On Blue

blue           frequency: 606–668 THz                wavelength: 450–495 nm

icelandic blue.PNGSince arriving in Iceland, it snowed on my first full day, and the landscape has drastically changed. Looking through the photos I have been collecting from hikes, each is predominantly blue. With so little day light, and the sun mostly behind a fjord from my point of view, the whole island glows a bright blue grey most of the day, and the evening transitions into a deep blue black.

I have been interested in the blues of the night sky for a while, but now, surrounded by these new blues, I can’t seem to escape it. These are peaceful quiet blues, with hinds of pinks and yellows from the moon and the sun. The water around Hrísey is at times an intense aqua marine, and other times reflects the grey skies and fjords. Other than the brightly coloured houses, the landscape is minimalized to white, grey, blue and the black of the rocks and sand. Its like the contrast of the whole landscape has been turned down, and the blue tint is turned up.

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View from the main road on Hrisey
I have just finished reading Maggie Nelson Bluets, a short book of 240 prose poems, meditating on the colour blue, love and loss, which evoke philosophical references to the colour blue in various forms. These ‘propositions’ as nelson calls them describe blue objects, places, analogies, emotions, memories, bodies of water, allegories, people… Nelson describes her obsession with blue, her inability to escape it. Some of the propositions which resonated with me included these:

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75. Mostly I have felt myself becoming a servant of sadness. I am still looking for beauty in that.

77. “Why should I feel lonely? Is it not our planet in the Milky Way?” (Thoreau).

156. “Why is the sky blue?” – A fair enough question, and one I have learned the answer to several times. Yet every time I try to explain it to someone or remember it myself, it eludes me. Now I like to remember the question alone, as it reminds me that my mind is essentially a sieve, that I am mortal.

157. The part I do remember: that the blue sky depends on the darkness of empty space behind it. As one optics journal pus it, “the colour of space and illuminated by a sunlike star will also be blue.” In which case blue is something of an ecstatic accident produced by void and fire.

229. I am writing this down in blue ink, so as to remember that all words, not just some, are written in water.

Along with thinking about blue, I have also been thinking about bodies, and their connection to the celestial sphere. The way bodies are represented in the cosmos through myth, but also though the poetic notion that our bodies are made of the same elemental structures as the stars (Carl Sagan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLPkpBN6bEI). In analysing the patterns on my body and the similarities between my moles, scars and freckles to the patterns we see in the night sky. That change in scale is an enormous one, but it also helps me identify with the unknowable expanse of space.

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Left: The marks on my left forearm, Right: Taurus

I also see blue in my body, the faint veins under my skin, and the fading black of tattoos that now appear blue. Nelson writes about how rare blue is in nature, how blue foods are much less common than any other colour, and how much research has gone into developing blue pigments. But from the black ink, and my red blood, I can see blue in my body. But she also writes that blue is abundant, it is everywhere we look, the sky the sea. It is a topic that is continually written about, and explored.

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Horace-Bénédict de Saussure’s cyanometer, 1760

In my research on blue,  came across references to a Cyanometer. Invented in the 18th Century, by the Swiss physicist, Horace-Benedict de Saussure and Alexander von Humboldt, a German naturalist, this tool was used to measure the blue of the sky. It contains 53 shades which reflect the blueness of the sky, a product of the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere at any one time. This tool was initially developed to answer ‘why is the sky blue?” a question which at the time had not yet been solved. Though it doesn’t explicitly answer that question, it is a stepping stone towards understanding.

It is not common to measure a colour in this way, and though it looks very similar to a colour wheel, it serves a very different purpose. This tool could be used in many different ways to yeild any number of answers about the colour of the ocean, human eyes, paint, berries…

I was able to make some cyanotypes on the first non-windy, sunny day here. The image are made from snow, and ice that has been shaped into circles. In the hopes of creating sort of star like forms against blue backgrounds, I think the final products have an ethereal quality. I plan to pair them with drawings and embroideries, and eventually represent the total number of known stars in the pleiades cluster. To the naked eye there are 7 visible stars, but in 528 stars make up its luminosity and over 1000 field stars make up its total cluster mass.

Here are a few of my drawings/prints of the 528:

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in the process of being exposed
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a few of the final products

 

 

 

 

 

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