Nick Turner: An Icelandic Diary

  • Artwork  Nick Turner
  • Curation  Sofia Lai
  • Words  Bryony Holdsworth

“What is the addiction in humans to put themselves into the wild: Is it ego?” American artist Nick Turner has created a body of work that intricately explores man’s place in nature. Using vast, empty landscapes as his canvas, he is able to examine his environment from an intellectual and visual standpoint, reimagining the world around him through a variety of artistic mediums.

Turner’s diaries candidly evaluate his first trip to Iceland, accumulating images, journals and texts in order to portray man’s relationship to the natural world. These literary depictions allowed the artist to capture Iceland’s natural beauty through artistic minimalism, where he turned his figurative expression to Iceland’s unique horse population, documenting a childhood fascination with the semi-wild beasts: “Horses for me are a bridge from man to nature. In Iceland they have always been a large part of the social infrastructure of the island, being used in all areas, from land to transportation and now even tourism”.

Turner generates a compelling dialogue between past and present, incorporating medieval Icelandic sagas with visual artistic disciplines. His body is the source of creativity, one in which he is able to scrupulously self-examine his own human existence against the barren environment. “Man has not conquered this island. The idea being without a governing high power with rules and regulation, there would be a complete lack of structure and chaos would leave only the strongest alive”. Man is vulnerable to nature, his own fragility exposed against the wilderness.

His work is set against a highly romanticised environment that breeds tales of mystical beasts and legendary leaders. “There’s something magical about the views in Iceland, like a dragon may be larking at the tops of the jagged cliffs or some great battle between the knights of the round table could take place in the rich green fields that sit just beneath waterfalls and mountains all along the south coast” he says. This literary environment emboldens nature’s unyielding power, as Nick’s diaries bridge the divide between our urban landscapes and the enrapturing unpredictability of the natural environment.

Nick Turner’s diaries are a stunning documentation of primordial lust and intrigue. We sat down with him to discuss his cinematic adventures.

You say that your work relates to a deep fascination with the natural world and man’s relationship in it. Could you tell us about a specific event in your life that propelled this interest?

I grew up travelling and living abroad from a very young age. This influenced my perspective on the world we live in and the environment that inhabits us. I also spent a lot of time riding horses and have recently developed a deep fascination with the ocean. I think this feeling of being humbled and aware of our own human fragility has hugely inspired my work. In particular, I remember two separate trips to Iceland, one of which I got into a very bad situation surfing and ended up getting stuck offshore west coast of the island, and the second I was there alone during one of the biggest storms I have ever witnessed in my life. I remember being in complete awe. I think it’s hard to describe in words the absolute power nature has over humankind.

Iceland is deeply rooted in romantic mysticism. How has this fantastical agenda inspired you?

I grew up living in a romanticised world. I was homeschooled and would visit a lot of the locations I was studying as a kid, and this feeling of magic has definitely stuck with me throughout my life. Iceland fits this ideal perfectly. You feel as if you’re going to see a dragonfly over one of the jagged mountains you drive by. I think it’s the perfect location to experience this childhood enchantment.

In previous works, you’ve used your lens to capture Iceland’s natural beauty. Why has it become so important to also document your experience through personal diary entries?

Most of my photographs are done in a quick, spontaneous manner that often isn’t planned out and is merely a moment I observed. I am interested in going deeper than just that one moment, so often I go back and try to capture a broader study of what I observed at that moment. I think journals have also become a very personal way of expanding on ideas. Originally, the journals and sketchbooks were just something I would do at night while travelling. It wasn’t until later that I decided to start photographing the pages and treating them as a piece of art in their own right.

It isn’t until we are exposed to the wilderness that we experience our own human limitations. What was it about this trip in particular that made you feel vulnerable to nature?

Helplessness is the word I would use to describe any situation in which you can feel a sense of mankind’s inferiority. I once got swept offshore with a friend shooting a video, and having to think coherently and get us both back to shore was terrifying. I remember feeling incredibly small and thinking for a brief period of time that we wouldn’t make it back. That experience heightened my senses but also made me realise rationality will yield the best results. You just have to work with nature in order to figure out how to survive.

You’ve said that man retains some primal instincts. How would you say this outlook has translated into your body of work?

Well, with the horses I often try to place myself amongst them as a member of their own tribe. I am very much interested in Hobbs’ viewpoint of the world. Man’s natural instincts are inherently primal and are merely glossed over with all the chivalry and social contracts we have made in society. I tend to study myself in order to investigate this theory throughout my work.

Horses have greatly inspired your art and were particularly prevalent in your recent photo series, documenting yourself running alongside the wild beasts. Why do you think it’s so important for an artist to connect with their subject matter?

I was trying to project myself into their world and I think the connection between artist and subject is always an important issue to tackle. I view nature as my subject matter, and for me personally, art can only be truly authentic when the connection is real. It’s hard to artificially recreate this by shooting or creating images that hold little or no weight to the artist’s own personal agenda.

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