Francine Davies Artist | Searching for the Hidden Folk
As her preparations for her latest exhibition progresses, Artist, Francine Davies explores, reflects and evaluates the next stages. The artist considers the culture and folklore that offers a new dimension to her understanding of the fascinating country of Iceland.
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In Search of the Hidden Folk

In Search of the Hidden Folk

As I try to bring Iceland in to view for those readers who have happened upon this Blog I realise that the harder I try to reveal it two unsettling things occur:

 

1. I believe I am not doing Iceland justice with words or pictures!  In addition to the experience I had in Iceland and the photos I took I am constantly bombarded on various social media platforms of the imagery captured by others particularly by professional photographers but also by dedicated travellers that simply took the time and waited before they clicked.  My photographs, whilst taken on two quality cameras, were taken by myself my children and my husband and none of us profess to be professional photographers.

 

Whilst we were all thoughtful with the camera we each saw things very differently.  For example, most of the pictures I took were from the perspective and mind set of an artist trying to compose a painting at the same time.  I was considering where a building would be best sited using classic rules of composition.  My husband, on the other hand, took the fewest photographs not just because he did most of the driving but because he took time to take in a scene and wait for it to reveal itself.  As a result his pictures were often beautiful.

 

However, the images I see when I surf the web are extraordinary.  Furthermore, it is these images that have been used to market this beautiful country bringing it in to the public eye.  I feel it is important to acknowledge the power the professional photographic eye can have with regards to the evolving perspectives and expectations that a viewer then holds.   From the perspective of an artist who has stood in many of the key attractions of Iceland I have come to appreciate that the time and patience offered up by the professional photographer should have a mention in it’s own right.

 

On our road trip we drove and stopped and snapped rapidly and drove some more, stopped and snapped more photos.  Each photo tried to capture something of what we saw and as what we saw changed we tried to capture as it happened.  As we stood on a spot we sought to capture the macro-scale of the setting down to the micro-scale of the ground fauna; combining this with the knowledge provided of what had caused these landscapes to form.

 

2.  This leads me nicely on to the second worrying thought as I seek to write an authentic blog that represents as much realism and understanding as possible.  A worry that requires me to remember I am offering one interpretation of a moment in time, formed and shared by myself and my family and moulded by the season in which we visited and the wonderful unpredictability that only nature can afford.

 

Thus the second concern or simple observation refers to the acknowledgment that I am struggling to balance my own understanding of what we saw with my overwhelming desire to represent what we saw through painting and words.  Iceland is rich and steeped in scholarly scientific study that explains and predicts; exciting all those who read even just the tiniest detail of it’s origins.  For years I have taken great pride saying “No, No I didn’t go to Art College I have a Science Degree you know!”  I have loved feeling clever as a science graduate but now realise I am expected to know everything that has happened to Iceland, geologically and geographically.  Interestingly I do love to read about the forces working deep within the earths core that have given rise to Iceland’s geomorphological landscape.  However, I cannot express it with the same passion as I can paint and create it.   Art speaks a visual and practical language that I wholeheartedly understand and can immerse myself within, feeling actively part of the process of learning whereas Science and Mathematics, for example, challenge me to try to understand it.

 

I often frustrate my husband who can easily discount things that cannot be proven whereas I always want to know why the original complex calculations that changed the world all those years ago have been taken as fact when they all to a degree relied on us all accepting at least one value as a given.  I can’t tell you how many times in maths classes I was told “It just is … because ….”  Explain That!  My husband is too clever to think a simple explanation will satisfy me so he watches as I mystify the world through my Og tinted glasses and look for meanings and beauty that are too magical to be simply assigned to science and hold out for the possibility that we just can’t explain everything with science but need a bit of mystery.  Can you imagine me in the science laboratory?  It would be interesting if nothing else!

 

“Ooh look its magic, it changed colour and fizzed when I added this! Wow!! Let’s do it again!”

Thus, the only way I find I can do any of these subjects with any ease is through my visual interpretations of their patterns, reactions and through playing with the scientific words that try to baffle me.  I learnt early on that for science to be understood I had to experience many of the things we were learning about.  Maths being the hardest as we rarely see the formulas that make“Life” we only ever see the end result of someone believing in that formula and the outcomes.  This experiential approach to learning is something increasingly recognised by experts in Education and through the Donaldson Report the Welsh education system is now being built upon it.

 

Therefore, this second worry with regards to truly appreciating what I have seen in Iceland and what I have painted actually means and represents has required me to dig deep.  I have had to massage both sides of my brain and introduce them to each other.  However, the right side of the brain thinks it is more important that the left side so what I am left with is a blurry fog and battle scars!  Folk often say it is the survival of the fittest and folk are right on this occasion as the right side that controls the creativity always comes out best and on this occasion I have to say I know it took me in the right direction.  It took me in search of the Hidden Folk: the Elves, Giants and Trolls and let’s not forget The Ogs because if anyone could explain to me in ways that I can easily comprehend it will be those intuitive souls.

 

Never underestimate the Power of the Hidden Folk!! Whether, it is an Og, an Elf, a Giant or a Troll, once you let them in they will never leave you but rather they will nudge you constantly.  You won’t be able to pass a simple stone wall and not notice the tiny opening that is just big enough for an Elf to pass through; or to sit on a beach and notice the rock formations that look like a giant crocodile or formidable, charging warrior; or sit in your garden before your eye catches a decomposing plant that resembles a troll leaning against the wall after a long walk.

The Ogs revealed themselves to me and my children when we moved to a beautiful piece of Welsh coastline. They have entrusted us on occasions with the task of sharing them with children and adults far and wide and imparting some of their Og Wisdom along the way. I have never tried to ascertain what they want and why they are here because it seems that when they feel it is important to share with me I just simply know. It is like a light bulb being switched on making things clear as day. On occasions this has manifested as a Green Penguin or a Walrus revealing itself through wood on a beach walk;

Or the awareness of great sadness that nothing else seems to be be able to hold. It seems the Ogs have a way of kindly acknowledging things and holding the feelings that stop us from simply ‘being’. They acknowledge that we cannot not stop being a Human but they have observed that we do stop being a Human who is ‘Being’. Perhaps that’s it- The Ogs bring the ‘Being’ back to ‘Humans’! A Human who has lost its ‘Being’ is just a Human bumping in to stuff, breaking things, never stopping to notice anything. Bring its ‘Being’ back and it notices others and things and moments in time. Great Job Ogs! No wonder they call us Funny Folk it must be very strange watching all the Humans wandering in one direction and all the ‘Beings’ in another. Well that’s The Ogs’ job sorted but what about the Elves and The Giants and Trolls. What are they offering us?

I have attempted to learn something of the Elves, Giants and Trolls that co-exist with the folk of Iceland. When you Google you find many stories some of which offer Facts some of which offer Beliefs and some of which offer you Hope. The Factual stories are those that talk about the influences of Norse and Irish settlers who brought with them folklore and imagery that has influenced how the hidden folk are visualised today. Many of us can recognise the elfin ears and pointy noises of the elves and the primitive nature of Ogres, Giants and Trolls as representative of universally known mythical folk tales such as those told by the Brothers Grimm and in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien; and even the whole Santa and his Elves storytelling that underpins many a childhood. There are also the beautiful fairy-like characters that have been linked to these tales; beautiful maidens with supernatural powers who simply appear in the landscape. The Ogs have been busy interpreting them.

The research also highlights the fact that in Iceland the Hidden Folk are accepted as a fundamental part of Icelandic culture and a significant proportion of the Icelandic population believe they are real. Furthermore, they are considered so integral to the landscape that you will find many sightings of the infrastructure they require. Elf and Troll houses, doorways, bridges, Elf churches and route plans to find famous Giants are ever present within the landscape.

The research offers evidence to support the belief that The Hidden Folk are powerful, guiding Icelandic life in ways that often may seem provocative rather than helpful. There are beliefs that suggest the Hidden Folk that live below ground are the least helpful and more problematic for the Icelandic population. Whereas, those above ground are more helpful. This has been compared to the readily accepted concept of Heaven and Hell among those with a religious faith. Taking this as a truth would suggest that the Elves, Trolls and Giants are both good and bad depending on where they live. Although bad is often replaced by words such naughty or unhelpful when you explore contemporary tales.

For example, one such place is a rock in Siglufjörður, reputed to be the home of Elves. When it was covered in metres of soil by roadworkers a series of mishaps, allegedly caused by the Elves led to the rock being dug up and restored Another example is Huldumannssteinn, Reykjavík where the community talk enthusiastically about the role the Hidden Folk played in the design and layout of the modern road system. The story goes that as the building and construction of the new road layout began a series of inexplicable challenges presented, believed to be the result of Hidden Folk fighting for their own home and needs. The end result being that the engineers found this particular humped piece of land was un-workable despite the expertise of the equipment and engineers. Thus a new design and layout resulted which respected the Hidden Folk’s home. In the words of Will Ferrell this was one “angry Elf” population at work.

Personally I like the idea that the Hidden folk disrupted the obviously thoughtless plans of the modern world who time and time again blunders from one destructive engineering project to the next often only considering the environment and other key populations when the Law requires them to do so. But let’s face it Environmental Law is often having to play catch up as it has not been able to move as fast as the speed of progress and development. If you want to read more there is an academic paper written in 2000 by Valdimar Hafstein, a professor of folklore , entitled “The Elves’ Point of View” and will serve to show further how intertwined The hidden folk are within Icelandic culture.

My Goodness I LOVE THE HIDDEN FOLK. THE MORE I LEARN THE GREATER THE LOVE! It is stories like this that fill me with hope and a yearning to know more about how Iceland has formed. I don’t need science to help me tell you the story of Iceland I just need to find the Hidden Folk, watch them, listen to them and impart the knowledge they share. Oh my goodness this is so “Og”- it’s scary!

As I progress through the research I stumble and fall quite quickly when I try to make the Hidden Folk suit my purpose. I want them to explain the landscape to me but folklore in one breath makes me think they are too modern to be able to explain how Iceland formed as some suggest they came with the first settlers pre 10th Century or even later.

However, I am beginning to think that perhaps the Hidden Folk all come from deep within the core of the earth and thus reveal themselves at the interface where hidden nature spews out new environments that we call Land. Sorry for the technical term ‘spews out’ but it perfectly describes where Elf sightings have been and where the Ogs showed themselves to me. The former in the Lava Plains in Iceland and the latter at the edge of the land and sea. Taking this as the hook on which to hang the rest of this blog I will tell you a story of how Iceland formed.

Once upon a long time ago the Earth just hung there waiting for something to happen. Everything that was anything just clung on for dear life. The sea held on to to the land and some of the land was below the sea and very very soft and runny getting hotter the deeper it got . Some of the land was very hot above the sea as well whilst some was very very cold. Sometimes it was both because the whole Earth was spinning round another very very hot thing and land got hotter the closer you got to it. All sorts of things could live on the earth in time and in the sea but no one ever really knew who lived in the land below the sea. No one really cared about that bit because they never saw it. It was not the lack of a name that made it so restless but rather the fact everything in the sea and above didn’t appreciate that without their bit below the sea they would be nothing. It grieved it to see those above digging and building and taking constantly without thanking it for sharing. However, if it got angry it would be no better than them; thinking only of itself so most of the time it just grumbled and held in all its frustrations, suppressing the anger. Hmmm…. imagine a bottle of fizzy water that had been gently shaking as it tried to contain its frustration until finally exploding and breaking up land and sea and everything in it’s way before calming and feeling quite ashamed at being so angry. This has happened all over the world and caused countries to break apart, reform, adapt and learn and honour the fizzy water bottles deep below the ocean. As the hot, explosive, free flowing materials pour out from the Earth’s Core it creates new environments as they solidify with the cooling air above ground and what we are left with are reminders of the mood swings of the phenomena below.

The bit of the Earth that is Iceland is living proof of this phenomena and more importantly is a perfect example of the land deep beneath the sea; the sea and the land above sea all working together and listening to each other’s points of view. Those that live above sea level learning to respect those that live below sea level. Is it this coexistence of hidden folk and an Icelandic population that respects what is hidden beneath which makes it such a beautiful place.? Let’s face it, you only have to look at the foreboding landscapes that are spectacular reminders of the Giants that have risen from within the Earth’s core and solidified upon the landscape as stark reminders of what happens when we don’t feel appreciated.

I hope this simple explanation helps clarify for you why Iceland is so special to me. It seems Iceland is governed by Nature’s Watchful Eyes. The Hidden Folk, like The Ogs ensure that Humans are kept connected to their ‘Being’. If the Ogs are my Alter-Ego then Iceland has a whole population of Hidden Folk representing Iceland’s Alter-Ego and the power that affords this country is tremendous. I have worked with many children and many adults who have let the Ogs in to their hearts. Imagine if the other Hidden Folk of Wales all came together to guide a population that cares, is proud, is humble and at times overwhelmed but fundamentally ‘Being’ Human. Imagine then how the landscape would look with everyone responding to it’s calls rather than simply using it for it’s own ends and ignoring the other key elements. If the Hidden Folk of the world could help train our lazy eyes and help us nurture our conscience and the conscience of nature, I truly believe the world could be a great big Iceland!

Readers I challenge you to find the Hidden Folk in your lives. Look for the holes in the walls and notice when things are not going right and ask yourself “What are the Hidden Folk looking to tell me?!”

As ever Thank you for giving me cause to think!

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