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Becoming Raven

Schiffler is the first recipient of the Colin Wang Memorial Scholarship, a $1000 award for a CHID study abroad student, created in memory of University of Washington student Colin Wang. Because Wang was an aspiring stand-up comedian, in order to compete for the scholarship, students were each asked to submit an original limerick. Schiffler’s limerick tells the story of a sparrow propelled out of its home by the need to travel and find connections with the world:

In a fair hallowed hill off the highway
Sat Sparrow who’d never seen the skyway
‘Til the land did upheave
Forcing Sparrow to leave
Dissolving into mist on the byway

Created in Iceland, Schiffler’s performance piece perpetuates these themes of wings, flight, and pushing boundaries.

Artist’s statement:

In June of 2014, I traveled to Iceland ready to witness a story. Almost immediately, the raven, a prominent figure in Norse mythology and in Icelandic culture, started poking its sharp black beak into my experience. Jónas the Learned searched for the bezoar in the skull of a raven, and almost every hostel at which we stayed had an image of a few ravens in the window. They are the eyes of Odin. I consumed stories of Hrafn-Loki, the first Norseman to come to Iceland, who flew with three ravens. I heard the cry ‘Nevermore’ from Poe’s poem. Yet nothing was more magical or immanent than looking up at night and seeing a raven gently beat its wings above me.

I started to develop a method with which to understand how my own story intersects with the raven. Willem Flusser’s Kraken Phenomenology treatise explores the relationship between the vampyroteuthis infernalis and the human, and allows the human to “hold enough together so you can experience the same space for a while.” Jane Bennet in Vibrant Matter, writes, “I believe it is wrong to deny vitality to non-human bodies, forces, and forms, and that a careful course of anthropomorphization can help reveal that vitality, even though it resists full translation and exceeds my comprehensive grasp.” I not only hoped to reveal the vitality of the raven, but allow myself and the raven to share the same space, even if just for a brief moment. By attempting to give myself wings, I positioned myself at a place of vulnerability, opening up my ability to resonate with the raven.

The story that I found during my travels in Iceland is an experiment in speculative embodied storytelling. Using the Flusser model of speculative fabulation, I decided to create a pair of wings for my body using the wingspan and body length ratio of the common raven.

Through a performance piece, I explored the Icelandic landscape with the wings. It did not take long for my human body to lose balance as I stepped from a rock. No part of me expected flight, but my body could feel the wing potential as the wind passed through my prosthetic limbs. As much as I can speculate on the life of a raven, ultimately I am bound to my human body and all of its limits. However, that does not mean that this speculation cannot uncover new ways of thinking and connecting. I will never reach the space that the raven inhabits, but the value and honor I hold for its capabilities to inhabit the world strengthens my relationship with it.

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