Inside a church are people. Outside of a church are dark cliffs. The church is maintained by the government, because it is on this distinction, this between space, however narrow, that it draws its legitimacy, in a long history of living under colonization. Gunnar Gunnarsson turned it on its head, in his book Svartfugl, or “The Black Birds,” meaning dark-souled people (including but not limited to priests) stealing the light from others, under the influence of a bleak landscape. The English translation is The Black Cliffs — the human oppression, and its intimate relationship with the land, has been wiped clean for an American audience. That relationship, though, is vital, as it represents exactly what one sees in the church above: a portal into the self. The result was a complex book, perhaps the best book of 1932:
The barren hills are caused by the sheep that make a nation possible here. The birches in the churchyard would have been all over them 1100 years ago. More trees would be desirable, but lamb is already $35 a kilo. That’s a hard practical choice. The church is a symbol of many things, including the parliament of 999-1000 that made Christianity the country’s public religion (without denying private paganism), the loss of nationalism to the Norwegian Crown a half millennium ago, the power of land-owners to collect church tithes, and the cementing of Christian values (and at times oppression) in communities of itinerant labourers, almost serfs, in continual movement around the country. The forest behind the church is part of the late 19th century and early 20th century movement to re-settle the land and reclaim nationalism from Denmark. The long distance transmission line is part of the support network for the American aluminum plant behind me when I made this image. The reservoir that supplies these lines with power drowned some of Iceland’s most beautiful wilderness, yet, arguably, provides the funds that allow Iceland to remain independent. The green field crop represents the heavy industrialization of agriculture which enables a people, in love with the power of American urban values and who have left to land, to eat off the labour of 4500 people. The ditches across the field, for drainage, allow for increased yields for this industrialized agriculture. Everything you see here is a technology for survival. Everything is a carefully calculated choice. Nothing is frivolous. So, yes, if you call that pastoral, this is. Gunnar Gunnarsson would have said it was. I do, too.