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The Finale! Last day together in Umeå

Posted: February 28th, 2012

Last night we had a feedback session for the close-to-final edit of our new video at the artist-run space Verkligheten here in Umeå. We used this opportunity to reflect and contextualize this trip, and how we came to make our new video. We showed the map of the places we have we walked, and used all of the photographs we have taken over the past month as a way to talk about process.


The room was filled, and everyone seemed eager to share their thoughts. Many of our new friends came to support us, and we were also excited to see new faces in the room.

Overall the feedback was positive. While we felt like we had a very strong piece, we were eager to show it to people in Umeå who live with this landscape everyday. We were told it reflected the spirit of this place, many people said that it was poetic- one artist said that he felt like we were drawing the sky out of the water. That made us very excited.

There was a lot of discussion about our opening shot, and whether or not we were providing too much information too quickly in the piece. There was also talk of pacing and repetition and if the piece should be longer or shorter. We took a lot of notes, and are taking all of the comments to heart, although we feel quite confident that we will keep the structure of the piece intact. It just feels right.

We ended the evening with a delicious dinner with our Verkligheten friends (and a visiting curator from Riga). Mary taunted Blithe by ordering reindeer (Rudolph!) and Gerd informed us that this was a very sustainable meat. Blithe ended up taking a taste (eating Rudolph!). Among many topics of conversation, were the different cultural methods of picking mushrooms.

Blithe is getting on a plane and heading to Stockholm tomorrow where she will see old friends and meet with Iaspis in Stockholm. She heads back to New York on Friday. Mary will be enjoying Umeå until Monday.

As we close our time together, we want to make sure to give a shout out to the people who generously donated to the creation of this project, before we even knew what we were going to make! This showed a vote of confidence in us that made us feel extremely supported. You are the best. We can’t wait to show you the piece!

We also cannot thank our Swedish Iaspis hosts enough- espeically Helena Wikström, Micael Norberg, and Brita Täljedal. We are so grateful to have met so many incredible people during our stay. We are look forward to keeping in touch. We’ve debated a lot over this past month, but we have consensus on the fact that Umeå is a very special place.

Now that we are heading back to our separate lives, we will be ending the frequency of our posts to the blog. We will continue to post updates about what we are up to, but the purpose of this site will shift. We are still reflecting, we are looking forward to sharing thoughts and notes in the next few months, and we will post those here as well.

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Cut, Splice, Fade!

Posted: February 25th, 2012

The editing continues! We are working towards finishing up our piece as close as we can by Monday, when we will show an in progress screening at Verkligheten. We are so close! We are sticking with the single channel format after all, and we were happily surprised the the audio quality from our sound recorder. So far, we are pleased with the work. We still have a few technical tweaks to make (despite our best efforts out on the ice the wind still shifted the camera occasionally). We are hoping there is an image stabilization tool out there for this.

* Here is the announcement for Monday’s event.

Coble/Riley Projects Video Screening and Discussion
Monday February 27th
Pilgatan 16, Umeå
Mary Coble och Blithe Riley är Iaspis-stipendiater i Umeå under februari månad. Tillsammans arbetar de med platsspecifika performancebaserade videos. När de kom till Umeå tidigt i februari tog de långa promenader i vilka de undersökte staden, älvsområdet och de små öarna i Umeälven. De blev hänförda av de frusna vattenvägarna. Deras utforskning kom så långt som till Holmsund vid Umeälvens utlopp, där de hittade en plats där de kunde ta sig ut på isen.
Deras arbete reflekterar over deras erfarenheter av att vara på isen – känslor av fara kontra säkerhet, att göra markeringar i snön, utmaningen i att gå till fots i ett vinterklimat och den ständigt pågående transformationen av landskapet i olika temperaturer, väderlekar och ljus.Mary och Blithe kommer att berätta om sitt på pågående arbete, visa delar ur videon samt prata om arbetet i en öppen diskussion

Mary Coble and Blithe Riley are the current Iaspis artists-in residents in Umeå. Together they make site-specific, performance-based videos. Upon their arrival to Umeå in the beginning of February, they began exploring the area through a series of long walks. Trekking all over the city, to surrounding islands and along the Ume River, they became captivated by the frozen waterways in the area. Their exploration ended in Holmsund, at the mouth of the Ume River, where they found a spot they could walk onto the frozen water.

Their latest video piece reflects on their experiences of being on the ice— feelings of danger and safety, the act of mark making in the snow, the challenge of travel by foot in this climate, and the constant transformation of the landscape through temperature and light.
Please join Mary and Blithe for a work-in progress screening and discussion of the work they have made in Holmsund, during their Iaspis Residency
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Editing the Hole Day

Posted: February 22nd, 2012

The last few days have been labor intensive to say the least. Yesterday we shot from morning until night, only taking a short break to refuel. It is a fact, the ice is melting. At the bottom of Helena’s inlet water is settling on the surface, making it difficult to travel further out. We have felt like we only have a few days left to complete our shots.

Today we were torn between going out on the ice again, and staying home to start editing. These days have not only been physically intense, but also mentally exhausting. We are working with and against time (melting) and it feels stressful to take a break to get the mental space we need in order to make decisions. Today we decided not to go out and instead review what we’ve done, and start hashing out some rough edits. This was the right move.

This piece has been so different from others we have worked on, the editing process is far more key. We think this is because the site we are working in is vast and open ended. This location hasn’t framed the structure of the piece in the same way as other sites we’ve worked in— where specific architecture (and the meaning it brings with it) has played such a distinctive role. This piece is about revealing what is in (and under) this blank space. It is about making connections between different forms of travel and markers in the landscape. These connections will be made through the editing process.

Today we edited together for the first time. Initially it was a little rocky because Blithe started by hopping on her computer and doing her thing without much discussion. Mary pulled the process back, opening it up for more dialog and collaboration.  Soon she was hopping on the computer making edits herself (a rarity in this dynamic duo).

11 am


6:30 pm

Today we went through many incarnations of the piece. We threw many shots out. Currently this piece is single channel (This gives Blithe anxiety because she is a multi-channel kind of gal. Mary on the other hand, is happy that she will not have to deal with more than one screen). This might change. This piece is slow and detailed. It reflects the nature of the action we are doing and the kind of observation we have experienced on the ice.

Sound is a question mark for us. The wind on the ice has been steady. We find it to be distracting and unpleasant on our recordings. Today we borrowed wireless microphones from Michael (thank you!) and will try to get a day out on the ice where we can focus on the audio. If not, we will have to work on another solution. More on that soon…

We have a deadline! We will show a work-in-progress version of the piece, and hold a discussion/feedback session next Monday at Verkligheten, the artist-run gallery in Umeå. We hope to see all of our new Swedish friends there. Everyone is invited!

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Excited but Dead Tired

Posted: February 17th, 2012

Today was a stark contrast from yesterday, the sun was shining and the weather was warm.

After a long day of shooting on the Holmsund ice we very excited but dead tired.

We did our first set of real shots, mostly of drilling  holes in the ice— that then fill with water and become pools, as well as markers along the horizon. As we were shooting some unexpected and thrilling moments happened on the boat lanes in the distance. We are very excited by what we have to work with, but will reveal more soon as we are more sure which shots we will actually choose to include in the piece.

We have a new challenge to our collaborative process with this project. In our previous work we have had many more visual limitations in the site we are working with. In the past, the site has helped determine the structure of the piece. Working on the ice and in this landscape is much more open ended, we are having to create the rules and parameters for the duration and framing of the work on our own. It hasn’t been easy to make these decisions. Today we created some rules to structure our shooting, but as soon as we created those rules, new options opened up. Decisions will be key here. This piece could go in so many directions, single-shot performance action, narrative, single-channel, multi-channel… regardless, it will be these decisions that make the art, not the lack of visual stimulation. This landscape is so alluring.

Tomorrow we will have a little break (sort of). We will be spending the day in a different part of Holmusund ice (closer to where the river meets the sea) for the ice fishing competition! Wish Mary luck!

More soon….

Holmsund Shoot, 2/17/12, Coble/Riley Projects

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Day 2 of Test Shots (Swept Away)

Posted: February 15th, 2012

Today we woke up to a foot of freshly fallen snow. If there is one thing that we are realizing, consistency is nearly impossible with shooting in this climate and season. The light can change drastically in 5 minutes, and the appearance of a river can turn into a field with a fresh snowfall.

Our day of tests shots was not what we had planned. We had expected to be drilling into the ice and making pools of water along the inlet. Instead we realized that in order to do this, we had to first uncover the snow to reveal that the ice was even there for the camera. This act of clearing proved to be more interesting than expected.

sweeping action 1

There is something strange about walking on the ice in the snow. The snow gives a confidence- mentally the ice becomes more like land, and you are willing to travel further than you would otherwise. At the same time, the snow adds an insecurity, there is no way to see what is under your feet. There is a constant negotiation between these two states.

We grabbed a broom off of Helena’s porch to sweep the snow off the ice in the spots we were planning to drill. Intuitively Mary started using it to poke at the surface, to listen for the density of the ice.

Sweeping the Floor

When we went to drill the holes we found that our ice drill (isborr) was not working properly. It just wouldn’t cut in the ice. We can’t understand why, it was working fine 2 days ago. The only thing that has changed is that there is much more snow on the ice.

For the first time today we also saw a ship passing by on the horizon. Further out on the ice, (closer to the open sea) there are carved shipping lanes for the ships to travel back and forth from the harbor. We realized that we could get the schedule of the ships crossing, and also potentially incorporate that into our piece. Tomorrow we will talk to the Harbor Master!

So we weren’t able to drill today, but we did discover a new component to the action that we didn’t expect. The act of clearing snow is also a kind of mark making- it is also a kind of investigation of the surface, and claiming a space for action.

Making Paths

Tomorrow we are going to try to locate another isborr from a local fishing shop, to see if it is the tool that is the problem. We feel like it is necessary to see the water come to the surface for us to make a plan. Overall though, today we found shots we like and a direction that we are excited about.

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Day 1 of Test Shots (Damn Buoy!)

Posted: February 14th, 2012

Today we did our first round of test shots. When we got to Holmsund the day was bright and sunny, try by the time we got down to the ice, the clouds came in and the landscape quickly turned  to shades of grey.

We found the buoys to be more playful than we anticipated. We were hoping that they would ground the landscape, and act as markers. Instead their movement was sporadic and  unpredictable. When on a rope they seemed like little buoy pets.

In response, we detached the pets from their leash and tried placing them methodically one by one. This proved to have more of the impact we were looking for, but we are still unconvinced that we want to focus on these objects for our project.

A couple stills from today…

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Coble/Riley on ice (Riley takes a plunge)

Posted: February 12th, 2012

Today we returned to Holmsund and were able to turn many of our dreams into reality.

* Dream #1.
Helena (one of our Iaspis hosts) picked us up in her car. It was so nice to take a break from walking.

* Dream #2.
We went to a spot where we can walk all over the ice without having to worry about falling in. This spot is by the old saw mill. There we met ice fisherman/women (Dream #3), saw an old abandoned boat in the ice, and daredevil snowmobilers and ice motorbikers! We asked one of the fisherman what is the secret to the sport. He joked, “I have been wondering the same thing.” He followed up by saying that a good spot is important as is patience. After this conversation Mary felt like she too can ice fish and win a competition (she is coordinating our first excursion as we speak).

* Dream #4.
We went to the furthest point of Helena’s inlet where we are planning to shoot our video.

At this point, Mary got to watch Blithe fall into the ice, in a way that was not life threatening and amusing (one leg only, shin level). After Blithe’s fall, Helena took us back to her house to swap clothes, and have coffee and lunch. Here we also met Helena’s husband, Åke.







* Dream #5.

Helena and Åke informed us that they had an isborr, or an ice drill. We went out to the ice and dug our first ice holes. We saw how thick the ice was, and how deep the water is at different points along the inlet. This process was fascinating and inspiring (and a workout). We were able to also do a quick test of one of our ideas, and found out it will work! We are getting much closer to beginning to shoot.

* Dream #6.
We got to ride on these ice skate sled thingys that we have seen people in Holmsund using to get around. They work exceptionally well on the ice. We think this might be come part of our video, or at the very least be used for carting around our gear!

Dream #7.
Helena and Åke offered to let us use their house and their storage shed as a home-base when we are working on our project.  This is an extremely generous and means that we will have a spot to rest and take a break from the cold.

One final unexpected treat was going to Helena’s studio in a wonderful old school house close to the harbor. Her studio is huge, and we were able to here a little more about her practice as well. Here is a link to the Delta project that she did with her collaborator Gerd Aurell. This project also explores the waterways around Umea and Holmsund and the lives of the people that live there.

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We found the Boj!

Posted: February 11th, 2012

Today we got on the bus, on a quest to JULA (the Swedish Home Depot meets WallMart) looking for buoy’s, or boj. Most of our ideas have surrounded the ice, how to measure its depth, the pace of the water underneath, safe zones and pathways for travel. We are planning to use a series of buoys on string as markers, as ways to delineate parts of the ice, help convey the tension of where and where not to travel, and to frame the landscape.

Blithe with boj


Yesterday we thought through ways to make our own buoy’s. We collected styrofoam from building sites around the university, and talked to various people about tools to help us shape the material into balls. As we were planning,  we started to feel the time constraints. We are now on week 2, and things take time here. Stores close at 3 on weekends, or are not open at all, and we are mostly on foot… although are now getting a hang of the bus system.

For the sake of our project we have also decided not to travel to the mountains (to a region called Saxonus). We are torn making this decision since everyone tells us how wonderful it is there. But today, we realized that this trip was placing another time constraint on us and adding stress. Mary reminded us that we need to make sure to have fun while we are working. It was nice to be reminded that should also be a priority.

So today we decided to suck it up and buy a lot of boj. We have plans for modifying these objects to make them our own. It is important to us that they stand out on the ice, so we are planning to paint them.

Final boj purchase

Tomorrow we return back to Holmsund, to the sea, where we will see some other areas that we did not go to initially. We will also go back to the ice, and do some measuring of distance. We will begin our first rounds of tests for the video camera.

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The Sea

Posted: February 8th, 2012

Today we went to the sea. Helena, a local artist and one of the hosts of Iaspis invited us to come to Holmsumd, where she has a house on a small inlet that leads to the ocean. We were told that people had been seen crossing the ice there.

We took a walk down one side of the inlet hugging the bank. We occasionally walked on the ice, but felt nervous to walk out fully because there were cracks and jagged peaks. Apparently the ice has been unpredictable this year due to changes in air pressure. When the ice is also covered in snow, it is also nerve-wracking as you can’t see what is underneath. We are interested in this tension.

Walking to the Sea

We planned to reach the outer most point, but quickly realized that it would take too long in the cold. We did make it to a secondary point.  This landscape opened up a whole new dialog for us. We are talking about feeling both simultaneously open and constrained, there is a promise of being able to walk anywhere (to islands, to Finland!) but the reality is foreboding and even life-threatening. We found some spots that we will most likely return to.

Out on secondary point

The light changes so quickly here. We talked about how this will effect the perceptions of the environment on video, and the challenges of splicing together a recorded performance with these drastic shifts.

On our walk back we met Helena on the ice. She told us that an ice fisherman had been sitting in the middle while we were on our walk. We went to the spot where he had been sitting. Mary investigated the fishing hole, and found the ice was a little less than a foot thick. With Helena’s help, we got the courage to walk to the other side of the inlet. We now know there is one spot we can cross.

We ended the day back at Helena’s house with delicious traditional Swedish waffles, strawberry jam, tea, and a salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, kiwi, and oranges. We all walked back to the bus, exhausted and elated. We feel so lucky to be here.

Swedish Waffles

Tomorrow we will talk about our work and practice as part in the Iapsis seminar about artist collaboration at the Västerbottens Museum.

iaspis seminar

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Walking Umeå

Posted: February 5th, 2012

We have explored over 13 miles (21 kilometers) along the Umeå River including two small islands off its banks.

Journey around Umeå

The cold continues. Yesterday -6F, Today 5F!

Umea Signs

The river and surrounding islands are very accessible by foot. We’ve been walking on cleared pedestrian foot and bike paths almost entirely. 

Path along Umea River










Despite the cold temperatures, the river is still too cold for us to cross. Evidently though…. some critters are.

Animal tracks onto Ume River
View from Pedestrian Bridge

Path to Ume River

Forest at the end of the island

Meeting Umeå Artists!
Yesterday we were invited to a dinner at an artist-run space called Verkligheten Galleri, where local artists held the first meeting of the newly formed artist association in Umeå.  There were over thirty artists present. We had many interesting conversations about what it was like to work in Umeå, and in Sweden in general. We talked about the pros and cons of government support of the arts. It was a great opportunity to connect with the community here.

Umea Artist Association Dinner 






All of this exploration has generated many ideas. Tomorrow we will take a break from the outside and hopefully start to formulate the beginnings of a project plan.

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