Vík í Mýrdal
SKIN & STONE
Eighteen million years ago, an island battled its way out of a crack in the ocean floor. It forced its way up through the molten depths and soared skywards in volcanic plumes. It shattered the ground around it, wrenched itself out from under crushing weight through earthquakes and lavaflows, fires and mudslides. It fractured and remade itself in fits and violent contortions, allowed magma to carve it and glaciers to hollow it, in a desperate attempt to reach freedom.
Today we call it Iceland.
The landscapes left behind by this island’s struggle are both hauntingly empty and frighteningly alive, warm and breathing like a sleeping predator. With lava fields and fjords, windswept plains and hissing sulfur pools, it is scarred with the most brutal of beauties, forever changed by its great escape. We are confronted with the artistry of such inhuman forces; we grapple with how best to appreciate the majesty of the incomprehensible.
This very incomprehensibility demands we project our own souls onto this space. We plant our visions on its crags and hear our voices in its chasms. Slowly, cautiously, we embrace this untamed outer world as a screen on which our own inner dramas unfold: an enthralling emptiness in which we can confront our own hidden selves. We come here to be stripped away, to find what lies beneath, crouched in wait, and face it under open skies. Perhaps we hope to cast this shadow into crevasse depths so we can return remade, reborn, renewed in fresh flows of molten stone like Iceland itself. Death and resurrection are inescapable here. In the black winter nights, spectral lights guild a land entombed in white, until summer suns yield endless fields of violet lupin flowers. From the distance comes the thunder of the waterfalls, tumbling walls of roaring foam that plunge, raging, into nothing to return as rising ghosts, swirling clouds of mist that gently water beds of moss.
This is the softer side of Iceland’s transformation, a magic strength of no less power. The land affects a profound alchemy of spirit on those who dare to call it home. This is the Iceland where bands of horses, manes in flight, chase walls of rolling clouds and grind earth to dust in their path. It is the Iceland where sheep herds bundled under muddied coats huddle in close to shelter their young from the harsh highland winds. Currents sway stalks of grass that brush the sky; birds seek clefts they may not find in cratered sea cliffs. There is life here—glorious, teeming life, indomitably present in this broken space. It is vigorous, tough, resilient, made stronger, more alive, for being here. The inhabitants of this land are shaped by it and part of it, parties to the neverending dance of destruction and transformation we find before our eyes and within our own hearts....
The wilds of Iceland inspire a fierceness in our souls even as we squint into the bleak light of the unknown. Nina Chung’s work captures the grandeur and fury of this world. Her lens infuses the raw expanse of her subject matter with intense emotion as she sounds the interrelationship of sight and psyche in this most haunting of environments. Nina’s models embody the desperate hunger of the modern individual to reintegrate itself, to see themselves in sea and sky. To this end, Nina utilizes Iceland’s otherworldly terrain as a dynamic framing mechanism in which her subjects achieve poetic and emotional meaning. Her palette is equal part skin and stone, will and water, and she uses it to potent effect as she explores of the resonances between the primal and the personal. Aspiration and longing, forbidden hope and fiercest loss all play out here—not against the backdrop of this forbidding landscape, but in it and through it. Nina’s images illustrate a process of dual animation, with natural features animated by human emotions even as her human and animal models become mediums of earth and sky, channeling the outer world into inner realities. Tremulous beauty and sublime agony exist side by side in compositions of remarkable power; they serve as stark and towering testaments to the work of an artist who has felt the power of this place on a profoundly visceral level.
We see Iceland anew through her images, exploring afresh the interface of human spirit and inhuman animus of a locale seemingly beyond our understanding. She is our interpreter and guide to an impersonal landscape imbued with intensely, often unnervingly personal meaning. She leads us on a journey of fear and joy from mountains to ashes, from icecaps to sea brine, and we see ourselves in its course.
- John Buckley
John Buckley is a freelance writer and editor based in Cambridge, UK.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org