.
  • Add-on organ: Dry bags for carrying electronic equipment and daily supplies.
  • Documentation: Handheld GoPro3 camera.

 

Location data

Fournoi Korseon, more commonly simply Fournoi, is a complex or archipelago of small Greek islands that lie between Ikaria, Samos and Patmos in Ikaria regional unit, North Aegean region.  – Wikipedia

Area: 28.12 km²
Area code: 22750
Administrative region: North Aegean

 

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