The low autumn sun shone down on the procession.
They left through the gate, whose dun coloured bars were now golden in the dry sun light. Slowly making their way down the street, they each left one by one; a singular introduction to their new world.
Their moving figures formed long shadows against the building, scanning across the height of the wall. Behind, if you were looking down the road, you could catch a glimpse of the landscape in the background; grave but well-coloured by the season; quietly framed by the overlapping rows of buildings.
MjØsa, on whose shore the town was settled, is the largest of all Norway’s lakes. It followed us for most of our journey the day before. It had been greyer that day, but the cold light turned the lake silver against the mist and cloud. We drank from thin tin cans within the thick aluminium walls, while the train cut through the forest. Viridescent Pines climbed up from the lake in row with tawny silver birches. Side by side they stood; the living with the dead; on hills that kept the country’s myths between the trees and stone.
At the front of the procession, Yuko Morita marched slowly on. A stark figure in a black coat and black hair; darker than her shadow which followed beside, twisting against the ledge at the foot of the wall. Her head sunk in bowed concentration. In her hands, she balanced a ship inside a block of ice. You had to get-up close to see the ship. Where I watched from the corner, the sun’s gleaming on the ice blinded all detail. All you could see was cold fire. She carried the frozen ship with care, balancing the ice precariously on a reflective board.
Following behind was Matt Galpin, who was already changing course; leaving the queue to wander off. He wore what looked like a leather blacksmith’s apron. He had rolls of plastic tape at the end of his fingers, and round sunglasses. This menacing presence was offset by the bright colour of the tape.
Kirsten Norrie moved in to his position, renewing order to the line. Faceless, she let blooming purple heather blossom from her throat. She carried thin wooden antlers, held timidly within her earth-red hair, and the tongue of a stag over her own.
And so the procession continued.
Jack Catling, with gracious lack of balance, walked along side Kirsten. He had animal masks hanging from his neck in a circle around his trunk; a papier mache carnival held with string. He stumbled from the crowd, across the road and away into a side street.
Thomas Jeppesen stayed in line, though he already seemed estranged from the group by his unassuming presence. He put a hand in his pocket and produced a small stone. He let it drop on to the tip of his foot and kicked it off into the street. His modest presence was betrayed by sharp, clenching outbursts. As he came closer, I heard what he said. He took out another stone and threw it to the ground. ‘Gråstein.’ He cried, quietly.
The last to appear, by some distance, was Lynn Lu. She backed out of the gate with arched back and heavy, arrhythmic footsteps. She pulled a burlap sack in front her. As she dragged the sack along the ground, a pure white line of salt appeared. It began a path that would run through the town; white and silver in the sunlight and the shadows.
They reached the crossing. There, the procession dissolved as each made their way toward the centre of town. Against the backdrop of quiet traffic and the sharp, clean corners of the buildings, the group took on a striking aspect; unusual, reticent creatures; in search of something, yet already adrift- looking to return
Journey into town
I waited a short while, giving them time to make their way. I watched them from the corner branching out, till the environment reacted. I was there, primarily, for the interaction. It was the town’s response I wanted to see. I followed the salt track leading up one of the longer streets, close to the square. It was market day and so the town would be pulsing softly in the midst of their weekly errands. The brighter spot in the sphere of their normalcy, while the stranger creatures crept out from the rectangular shade. And while they walked down their charming and familiar roads, they would soon come across these creatures; these refugees of the imagination.
As he moved, Matt was beginning to unravel the tape from his fingers. He wandered past a construction site surrounded by anonymous buildings. Red and white tape ran along the mesh fence around the site, enclosing fine lunar rubble; piled up neatly into mounds. He stopped to inspect it, and carried on. As with the others, his primary inducement was to hold some bearing on the town; its shape and structure. He followed the parameters. The tape hung short in many-coloured ribbons by his waist.
I saw Kirsten too move past the site. She did not belong there in the shade and debris and dust. Her hybrid of flora and fauna from northern terrains; the soft, mystical side of nature perverted. She belonged in the sun, among life, and all its mutations.
I came across a woman in the street, amused and baffled. She turned to me and said something in Norwegian. I told her I didn’t speak any. In perfect English, she asked me what this was. I told her and asked her what she thought. ‘Well it’s certainly unusual. I don’t know how you say it in English.’ She paused. ‘It’s very…strange behaviour.’
I found Yuko by the yellow wall. Standing between two red wooden doorways. The breeze gently blew her hair. She was utterly still. A small and scattered congregation gathered by the street, while occasional passers-by would step off from the pavement, craning their neck slightly as they moved past. We rested there a moment. She leant her back against the yellow stone and we carried on.
The salt track formed a circle around the market square. There were only a handful of stalls; food, flowers and counterfeit clothing. A small avenue of trees lined one side. The branches had been cut into perfect cubes; gaps appearing where the leaves had shed. The flower vendor sold heather in plastic pots.
Jack was veering through the alleys. The faces hung from his body like fruit off a branch. He appeared as a misshapen inversion of the natural order. Between the solid frames of the architecture, he stumbled disorientated; an entangled affront to routine and form. A woman put her coins into the metre and watched as the vagrant moved by; the masks clicking against themselves. Her eyes shone with bemused, and momentary engagement. Jack moved along, knitting his brow in the low winter light, while the silent chorus rattled around him.
Thomas was on the next street, close now to the park. He walked along the clean, shining pavement, past the cafes and restaurants that looked out on to the water. I walked this way with him earlier in the day. He hadn’t had the chance to see the town yet, so I showed him around. He was nervous about the performance. He said it had been awhile and he was afraid anxiety would interfere. I naturally assured him he would be fine and asked him about his piece.
‘Gråstein’ was Norwegian for Greystone, a character from a Norwegian fairy tale. He never told me what the story was, but it was one he remembered well from childhood. He arrived with stones in his pocket, which he collected while visiting his hometown. That morning he would stop during a conversation and pick up gravel from the plant pots, stowing them in his jacket pocket. He moved through, blending in almost seamlessly, until another stone was pulled from his pocket and kicked down the street. ‘Grastein.’ He said. People stared at him. ‘Strange behaviour.’
Kirsten walked through the park, resembling a school child attempting to socialise with the dead leaves. Half-blind, she treaded carefully, finding common ground with the cultivated perennials. The lake in the background washed against the front; nature presenting its own talent for control. There was a cast-iron statue depicting a young stag beside the path. She pressed her hand against its face, measuring the contours with her fingers. A symbolic and mythological kinship seemed to develop in that moment. One a living, but transient image; the other, lifeless but solidly preserved. She mounted the stag as petals from her coat fell dry on to the ground.
A young father and his children stopped to watch her. The children huddled together while the father observed with silent calm. The two boys stood together, one looking from over the other’s shoulder, while the girl walked forward. Kirsten dismounted, and looked back at them with fragile diffidence. The young girl smiling, with occasional glances to her brothers, stepped closer. The sun shone from above the lake, reflecting off the statue and the water. This had a luminous effect on the girl’s blonde hair and white clothing, making her glow like a frozen star. Kirsten faced her in silhouette; the bruise-coloured heather hanging thick from her neck.
The Image Assembled
They were to meet back at the market, each in their own time. The salt track had circled round the square, coiling in to the centre.
Lynn Lu was resting on her knees beside the collapsed hessian and the final pile of salt in front of her. She held a folded paper boat in her hand which she placed on to the dried-out sea bed.
I sat and observed from a bench, watching families drifting through the town. They too were drawn to the centre. The streets around the square were lined with the discarded entrails of the performance. Matt’s tape, his rainbow-coloured tendrils, caught the attention of some children, who were pointing and looking quizzically at their parents. He too was seated, the remaining tape piled in his lap, like a weekend newspaper.
Thomas was on the next bench; more distant than before, more unassuming, still throwing stones and still calling out tightly muffled spurts of ‘Grastein’.
Then Jack arrived. The masks were now around his head, looking out in all directions. The gap in time gave the illusion they had climbed up his body and now fighting for position. He too sat down, watching from all direction.
Kirsten was next. By now, an audience was forming. She walked past the assembly and joined her own. She knelt down beside the potted heather.
The last was Yuko, still balancing the ship with great care and unwavering composure. She walked the ship around the salt track, then rested.
They had arrived now, each one of them; all assembled within the square.