A Brief Seasonal Ruin-memory

by Þóra Pétursdóttir

On my way to the traditional ‘ray fiest’ in Borgarfjörður eystri, NE-Iceland, on the 23rd of December I stopped by an abandoned sheep house and barn, for a short photo exploration and a breath of fresh winter air.  I only later came to think of how appropriate it was to visit a vacant sheep house and barn on that very day.

I’ve actually driven past it several times, on many December 23rds, and always seen it lurking under the dark crag, assimilating its shape and contours, almost as if seeking rest by humbly withdrawing into the surrounding landscape. This was the first time I stopped, however.

It was ice cold and windy, slightly dark although in the middle of the day, as it is during this period, but not as much snow as it often has been. Anyway, I thought it was beautiful and at the same time interesting to see how the derelict house had become partly buried under the white, soft layer of snow. How the snow was accumulating in different amounts around its outlines – thick in one place, and faint in another. Also, how this uniform white cover transgressed a simple stratigraphic order, accumulating horizontally and vertically, inside and outside, on top of the roof as well as under it, inside the walls as well as on their rough, cracked outer sides – seemingly seeking to fill in every opening and every crack, mending the ruined carcass. Softening the roughness of the gravelly cement, and the sharpness of edges. Adding a cold mildness to the brutality of the decomposing process and the ruination dominating the physical and mental feel of the site.

Exploring the site was beautiful and interesting – not the least because unintentionally it turned into a kind of ruin-memory game, where the momentary materiality of the site got me thinking or memorizing things forgotten or never thought – it remembered with me.

At the moment I was there the carpet of snow was transforming the site, in a rather ambiguous way – adding while taking, revealing a different structure while hiding other aspects of it. Partly buried underground it was suddenly allowing for its revelation. To a degree stepping aside from its still embraced, yet foreign, familiarity allowing the spectator, the explorer, me, to play my learned part as the discoverer, the pioneer.

Possibly because of the relief caused by the structures sinking state, although I wish to think not, I started thinking about why, in the North Atlantic where winter is the reality most of the time, summer is still the norm, and winter is simply a dreadful, but fortunately contemporary state that has to be patiently overcome or waited through, in a kind of oblivious manner, without even paying our sites a single visit? What kind of past do we then reveal? Not the reality of the present North Atlantic past at least.

This seasonal state of the ruin furthermore got me thinking of how extremely varied and dynamic the ruination process is – how extremely vibrant the biography of a ruin is. It has a life of its own, a seasonal cycle like any other being through which its appearance will be affected momentarily or permanently – whichever, importantly. Snow will fall and melt, water will run and freeze, grass will grow and wither – another winter, another summer, in the long run modifying the physical contours of the ruin but also, on a more immediately dynamic micro scale shifting its gesture, its mood from moment to moment. I will keep on driving past this site on the 23rds of Decembers to come but I will never encounter it in this very same state. It is not just how you reveal the site, but just as much how the site reveals itself to you, on that very moment.

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