Monday, August 20, 2007

Spinning stories

For some reason, one of the few tidbits about Iceland that I know is that the primeval landscape is impregnated with mythology and that the long summer nights and empty winter days are conducive to reading alot and creating stories. Most likely I read about this in one Björk interview or another back in her Sugarcube days. So I was intrigued seeing the work of one of Iceland's leading conceptual artists Hreinn Fridfinnsson at the Serpentine Gallery on Saturday (yesterday).

Fridfinnsson's work is testimony to the stark and ethereal Icelandic landscape and the stories that are spun out of it. He creates poetry out of the mundane. For example, accompanying a grainy black and white photo of his work desk and a glowing desk lamp is a handwritten scrawl, "After a while, a shadow of a flying bird might pass across my hands". Boldly etched in black across one of the Serpentine's vast white walls are the words, "Thorsteinn Surtr dreamed he was awake but everyone else was asleep, then he dreamed he fell asleep and everyone else woke up".

He tells the story of a man who lived isolated in a tiny fishing village in the northwest of Iceland. Close to this death, he built a wooden house and fixed corrugated iron sheets on the inside and wallpaper on the outside because, "Wallpaper is to please the eye, so it is reasonable to have it on the outside where more people can enjoy it". Fridfinnsson reconstructed this house in the middle of the rocky Icelandic terrain, complete with curtains and pictures clinging to the exterior, and displayed photographs of it next to the story (above).

Accompanying a tiny shard of black meteorite is a long text narrating the story of the Soviet artist Medvedev who witnessed the fiery trajectory and explosion of a meteorite in Eastern Siberia in 1947 and feverishly painted the fiery scene as it was happening (top photo).

And within a dark and brooding coastal terrain, Fridfinnsson built several white gates that only the south wind could open. Just as he was finishing, however, the north wind blew so hard the gates were shut forever. The artist told nobody and never returned. But he took photos of them and they are displayed here.

Who knows whether any of these accounts are embedded in truth or whether they are fables spun to while away the time, and who cares really. Fridfinnsson's words and images are myths and "truth" is neither here nor there. It is liberating to suspend belief.

Since Thursday night, we've also:
  • Caught up with far-flung friends from Venuzuela, Ireland, India, Tanzania and St Albans (!) at The Angelic in Islington, Two Floors in Soho (scene of my first kiss with M back in February 2005 - though you would never have known it from the blog post I wrote of that evening!), The Sun and 13 Cantons in Soho and the Alphabet Bar in Soho.

  • Returned to Melati on Peter Street in Soho with friends - some of the above - for more spicy goodness from Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, but this time our fellow diners included a quiet group celebrating a birthday and a screeching group of hen night girls.

  • Eaten XO silver cod, Sha-cha beef, chilli soft-shell crab with seaweed and cream crackers, braised tofu with minced salted fish and pork in a steaming clay pot, Sichuan vegetables, and creamed pumpkin icecream at Haozhan in Chinatown. Interesting items on the menu we did not try included baked lobster with cream cheddar cheese, silver cod baked in champagne and honey, deep-fried pork ribs in a coffee sauce, and marmite prawns. Hmm, may have to return to try some of those!

  • Lunched on cheese and dill pickles (M) and egg and anchovy (me) rye bread open sandwiches plus cinnamon buns at the Nordic Bakery on Golden Square.

  • Browsed the Martin Margiela, DKNY, APC, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Veronique Branquinho and Eley Kishimoto collections at the always wonderful Liberty - which still, in my mind, has the best-displayed designer collections out of all the department stores here in London. I didn't buy anything, but from Harvey Nicks I bought a gorgeous yet slightly edgy Nicole Farhi crushed silk blouse with a dark autumnal print that looks like camouflage (below). Her Fall collection looks very good.

  • Snuggled in at home together on Sunday (today) while the rain poured down outside to watch on DVD Yasujiro Ozu's luminous and gentle Tokyo Story (1953) about the disappointment and frustration an aging couple feel when they journey from their rural village to the bustling metropolis of post-war Tokyo to visit their modern, married children.

  • Ate lemony roast chicken with ratatouille jam-packed with courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes, red pepper and garlic, cooked by M. And planned our meals for the week: I think I will cook a chicken jalfrezi with the leftover chicken tomorrow and a Bengali marrow curry with dried red chillis and panch phoran on Tuesday (I'll try and post the recipe); M will cook a clear chicken stock soup with rice noodles and shrimp dumplings we bought frozen from Chinatown, served with steamed Chinese greens of some kind. This month's Observer Food Monthly has a simple no-cook recipe for fresh figs, Gorgonzola and rocket, mizuna and watercress salad, which will be nice to eat too this week if we don't go out.

  • I had my hair coloured and cut at my favourite Aveda Institute on High Holborn. I've been there for body treatments, massages, facials, pedicures and intensive hair conditioning treatments but have never had my hair cut and coloured there before. I will now. I got a complimentary and very sensuous hand massage while the hair colour - a glossy dark brown-black - set. The cut my stylist gave me was terrific. I love it! The hair is still long but it's got more choppy layers in it now. Afterwards, I felt compelled to buy purple eyeshadow and electric blue eyeliner from the Shu Uemura counter in Harvey Nicks to complement the edgier look before we met up with our friends.


Little Nutbrown Hare said...

How is Haozhan compared to the rest of the Chinatown restaurants? I was curious about its name (Taiwanese slang) but their menu was a typical Chinatown menu so I didn't try it out...

Planethalder said...

Hi Tommy. It was all very delicious and distinctive - I mean, I've never seen a menu with marmite prawns or lobster with cream cheese before. The food we ate was very well made and fresh, and wonderfully presented. Try it.

childwoman said...

Once I was tempted to buy a shimmery green eye liner pencil and a nude colored eye shawdow..I was drooling on them. But then I imagined my mum and dad frowning seeing me wearing them, so I let it go. I regret not buying them. I am sure I would have felt like rose blooming in yellow sunshine..Sigh!! can you post a pic of your hair do? please.... :)

Olivia said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog. Looking at your name and then your latest post I at first thought you were Icelandic, but I see further down that your parents come from India.

Coincidentally, my grandmother is half Icelandic and I have Indian ancestors.

I really enjoy reading your descriptions of food. Is your job food related? Quite lucky if so!

In fact your blog is very well written :)

Planethalder said...

Hi Childwoman - I love my new makeup - it's encouraged me to experiment a little more.

Welcome Olivia - no I don't work in the food industry (I work for an advertising agency and have clients from a variety of sectors including food) but I do love love love food!