The following is some of what I wrote while, and directly after, spending 10 days in total darkness. The pictures was taken the last day, when seeing the walls for the first time and slowly getting my eyes used to light again.
I know when I wake up the first time in the room that it’s still night. And then, when I wake up the second time that it’s morning. The darkness is the same around me, but my thoughts have a lighter contour, almost like a cloud that the sun is hiding behind. I lay under the duvet and look around me. For a second it surprises me that I can’t see anything, despite still remembering where I am. It’s like I was expecting dawn to come with light, even though I’ve made certain it can’t.
I move in three dimensions. What the movements look like is not important, only how they feel. They expand the room, that could continue forever. They expand my body out into the emptiness. Gravity is apparent here. But the part of my body that is not in connection with the floor sometimes seem to hover. I’m flying, and I’m anchored at the same time. The ground lets me know I exist. It keeps me with it. No matter how I stretch out or land, it is always on the ground. It lets me know that I belong with this specific matter, this collection of atoms that’s lumped together to form a planet. I am part of a living system, and here in the dark, the ground defines the meeting point with that system.
Sometimes the darkness is like the ocean, when I’m sitting on the bottom without my mask. It wants to push inside me, flow in and dissolve the matter I call me. The pressure of all the water in the Atlantic against a tiny bubble of air inside my nose. I have to force myself to breath slowly and calmly through my mouth where the regulator is feeding me oxygen from the cylinder on my back. Such a small action: accidentally breathing through my nose, or just not resisting anymore, and the living cells that make up my body will be turned into dead matter.
The darkness is a foreign element, but it is not threatening like the ocean. It can’t suffocate me, it is outside of me. I can breathe calmly. My cells are not filled with darkness. But they must be, because they are not glowing with light. Underneath my semitransparent skin there must be relative darkness, even when my body finds itself in the light. And it has to become progressively darker the farther in you go. The inner-most core of me should have never seen the light. Except for that time when a surgeon cut some holes to peek in, and some light fell through as well. And then she cut off, and took out, some of my living material. Living material that was killing me. Now that material is dead instead. And it’s no longer part of me, or my darkness. It’s out in the light. It has become visible and harmless. The nurses leaned over me, like knights in blue and silver radiation safe armour. A strong light behind them. The same light that fell through the holes in my body. I was on the table. The centre of everyones attention. A piece of living meat in their hands.
And then darkness.
And it was over. And I was alive, even though every part of my living body was still made of dead atoms.
If I had not survived, I could not ask you: If we don’t radiate light, does that mean we radiate darkness? It is so very quiet, because your can’t answer me. The silence presses against my eardrums and keep them still. Keep them stuck. The darkness is deeper when I open my eyes. It reaches far outside of me and my eyelids. It’s mind-boggling and terrifying to be erased and return to matter.
Sometimes I see myself in the dark with a tiger suit. My striped arms move across the floor or sneak along the walls. I can see my tiger ears listening and my tail unroll. Like an interactive, striped pyjama.
I lean against the radiator and pretend that it is the last rhino in the world that lets me come close. With my ear pressed against its side I can hear a choir of monks sing, in the wheezing and fizzle of the pipes. I have promised to never tell anyone about the rhino. No one will believe me anyway, the last one died too long ago. I remember that I read “The one who sees everything as material will never be free” and I thought “I don’t want that kind of freedom. I don’t need more freedom than I already have.” And I’m so wrong. For later on, when I’m not at all afraid and the floor is the floor of a forest of frog-trees where I’m lying on my back, in my striped tiger pyjamas and look at the stars, I’m all of a sudden much more free. And that is better. That is more. And the black panther-fox leans down over me and picks me up and together we run across the starry sky with our eight legs.
Sometimes the room is dark. Sometimes there is Nothing there. I’m looking at Nothing until my eyes become nothing. The last night in the room I dream that I see myself. My skin is pale and colourless, my hair is dirty and lank and my eyes are black, bottomless glass spheres.
I’m standing in the doorway of a room I’ve never seen. I have no idea how big it is, what shape it has or what can be found inside. A compact darkness fills the room, as if it was matter. It is as solid as a block of stone, until I take a step into it and it doesn’t hold me back. My feet feel the floor, my skin feels the temperature and dryness of the air, my nose picks up smells and I can hear the faint echoes of my movements bouncing of the invisible walls somewhere in the farther in. I raise my hand and move forward until it hits something. Until this moment, the object I’m now touching has not been part of my perception of the room. It grows and takes shape, as my hands move across its surface. I get to discover it slowly, almost like if I was removing the block of stone piece by piece until I sculpted the room from inside, without having light filling my head with preconceptions.
How will my thinking and writing be effected by the absence of light? Who am I without everything my eyes let into my brain and the safety of being able to judge my surroundings with sight? What will want to be written? What will come after the boredom, that I’m sure comes first, as a result of the absence of distractions: no computer, no phone, no book, no knitting, nothing to see? Who am I in that situation? With only a pen and a paper in the dark.
Tomorrow I will step into this room to start to find the answers to these questions. I will spend ten days in the absence of light, assisted (with food and other things) by artist Meri Linna who, as a part of her own practice, has created the space I will inhabit in the kind of darkness that your eyes can’t get used to.
Meri Linnas page about the project: http://re-treat.info/home.html
Do you remember that time when I helped you to move? I was so efficiant in packing away your kitchen things that you had to call me for months afterwards to ask where things where hidden. We are right by that house now. Your last house, with the amazing view. We reached the sea finally, crossing half this country on foot to get here. I remember you walking slowly in this place, your hip hurting more and more. But you never stopped picking away the weed that wanted to live in your driveway. You brought a foldable chair with you, sat down and picked away, then moved the chair one step foreward, sat down again and continued. You had plans when you moved here, even though you somehow knew you where moving back north to die. Someone else live in your house now. They are not as good at picking away the weeds, but I’m sure they love the view. We slept the last night at that museum you liked so much, they have cottages for hire now in the middle of all the historical buildings. We had dinner at the same table where you and I ate. We talked about you. We will continue to talk about you.
Fragment 13: a piece of weed from her driveway, since she is no longer there.
The sea at last.
The cliffs fall apart like cubes here.
Detail from one of the sets at the museum Mannaminne.
I doubt that you remember the last christmas we spent together. It was the last time you went south, but for you geography was just a matter of convinience. By then Spain was on the second floor of the house and the kitchen was preparing the Nobel-price dinner. You where apparently there to interview us about our family restaurant, not at all to celebrate christmas, even though you got confused every time you remembered that you where also part of the family. I tried to correct your thoughts and bring you back to reality, until I realized that being corrected constantly is no fun and what is reality anyway? So we embarked on a journey through your mind insted. Every time you asked the same question I gave you a different answer, to see which one you liked the best. We ended up with plans to go to the north pole by hot air ballon. All those plans gone, offcourse, five minutes later but you liked them while they lasted. The next five minutes was a different adventure.
I wanted to tell you that it was one of my best christmases and I will never stop being amazed of how the mind creates reality, even though I will never stop missing having a long and continious conversation with you.
Fragment 12: a piece of fir / a bit of christmas tree
In this house the christmas candles where still in the window.
A farm with a view.
A wonderful but closed down roadside restaurant called “the Swan”.
I think I found your glasses by the road today. Or at least parts of them. It could easily be them, you had so many. Your glasses where always a bit bent and crooked, from being sat on or for fallen asleep with in front of the television or somehow getting under lots of bags in the car.
We walked the road of the famous 1931 strike protest today, the one that ended with the military opening fire against it’s own population and killing five people. A dark day in swedish history, but as some dark days do, it changed this country for the better since (almost) everyone realized the brutality was way over the top and that the military should have nothing to do with civilian matters anymore.
You where six years old when this happened. You didn’t need glasses yet. You had long before you would fall asleep in front of a television. You had not even sat in a car. You had all these years left.
Fragment 11: a lens from a pair of broken glasses.
Detail from the memorial of “the shots in Ådalen”, front page from the local newspaper the day before the protests with the news that led to the protests (“Strike breakers invades Ådalen”).
Do you remember when we drove through the mountains and you held on so hard to that little handle above the window each time your side of the car faced the edge? In every turn of the serpentine road you made your scared-sound by sucking in air through clenched teeth. You told everyone afterwards how scared you had been and you eyes glittered full of joy every time.
Fragmnet 10: a piece of a rusty car we found along the trail today.
The trail goes on for at least a km in each direction, how did it get here?
We are in sawmill country now.
We are between your homes now. This land is being abandoned, everyone is moving to the city and the fireweed -your flower, is left to claim the fields. I’ve never seen so many of them, they wave in the wind like purple weat.
On the way here we passed a charcoal kiln from WWII. The walls where broken and I could get inside to where the coal used to slowly burn. The brick walls where beautifully burnt and green from a thin layer of moss, old steel barrels lay on the ground. I remembered that you always enjoyed hearing about my travels so I will write to you instead of about you. That way I can still imagine your reactions and comments. You would say “Oh! That you dared!” when I told you about going into the kiln and I would get to feel like a brave adventurer reporting back to base camp.
The fields of fireweed also made me think about that summer when you made an outside theatre, telling the history of your birth place like a journey through time. They where everywhere that year. One of the characters in the theatre was the man “Vildhussen” that accidentally drained a whole lake trying to streamline the timber transportation on the river sometime in the 1700s. We passed the “Dead Waterfall” that was the result of his actions the day before yesterday. You would have really liked the salmon galets they serve there now.
Fragment 9: fireweed. In swedish they are called “navvy-rose” because they grow on newly disturbed ground and followed the railroad-builders as a tail through the country.
Newly abandoned field now covered with not yet fully blooming fireweed.
Inside the charcoal kiln. The fire burned for two weeks at a time.
The roof is slowly caving in.
Small pieces of glass at the roadside makes me remember that time when my grandmother took us to Paris by train. All the beautiful church windows. I was 12 years old and afraid to fly so I got my first proper backpack and we traveled by train. I’m wearing the same backpack right now, walking this road with the small pieces of glass. My cousin and I got to choose between Disneyland and Monet’s garden, he choose the land and I went to the garden. I’ve always longed for blue wisteria since that day but my country is too cold.
The road goes on.
Fregment 8: Colourful shards from collisions and bottles.
If these horsetails where blue and hanging instead of standing they could almost remind of wisteria.
I remember that day when my grandmother’s cat brought home a full litter of hare-babies. One after another he picked them from their nest and piled them in a neat pile before we could catch him and make the extermination stop. It was when, as my sister put it, my grandmother lived in an “abandoned house in the forest”. It was the old midwife-house and strange herbs still grew in forgotten places around it. He was a great hunter, that cat. No mouse lived in that house for long. Another day he caught a seagull and draged it home, still alive. But then he didn’t know what to do with it so we nursed it back to health and let it fly again.
Fragment 7: not hare-bone, but close enough.
Abandoned car in the forest.
Ridiculously pretty hay field, drying in the sun.