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There is nothing like a heatwave that will make you wonder about things that are cold. Seriously, with some of the warmest temperatures hitting North America, it’s time to think about natural structures that will likely disappear in time. Here are two of my favorite artists and their pieces on ice:

1. Camille Seaman

In her project, “The Last Iceberg,” photographer Camille Seaman captures breathtaking portraits of these colossal structures. “They are like humans in that each one reacts to its environment and its circumstances in its own way,” says the 42-year-old artist in an interview with the New York Times. “There’s a sadness to them.”

I think they’re hauntingly beautiful; it feels like they’ve been around forever and have the history of the earth etched on their faces.

Svalbard, 2008. Image copyright by Camille Seaman via NYTimes

(via NYTimes)

2. Katie Paterson

One of my favorite artists, Katie Paterson, has a lovely piece called “Langjökull, Snæfellsjökull, Solheimajökull.” These are the names of three Icelandic glaciers from which she obtained sound recordings, pressed them into three records, cast, frozen with meltwater from each of the glaciers, and played until melted.

Langjökull, Snæfellsjökull, Solheimajökull. Image copyright by Katie Paterson via the artist’s website.

I’m so happy artists are able to create these beautiful pieces that sadly may outlast their subjects. While you’re at it, check out Project Pressure, an organization that aims to document the world’s changing glaciers.  (via The Guardian)

(I wrote this post as an update to DrawHappy, an ongoing art project where I ask people to draw what makes them happy. The full text of it is below.)

Well, almost. I returned from my trip to Iceland on January 10th, bringing with me a hundred sketches, a sea of stories, and a now-heightened tolerance of the cold that is quite useful for one who grew up in the tropics. I never thought I’d continue DrawHappy, as I’m usually doing other projects and have a really short attention span. But the post-Iceland sketches came in sporadically, and I’ve realized that it was the occasional email or package with a happy drawing that helped sustain me—and I hope those who follow the project—throughout 2011. It didn’t even have to be a fancy sketch; many I’ve received were beautifully simple. But I think it was this simplicity that made these drawings a joy to behold. Others were more elaborate, and I’ve been speechless at the amount of time and effort it must have taken to do some of them.

But first, hurray, we have a logo!


(A little late, but grad school has kept me busy.)

I used a stick figure jumping for joy, since in Iceland quite a lot of people drew that, handing their sketch tentatively and apologetically because their drawings weren’t a da Vinci. But I think the simplicity of it brought about clarity, which was the reason I asked you all to draw instead of write. I loved the sketches, stick figures and all. Thank you for all of them.

Remember the visualization I made after the 100 sketches? Honestly, I did that to pass a class, as I felt I had no other interesting data to use for my final project. But I loved what I learned from the analysis of these sketches, especially where happiness may be plotted on other standards of happiness. It made me ask questions. Why draw? Why record the moment of drawing? So what? Now what?

Why draw?

Drawing is one of the earliest skills we learn; its basic elements are comprehensible to people of all ages, cultures and nations. No one is judging how good the drawing is; the lone requirement is that you embody your definition of happiness by taking a pencil to paper. To draw is to make clear to yourself. The project forces you to dig deep into your memory and pull from its recesses that which sustains you as a human being.

I believe most of us lose opportunities to draw. Our lives are run on devices, which I love and use eagerly; this project would never have had this global reach without technology. But while we can externalize some abilities to our machines, I hope that we don’t forget some of the basic skills that are not just universal, but critical for self-reflection and growth. I consider it a minor triumph to get people unplugged, if only for a few minutes.

A more practical reason for drawing is that while the aspiration for happiness seems to be universal (although I suppose there will always be a lot of masochistic grumps in the world), our definition of it is not. Moreover, there are times when it is difficult to label it; this is why the labeling of the sketch was not required. (I still believe it shouldn’t, though it might help me entitle your post! In these cases, I’ve done my best to simply describe what I saw, and not interpret them.)

Why the moment?

I am a scientist by training; this has given me an analytic stance when doing any project. Our definition of happiness as well as the quantification of how happy we are is dependent on what we are doing in that specific point in time. If you were riding horses that day and were still feeling exhilarated, then naturally you will draw horses. What makes other human beings happy also affected what we think makes us happy; hence, the company you kept at the time of your sketching was also recorded. I recall a time when two friends I asked both drew food. One sketched pie and the other, Pinot noir and grapes.

What I wished for

I hope that this project has made the participants want to pursue their happiness because of this brief moment of having to have considered it. There were some people who told me no one ever asked this of them before, which made me both do a double-take (Seriously?) and a cartwheel (Yes! About time!) I, too, have learned so much about the universality of happiness and how, despite our different zip codes, we all aspire for similar things in life.

Other things I’ve learned

1. Brazil is a very happy country. I hope to physically take this project there one day. Obrigado for the shout out, Super!

2. Beauty comes from boredom. Another reason why it was interesting to examine the moment of drawing:  many drew while they were bored in school, a meeting, a conference.  It must feel very satisfying to take that moment back for oneself. I loved it.

3. One should participate and not just observe one’s projects. I drew my own happiness, too!  It also inspired a lot of sketching projects, such as this and now this. It has also been a great reference to my lifelong obsession with human perception.

Now what?

I really want this project to go on forever. It would be interesting how this would look like in 5, 10, 20 years. I’m not expecting to receive hundreds of submissions a day (though that would be awesome!). I am  fully aware that drawing is asking a lot from people. I hope to take this project many steps further. It’s not just because it’s such a joy to do; more broadly, I want to ask, “Is it possible to have a record of what sustains humanity?” And once we know what does, will we take steps to ensure that we, our community, and our society make it easier for us to grasp them?

Thank you for supporting this project! In the meantime, please do keep sending me your sketches. Or  let me know how this affected you, if it has.

More updates soon!

Yes, it is a blurry picture. I took it while I was riding  a horse.

It was my first horse ride after almost twenty years, after a minor fall from one as a child left me traumatized. But one should get back on eventually. As a kid, I fantasized of owning a stable full of unicorns and lions, whom I would ride to school every day.

This photo taken just about a year ago.

Icelandic horses are a hardy bunch; the laws of Iceland prevent horses from being imported and exported horses are not allowed back in. Developed from ponies taken from Scandinavia in the 9th and 10th centuries, these horses are mythology personified—one can imagine Vikings riding them through the punishing snow and terrain. While these horses may look like ponies because their legs are shorter than other breeds’, it is considered bad manners to comment as such, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. Besides, their endurance to the cold, especially in comparison to mine, makes them a worthy adversary to the toughest of stallions.

Astride a horse on Laxnes Horse Farm, a wonderful family-owned business who love what they do, I found it easy to see the wonder that is the Icelandic landscape. My horse, Leiri, was a quiet yet sometimes spirited one. It is a remarkable experience to tour the earth with a living being beneath you with its own temperament, instead of a car where one has full control. Leiri would go off on a trot despite my pleas to slow down, and once when a horse got scared, she wouldn’t go anywhere as well. It was definitely one of the most exhilarating experiences, to be riding a horse whose ancestors probably gave warriors a ride, on the dried lava and rocky plains of Iceland, where the sun would wake up and make the sky bleed pink and purple.

It was just what the Vikings would have done.