Baer – the ‘book’ – chapter 1

My final project here has a working title of ‘the book’. It has turned into quite a saga which might be a more apt title considering its Icelandic origin.

Its the Bær version of something I try to do in all of my residencies – put experience in a box. It’s always a challenge to try to distill some aspect of such a rich experience and then put it in a container that in itself speaks of the place in which it was made. My love of making is always played out here especially when I have the chance to work with local materials and processes. At Bær I’ve been limited to a basic set of tools and my own self imposed constraint of using only local materials – which includes rock, herbs, horse hair, fleece, driftwood, plastic and steel flotsam and, of course, sound and imagery. I mentioned that I was inspired by some finds at the National Museum of Iceland. This piece in particular has been playing on my mind and has acted as an inspiration for the piece I am making.

17th Century ivory compass

I’m intrigued by its combination of rudimentary craftsmanship and cutting edge technology. Scrimshandered from ivory and bound with thread or gut, its engravings show a certain opulence and appreciation for decoration, and on top of all that it is quite a sophisticated navigation tool. A piece of equipment which was useful, perhaps even crucial. My fellow resident Mark suggested that the Portuguese sailor who misplaced it is probably still looking for it –  the contemporary equivalent of losing an iPhone.

When I found this nice slab of driftwood, I thought of the ivory compass’ book-like form and decided to enclose my experience inside the slab.

Driftwood slab found on Bæjármöll – the stoney spit stretching out to Þórðarhöfði

Bær’s friendly building contractor deeped the slab on his SCM table saw for me cutting right through the rusty nails – I’m glad it was his saw and not mine!

Then I started to think what would go inside.

Collaging elements – found steel, compass roses, the orbital path of the sun, found plastic, bone, ….?

I wanted to include a sundial and a compass like the original inspiring piece, and a digital element including time lapses and a sound piece incorporating some  of the local soundscape I’ve been catching. I started by making some simple tools to engage with and map the environment.

My simple sundial has really helped me understand the movement of the sun here at high latitude. Augmented by the observable fact that the days have gotten shorter by over an hour during the few weeks I’ve been here. The sun now sets to the left of Þórðarhöfði rather than in the sea to its right (north) – almost 15 degrees further south on the compass dial. Two days ago the almost full moon rose far in the south, barely climbed into the sky and then promptly set slightly west of south  – following the winter path of the sun. I can now tangibly feel my place here on the top of the earth and see the diurnal cycle being played out around me in real time!


The second instrument I made I’ve dubbed the Bærnjo – made from driftwood, 80lb fishing line, horseshoe nails, found plastic flotsam and local hardware and tuned to standard G tuning for the 5-string banjo. It can be played by hand but it was designed to be played by the wind like an Aeolian harp.


“Playing” the Bærnjo

The Bærnjo provided the soundtrack to accompany a 24 hour timelapse that I made on a wet and windy day two weeks ago – 24hrs compressed into about 3 minutes, then looped. The elusiveness of the island of Drangey and the stone outcropping of Kerling as they fade in and out of the video reminds me of their  legendary origin. Kerling was once a troll woman who was taking her cow (Drangey) to market and was surprised by the rising of the sun and so turned to stone. Her troll husband Karl was following up the rear and suffered the same fate but he collapsed into the ocean in 1755.

I plan for this video to be included in the book too as a tiny video and sound component. I’ll go into some more detail about the construction of the book and its other components in a future entry – chapter 2!


  1. Lovely music from the Bærnjo, Donald!


    1. Thanks Tim. It’s quite tricky to play – like flying a kite and playing the violin at the same time.
      If you listen carefully you can hear the whimbrels whistling from time to time as they fly by!


  2. This is absolutely amazing, Donald – it is such a perfect synthesis of wind and image, manifested via the baernjo, and hard to believe it was not composed!


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