Why forever must you wander
Seeking for a happier land
Truest pleasures are not yonder
But are always close at hand.
Printed on a beermat? Embroidered on your great grandma’s antimacassar? (look it up) A tea towel? Burned into a piece of wood in a Devon teashop? None of these. They are lyrics by the German heavyweight Goethe and set to music by the equally heavily weighted Austrian composer Haydn. So there you go, high to low art boiling down to the fundamentals. You can hum it to the tune of Yankee Doodle or a Haydn mass; it’s profound lockdown stuff.
I’m locking down for a bit longer yet – call it locklite. I’m not taking any chances with my health, and keeping to the 3Rs at home – ‘riting, ‘rithmatic (with the bills) and reading. Sympatico with the bon mots above I’m reading Outpost by Dan Richards. Dan (a wanderer) and I (not really) were on an MA course together seventeen years ago, Writing the Visual at Norwich School of Art. I flunked it but got a certificate; whereas Dan ended up with letters after his name and went on to write some terrific travel literature. I say travel – but it’s not the usual gadabout narrative. And I say literature because the writing is beautiful. The places he goes to are far away – ‘the wild ends of the earth’- yet it’s his internal state that brings the places alive. At present I am with him in Iceland visiting ‘houses of joy.’
Richards writes ‘To live in a country as potent and metamorphic as Iceland is to be constantly reminded, made acutely aware, that the land is both ancient and new.’
Iceland’s evolving geology has both terror and beauty, and a house of joy is a place of respite and comfort in bleak landscapes. Unless it’s haunted of course, but that’s another story, like those of the huldufolk who bless or curse people and cast spells accordingly. For this is the realm of the imagination. As I write, he’s off to visit artist Simon Starling in Copenhagen. It was Starling’s installation Shedboatshed that won the Turner Prize in 2005. When I saw this work, I loved it, but didn’t understand it. Now I do, as Dan writes ‘Shed is the breadth of its sandwich life, the middle is filled with travel, rivers, and derring-do. It is a shed with stories to tell. A shed that been on a great adventure. Its timbers dream of the river.’ This is wonderful writing that enhances fine art, which is what art writing should do.
Dan Richards’ visits to far flung outposts, whether mountain, desert, snow, ice or forest bring him back to the personal and the here and now. And in locklite I can travel without leaving my house. I got a book out too – Stormlight. Dan and I swapped tenners buying each other’s books. But as writers, didn’t have the gumption to just – swap books. Here’s mine.