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A shrug from the earth’s crust

( English translation by Dana Johnson)

The Glass Cloud feels like poetry, like science fiction, but the feeling is deceptive. It has already happened. Only ten years ago, and yet I had forgotten. I had forgotten how, in April 2010, I sat in the sun at an outdoor cafe in southern Sweden at a table that was covered in a thin layer of powdery volcanic ash. I drew a heart in the ash with my finger, surprised and scared.The ash seemed so innocent. It was impossible to understand that this light rain of ash could stop an entire social machinery. That something so small could do so much damage – how will it be when we are hit by something really big?

The Glass Cloud reawakens forgotten events. Voices tell of how ton after ton after ton of ash starts to shoot up out of a volcano from under a glacier in Iceland, and completely paralysed all airline traffic. The sounds that ripple around the voices, that thump and beat – is that the meltwater from the glacier? Or is it our hearts beating out of sync, from fear and confusion? It is – at least this is how I understand it – our cries and questions and attempts to keep it together, to stay steady in an everyday life whose conditions suddenly change by forces outside our control, we who are used to deciding over everything.

It is natures gentle and quiet indifference toward us. It is the sound from within our bodies and the society we have created, blaring and fragile.

The voices recapitulate and overlap, calmly like on the news. A recreated ”now” becomes unreal in its simplicity. This is how is was. This is how it is: In Kenya, thousands of tons of roses that should have been transported to Europe, wither and die. People there and in many other places immediately lose their livelihoods. Domestic problems are less pressing, but even so: Neither tourists in beach bungalows or world leaders at global summits can go home. Trains are overloaded. Along the roads, desperate people beg for lifts. The ash is oblivious to this. It is indifferent and as invisible as a virus.

The ash is as soft as flour. Its extremely small grains are hard with razor-sharp edges that cannot be ground down. It consists of glass. It is a glass cloud.

Over-heated airplane engines melt the soft volcanic ash they are covered in. The engines become encapsulated in glass. From the fuselage, the ash blasts away all the paint, right down to the steel. Flying becomes impossible. People are forced back into their physical conditions. We have become dependent on soaring speeds, a dependence that paralyses us at the breath of a storm or a volcano. Basically, we are slow-moving creatures. Suddenly it becomes concrete. A shrug from the earth’s crust is enough to make that crystal clear.

Reporting can be poetry. It is often said that poetry is ambiguous, but like the language of reporting, poetry can also be accurate. With poetic precision, the voices in The Glass Cloud overlap. Together with repetitions and sound – an air plane that sinks down out of a cloud, a ripple, a wind – a world is created where I step in and marvel. Privileged people who took taxis from Olso to Brussels, the elderly woman on her first trip abroad who got stranded in Marbella and was reported to be ”satisfied” - how could I have forgotten? Now I see it clearly again – the heart traced in the ash on the table, the irritation when I got ash in my beer.

My own memories are evoked by what I hear, grow in my consciousness like the images on photographic paper in my first photo lab. I become curious about what The Glass Cloud will evoke in others. What do they remember? What do you remember?

That I had forgotten about the ash in the spring of 2010 frightens me. Is it just me, or are people’s memories of small and large disasters really, in general, so short?

If someone asked me: ”What would you say The Glass Cloud is about?”, I would answer with one word: Forgetfulness. I wonder if the serious pandemic catastrophe that we are in as I write this, will be forgotten in the same way: sooner than we can imagine. And when I ask myself what art is, I realize that art always helps me to remember.

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