From the very beginning of this project, I really liked the idea of creating the illusion of a square/firkant of ‘Spring/green/non-snow’ surrounded by ‘Winter/white/snow’. In my mind, I saw a green grassy square surrounded by virgin snow – I would shovel the snow out of the firkant and create a perfect square of non-snow. The other Fire Kanter I had made were created on a level plane, but I also liked the idea of playing a bit with the perspective and creating a firkant partly on a non-level plane. That was the plan anyway.
Although we had already had light snow and minus temperatures since the New Year, we hadn’t yet had real deep snow – so I was very glad when the forecasters promised a proper snowfall in the first week of February. I settled on a small local quarry, Bjergebakke Stenbrud, as the venue for Firkant 06 – I knew I would be undisturbed and would have the ability to project the firkant onto the sloping sides of the quarry. I have worked and painted there before, and I find it a very inspirational place. Once all the snow had fallen, I made a preparatory recce and looked at the snow quality, the direction of the sun and shadows and where I could locate the firkant. I needed a day without further snow, and when that was promised I was ready to start – everything was perfect.
The first mistake I made related to the positioning of the firkant. The smallest adjustments of the angle and direction of the camera eye result in potentially huge changes in the form and size of the firkant (as it is on the floor, rather than as it is as seen from the point). I made the firkant much too large, which meant a lot of shovelling. In some places the snow was over 50 cm high, and I only had a old shovel. I could have saved myself an awful lot of time and effort if I had adjusted the angle of the camera a few milimetres up.
Another problem I hadn’t really recognised, was that – in order to keep the snow surrounding the firkant untouched, I would need to leap from the edge of the ‘picture’ into the firkant, where I could then begin shovelling. This meant that all the snow I cleared needed to be transported ‘out’ of the firkant and then out of the ‘picture frame’. I did this by filling IKEA bags with snow, then chucking them out over the ‘picture edges’, leaping out of the firkant making sure not to damage the virgin snow, emptying the bags and then leaping back again and repeating the process. Many times.
It didn’t take me long to realise that it would take me more than one day to clear the firkant. Other problems: the ground I was clearing was in turns grassy, stony, or rocky. In some places small bushes lay under the snow, which also needed to be cleared. My snow shovel – and my sanity – started to crack. Then, despite the weather forecasts, it started snowing and blowing quite heavily. The parts of the firkant I had cleared started to fill up with snow again. I had taken a dustpan and brush, with the naïve hope of eliminating all the snow completely, but it soon became clear that it would be impossible. By the end of the day I had hardly made any impact and was very close to giving up.
The next day was indeed sunny, which unfortunately meant that the snow developed an icy crust, which made it even more difficult to shovel. The south facing edge of the firkant started melting and drooping in the sun, despite the air temperature remaining well below freezing. I had to enlarge the firkant in order to maintain the illusion of a square, but even the tiniest change meant IKEA bags and IKEA bags of new snow to be cleared.
Returning for the third day I noticed how the cleared square had been visited by the local fauna. Hare and deer tracks led into the square, and raven wings had left beautiful imprints in the snow. I cleared as much as I could and then decided enough was enough. I never managed to clear the square completely of snow as I had imagined, but I decided I would let nature take its course. The forecasters promised warmer weather, and I imagined the snow and ice remaining in the square would soon be melted completely away.
Returning again and again, the thaw has indeed melted nearly all the snow in the firkant, but it has also completely melted one of the sides, destroying the illusion of a square. I will return sporadically and keep documenting the firkant as it slowly disappears and is consumed again by the landscape. Perhaps the fact that I scraped the snow with the shovel will leave some sort of shadow on the new growth of grasses in the Spring. In many ways Firkant 06 has been a failure, in that I never achieved the sharp distinction between the virgin snow and green grass that I envisaged. However, it was an interesting and unforgettable experience and I have really enjoyed seeing it change over time. I also may have saved the lives of a few birds and mice by exposing all that grass.
For me, the Fire Kanter project is all about physically getting to grips with the landscape, and learning more deeply about the place that I find myself in.