BONE SKY (Wyoming 2015)

In 2015 I spent some time in the vast grass plains of Wyoming. The spare tones of the landscape in early spring deeply impacted me, as did the sense of immense expanse. I believe I was transformed during my encounter with the landscape and atmosphere there. I found I breathed and felt differently, that I was filled with an infinite sense of light.

My interest in light began nearly a decade ago. Succinctly, it transmits so thoroughly — it’s an incredible messenger. Whether of stars’ ages, planetary compositions, or the chatter from our digital newsfeed — it pours languages that we are still learning to understand. I started to take seriously the query, what is light saying? And then I wanted this transmission to be a dialogue. How can I speak back into this agent which is always speaking into me? I trust I am already always speaking into the light, too. But now I’d like to with purpose.

 

While in these spare grasslands, I sought to bring aspects of this place — and its incredible sky — into myself by moving intentionally with long sheets of hanji (Korean mulberry paper), seeking to magnetize the paper and myself to the environment. I then made sculptural objects from this “charged” hanji coupled with found materials (bones, sage sprigs, bark, grass). At the end of my time there, I destroyed these objects by setting them on fire. I wrote down nothing. I took some images of the objects, how they evolved, and then their remnants. I thought of them collectively as Ash Poem. That title feels inadequate for that effort; those objects were collectively part of a gesture I was making slowly — over the course of several days.

Fire has become one of my best communicative aides for speaking with the sunlight. I first started working with fire when I had been in Norway to study the long days of the summer solstice. I fell into the practice of burning as a way to write my poems directly into the sky. Fire moves and dances in ways that I strive to discover inside myself — completely responsively, with quick flicker and spurts, or with a slow, seeping durational appetite. In Wyoming, its soft warm tongue licked at the air and the objects I had made, devouring the faint oily prints my hands had left on them. The hanji burned neatly, with hardly a trail of smoke and without leaving much behind. Whether the sky responded in turn wasn’t something I could mark or objectively register, but my body felt that the transmission was complete. A satisfaction.

My aim during this period was simply to open — to listen and develop a capacity to discern what I might hear. Whatever may have spoken into me did so quietly, but with purpose. To this day, I do not feel I can adequately transcribe what fell through me. Perhaps my drive to burn everything at the end was my best effort at speech — to write with the sky, to leave a receding gesture in the air.

I am still not certain how to describe the work that I engaged in during this period. The best I can do is offer these few images that captured moments from this process. As I reflected on how best to encapsulate this series of experiences — this cascade of subtle environmental encounters — the only words that sped through me: Bone. Sky.

“Grasslands, No Wilds” (2015)


EXHIBIT: A representation of a project that may or may not have taken verbal form.

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Sueyeun Juliette Lee grew up three miles from the CIA and currently lives in Denver, where she works as the Program Director for Chinook Fund. Her poetry books include Underground National (Factory School), Solar Maximum (Futurepoem), and a forthcoming collection titled No Comet, That Serpent in the Sky Means Noise (Kore). A former Pew Fellow in the Arts for Literature, she has held international residencies for video art and poetry. Her published essays examine experimental poetry, race, and imaginations of the future. Find her at silentbroadcast.com.