Reflections

Now the residency is over I think it will take me a long time to process my experience in the Arctic and work out how it will impact my life and work. I strongly feel that it will have a great impact on what I do next, but I am struggling to articulate to people how the experience was, what we actually got up to and to describe the almost indescribable places that we were extremely lucky enough to witness. Already I am feeling a weight of responsibility to make plans about where I will go next with the materials, ideas and documentation I captured during the residency. I believe that I was extremely privileged to be able to take part in this unique opportunity, but that it is really important that I try to find a way of translating it into something meaningful for a broader range of people in order to make the trip worthy of its magnitude not only in terms of investment from numerous sources but also environmentally.

Having physically experienced aspects of an environment where the effects of climate change are being manifested in some of the most dramatic ways on earth, I feel a greater and more urgent responsibility to find out more about what I can do personally to implement more environmentally conscious choices within my own life, but also how I can use the creative work I do as a choreographer and dance artist to engage people in these extremely complicated and daunting issues in ways that might ignite their interest, engagement and desire to take collective action.

From being surrounded by a group of fellow artists and scientists who were brought together by their common interest and passion for exploring alternative ways of sharing the real, contemporary experience of being in this particular place in the Arctic through their very diverse practices, I really believe that the collaboration between science and the arts is crucial in promoting awareness of climate change to a wider population. In my opinion standalone facts and statistics about how our world is drastically changing intended to scare people into change are clearly not working in terms of getting people to act. They seem so gigantic and unfathomable that the majority of people are stunned into a state of not knowing what to do or how to make a change, me included. The arts offer a different lens for people to look through, that is often more connected to our personal, emotional and compassionate human traits

I want to do my best to ensure that the physical traces of my presence on the landscapes I encountered weren’t in vain and had a beneficial purpose in a grander scheme of engaging more people in a very real and urgent global problem.

I met an incredible group of people who I learnt a great deal from in many different ways. I fell in love with being at sea. I saw wondrous sites that I will cherish dearly for the rest of my life and I feel greatly energized to use my experience to create work that communicates something of importance to as broad a range of people as possible.

26th June 2017

Skansbukta – Home

7°C. Low clouds covering the mountains.

06:56 – Achor up, sailing home.

09:42 – Moored at Kullkaia, ‘the coal pier’.

10:00 – Takk for turen! Thank you for the journey!

‘Homeward’ bound, the crew lifts the Antigua’s anchor for the last time on this trip. Feeling like I want to make the most of my last few hours on board I ask to climb the mast one more time and spend a good half hour up there watching as the ship gets closer to Longyearbyen and more and more signs of human life seep back into the landscape.

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I am slightly nervous about seeing other people again and inevitably finding out about the news and general events that have passed during the past two weeks whilst I have been in my Arctic bubble. I was surprised by how easy I found it to adjust to not having contact to the outside world and how much I enjoyed having the space to focus on one clear experience for two weeks without the distractions of constant communication streams from email, text and social media. I am hoping that I can make a real effort to reduce the amount of time I spend attached to digital media/technology when I get back to my day-to-day life as I have really valued the opportunity to only connect to people through talking/being with them face-to-face and be able to experience things in a more immediate and physical way.

We dock into Longyearbyen by mid-morning and after hauling what seems like an endless stream of luggage from the deck onto a bus we have to say our goodbyes to the crew, which feels strange after relying on them and the guides so intently for the last two weeks. Longyearbyen looks much bigger than I remember it from when we first arrived, probably as we hadn’t seen many built up areas during our journey and I was surprised by how much of the snow that had been on the surrounding hills had disappeared to give way to the full blown summer season. The town also felt busier, thriving with large groups of tourists from numerous cruise groups, which mad me slightly sad, as selfishly I wanted our quieter more isolated experience of Svalbard to continue for longer.

After living in each other’s pockets for two weeks it was very strange to suddenly disperse once arriving back to our accommodation in Longyearbyen and there was definitely a forced shift to get back into the habit of making the majority of decisions for myself again. I was glad to have some time to myself and was delighted to speak to my family and friends but I was also had a desire to know where everyone was and compare our experiences of being back on land.

25th June 2017

Pyramiden – Skansbukta.

S3. 8°C. Sunshine on our smiley faces, some clouds in the clear sky.

Morning in Pyramiden. Visit to the cantine, the school, the culture house and the swimming pool.

13:40 – Let go Pyramiden.

16:00 – Anchor down Skansbukta 78°31,7′ N, 016°01,8′ E

Project zodiac to Kapp Belvedere.

Afternoon landing in Skansbukta.

20:30 – Presentation marathon.

Our last full day on the Antigua has finally arrived and for me is met with a mix of sadness and relief. As much as I have enjoyed being on the ship, exploring Spitsbergen and the surrounding ocean, which has continually blown my mind in relentless ways and meeting such a diverse group of people, I am now longing for some of my own space, contact with loved ones and time to reflect on this experience with some distance. Therefore, the timing feels right for the arrival of our departure.

After staying anchored in Pyramiden overnight, Sarah has arranged an internal tour of some of the main communal buildings for those who would like to visit the town. Although I am partly curious to experience what the interiors of the deserted building are like, I also feel quite drained and in need of some quieter time on the ship to organize my digital data from the past two weeks and catch up with my log. I also had quite a strange response to the town yesterday, which made me feel quite uneasy and melancholic so I am not convinced that I would encounter a productive morning and would like to soak up some final ship time.

Our final landing is at the furthest inland point of Isfordjen, our final 360 epic view which consists of mountains (naked of snow to reveal almost pyramid like layers and angles) a moody sea and a long stretch of rocky beach. This is also the site of a small abandoned mine, which is evidenced by disjointed cart rail tracks and various bits of strewn metal and wood. A disused wooden shack and damaged wooden boat also add to the human imprint on this site.

I am struck by the greenness of the moss that is growing on the mountain side, it has been surprising what a change we have seen in the landscape since we began our voyage two weeks ago, increasingly more evidence of the Arctic summer and stoic life has broken through the harshness of ice and snow. Reindeer are grazing close to the beach and are relatively un-phased by our presence as we ourselves have become more accustomed to seeing them up close.

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As this is our last official landing I try not to spend too much time trying to digitally capture the setting and instead focus on soaking up as much of the peaceful, natural environment around me and etch it into my body/brain memory before the undoubted craziness of returning to a more ‘normal’ civilization ensues tomorrow.

Our last night on the ship is rounded off by final presentations of participants who want to show elements of their work, which has been a real treat and fascinating insight into the usual lives of the people I am sharing this experience with. The four guides also presented on their own artistic work and interests, which complement their guide work.  The work they showed and the way they described their relationship to the places they work blew us away. I was particularly interested and inspired by the way that the natural environments they work and live in have organically been embedded into their work, which I believe is aided by the amount of time that they spend in these places. In a way I wish we had all have done our presentations nearer the start of the residency process so we had a better sense earlier on of where people were coming from and more ideas/opportunities for collaboration could have been sparked.

Although I tried not to pre-determine my expectations or specific hopes for this residency, (as I kept telling myself I couldn’t do so with such little knowledge about what might be possible whilst on the ship) I was hoping that there would have been more opportunity or facilitation for collaboration with some of the other participants involved in the programme. There was such a rich and diverse range of experience, talent and creative approaches to the residency brief that I really wish I had been able to engage with more and relate to my own work. Although the prospect of collaborative opportunities was encouraged in earlier information about the residency, I felt that in practice the majority of people came with quite specific ideas about what they wanted to capture for their personal projects, which were mostly solo practices. Teamed with the fact that it took a lot of us at least the first week to even begin to get our heads around the environment we were witnessing and start to explore our creative responses to it, the possibilities of deeper collaborative endeavors were quite difficult to establish or make happen despite fruitful discussions, compatible ideas and best intentions. There was also the fact that time seemed to disappear into hidden vortexes whilst we were at sea. There always seemed to be so much to do, see or experience either on board or whilst exploring our landing sites, I often felt a pang of guilt that I didn’t want to miss out on anything as this is such a once in a lifetime experience. My last night on the ship is laced with apprehension, worry about going back to land, twangs of mild homesickness and nerves about how I am going to process these prolific past two weeks.

I hope that once we all part ways I will be able to stay connected to the people I have shared this unique experience with and that some fruitful collaborations may develop in the future both nationally and internationally.

24th June 2017

Nordeskjöldbreen – Pyramiden

NE3 – variable. 6°C. Cloudy.

09:00 – Nordenskjöldbreen.

Landing on the Southern end of the glacier.

10:30 – Anchor down 78°38,5′ N, 016°56,4′ E.

13:21 – Anchor up.

14:25 – Moored in Pyramiden 78°39.2′ N, 016°22.9′ E.

Afternoon walk through Pyramiden. Up to the bottlehouse. Visit to the hotel and bar.

19:00 – Beautiful barbecue by Sasha, Jana and the service team.

Overnight we make our way further into Isfjorden, heading back past Longyearbyen and making our way to Nordenskiold Breen where we will be anchored for first part of the day.

Our morning landing will be our last trip to a glacier, suddenly it seems like the end of the residency is racing closer, a double edged sword as I feel like I am just about finding an easier flow of exploring and working and am getting to know people better, but I also feel drained and that by the time we dock back in Longyearbyen I will be ready to return to land. As much as I have enjoyed being surrounded by incredibly interested and talented artists and scientists during the residency I am also craving some alone time or at least time with my intimate family and friends. However, I am already feeling quite anxious about how I am going to describe, explain and capture the past three weeks to people back home and am already imagining that it may take me quite a long time to collate and articulate this experience to other people.

We get off the zodiacs onto large rocks near a small inlet where the glacier meets the land. There is a steep, rocky hill with sheer drops off the side into the ocean on one side and a snowy border bridging to the ice on the other. The range of rock types on the hill is amazing, with a variety of bright maroon, orange and jade green. I wander up to the snowy part of the glacier and am intrigued by the subtle color changes within the bright white, like softly edged small rivers lacing the side of the mountain. I’m not feeling overly inspired to move much or capture a great deal this morning, I think yesterday was such a rich and creative day that I am experiencing a bit of a comedown, which is aided by the overcast, dull sky. The most interesting part of this part of the landscape to me is the area where the glacier has calved out a small bay/inlet and melted water is cascading over the ice face in a number of places to rejoin the ocean. I decide to spend most of my time capturing some snippets of film attempting to capture the variations in the land textures around and the gentle flow of water around the glacier edge.

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For our second landing we cross across the fjord a short distance and embark at Pyramiden- an abandoned Soviet mining town, dominated by a peaked mountain (after which the town is named) and is still owned by a Russian fuel company. Cascading down the side of the mountain is the mining tunnel where carts of coal would have been transported and men ascended and descended to and from the mine. Before coming to Svalbard I had never heard of Pyramiden, but since arriving in Longyearbyen I heard its name in passing quite a lot and gathered that it was a place of great intrigue for many of the other residency participants. Frist established by two Swedish men in 1920 it was taken over by the Russian company who still own it by 1925 and was established as a thriving mining town, which wasn’t deserted until 1998 (even though in its latter years is was significantly less occupied). Sarah informs us that the workers and families who lived here formed a very tight community that lived in very close quarters for work, education and family life.

My first impressions of the town are that it is extremely industrial, bleak and desolate. Although the pier is around a 20-minute walk from the main town I sense an eerie atmosphere straight away. As we head further into town along an increasingly decomposing wooden broad walk, I am shocked by how much destruction is evident as the landscape is littered with decaying buildings, broken pipe lines, piles of metal debris and large smashed concrete blocks. If I had just been plonked here without any context I would have thought, I was in an abandoned war zone. We pass small wooden houses that are sinking into the ground. The first large brick building we come to was where miners with families lived, which was nicknamed the crazy house, it is still called the crazy house as it is now occupied with hundreds of noisy kitty walks, who have nested on the windowsills and are quite menacingly perched upon rusting playground ride sets. It is feeling increasingly as if we are walking further and further into a zombie apocalypse film. Sarah gives us a brilliantly informative tour of the town buildings from the outside and we walk further up the hill to get a closer look at the mine shaft, which some of the braver participants decide to scale to the top of the mountain. After visiting a house made out of glass bottles on the outskirts of town, a more solitude retreat of sorts as a break from the activity of the town, we make our way to the Pyramiden hotel, which you can still actually stay in and has its own bar, restaurant and souvenir shop, which we of course have to make the most of. Walking into the hotel was like stepping into a distant, foreign past that feels very far from our usual contemporary lives. The embroided red wall panels to the slippery parquet floors and dated cartoons paying on the TV screen was a surreal scene to encounter after the previous two weeks on the ship.

I was relieved when we started making our way back to the Antigua as the weight of this decaying and almost empty town was starting to make me feel uneasy and sad about not only its representation of an industry that has played a pivotal role in the rapid negative changes of the natural environment in this region but also because of the careless and unethical way in which it was abandoned by people, scarring the landscape in which it sits.

We return to the ship to discover that the amazing service staff and crew had arranged a surprise barbeque for us all on deck, which is a great way to celebrate the penultimate night of our journey.

Imagery:

  • Gaping absence
  • Messy abandonment
  • Navigating a wasteland
  • Moving through history

Sacred:

  • The meeting point of glacier and ocean
  • Expanse of snow onto land

23rd June 2017

Recherchebreen – Kapp Toscane.

NW2. 9°C. Sunny, some clouds.

Morning landing close to Recherchebreen. Lagoon filled with ice.

12:55 – Anchor up.

14:40 – Anchor down Kapp Toscane 77°33,3′ N, 015°04,4′ E.

Afternoon landing on Hvitfiskstranda –’white whale beach’.

Hut called Bamsebu. Whalebones left from the extensive hunt on belugas in the 1930’s.

18:20 – Anchor up. Sailing North.

20:30 – Climate change debate, presentation by Lynne.

Unusually this morning starts with the sun shining brightly, which enhances an incredible view of our anchored setting, dramatic mossy mountains, a vast glacier surrounded by a beautiful lagoon and an expansive, rocky beach. We spend the morning around the glacial lagoon, which for me is an example of an iconic scene that I had pictured in my mind’s eye before coming here. There are an array of icicles, each unique in shape and personality guarding the borders of the lagoon and the beach. I get overly excited about trying to capture them and manage to flood my muck boots with icy water within 10 minutes of the landing by wading out too far to attempt to perch my GoPro on top of one of the floating islands and means I have to spend the next half an hour in bare feet trying to avoid getting my toes too boggy.

Luckily quite a few people were keen to work with me today on my developing marks project and I manage to capture four people’s tattoos and scars during our first landing, which makes me feel super productive, a feeling I have rarely experienced during this trip. I capture Natalie, Justin and Susan (artists from the US) against and amongst the different textures of ice and capture a moving spine sequence which animates Anna’s back tattoo against a backdrop of the steep green mountains behind us. The sun intensifies as we work, and slowly transforms the lagoon as the ice speeds up melting and numerous currents swirling round the pool of water transports relaxed birds. With the illumination of the sun parts of the ice glimmer like crystal which feels magical to witness.

Before we leave to head back to the ship I work with Emma (a dance artist from Australia) on one of her project ideas which involves unravelling various items of woven clothes from the body. For this landing Emma asks me to wear a teal short sweater which she unravels from me and wraps around her own body as she moves away from me down the shore. We film this from various angles and Eric (one of the excellent photographers on board) shoots the scene with a drone from above. The movement generated from the unravelling was interesting to experience from myself, having witnessed and supported Emma in her explorations at various times during the trip and felt good to be moving with another person rather than on my own.

2nd Landing: Beluga beach

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After lunch and a brief relocation of the ship further down the fjord we land at Beluga Beach, a location where groups of whalers were stationed until the 1930s and hunted thousands of Beluga whales, by using nets to close off the fjord. Remnants of this brutal practice are evidenced not only by the shells of the hunting boats and cabins by more powerfully piles of thousands of whale bones collected in piles dotted along a short stretch of beach. The scene is somber and makes me feel deeply sad about this human destruction that isn’t so distant in our history and still carries on to this day in some areas of the region. This melancholic feeling is highlighted by the fact that we haven’t spotted any Beluga whales during our trip so far. Despite the context of their presence the bones are beautiful, with intricate shape, color and form, the piles look as if they have been manipulated into curated patterns, even though apparently their positioning is a natural occurrence. I don’t feel inclined to do document too much of this area, but I do ask one of the guides Ben if I can photograph his narwhal horn tattoo, which he has on his right arm against the whale bones as it feels like it would be a really poignant image.

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Once we get back on the ship we start moving again and making our way further north. The sun creates an incredible light over the sea as we move away from land so I use this as an excuse to have another go at climbing the mast. This time I am more at ease with the body memory of climbing the ropes and being on the platform so I feel as if I can take more in of the experience without being so nervous or adrenaline fueled. Once again the solitude and sense of calm is delightful and although I do capture some photos and film footage whilst I am up there I am more focused on soaking up the view and physical sensations of my legs dangling, body position around the mast and tension in certain muscles.

This evening we all come together to listen to Lynn present some of her research and collation of recent data about climate change, which many of us felt we could greatly benefit from to help contextualize this trip, our project and ways in which we might go forward once we go back to our ‘normal’ lives. It also gave people a chance to speak about their experience of the residency and air some of the challenges, difficulties, blocks they have been facing, me included and it is reassuring to realize that most of us have been going through a similar process. The discussion got quite heated as the topic is something that so many of us are very passionate about and being here has seemed to increase a sense of urgency of our understanding and action to support raising awareness of the very real and immediate effects of climate change, not just in the Arctic region, but also worldwide. It was also brought to light that some participants have had really different objectives, interests and reasons for coming on this trip, elements of which have caused some tension in discussions about projects and plans in regards to how this experience might impact our work going forward. A common feeling has been that many people (again me included) are experiencing a difficult binary of gratitude for the opportunity to be here with guilt about being here as arguably an eco-tourist, with quite a hefty carbon footprint to get to Svalbard and who is consuming this environment as we have been travelling around. To attempt to offset some of this guilt it feels for some of us like there is a heavy responsibility to make our time here count and use the residency experience in whichever way it manifests in our future practice/work to broaden awareness of climate change with the people we engage with and encourage change. The discussion did tail off on a positive note however, that we need to have hope about climate change in general, that we do have the power as a species to undo at least some of the damage we have caused on earth and that through our work as artists we can offer alternative ways for a variety of people to engage in these pressing calls to action.

Imagery:

  • Projecting to a view/vista
  • Constant dripping
  • Sunlight melting the skin
  • Moving because of the task at hand
  • Strategic positioning of limbs

 

Sacred:

  • Feeling connection to cold water
  • Witnessing life that thrives in this environment
  • Paying homage to consequence of destruction
  • Control of new and old life
  • Moving within various states of water
  • The beauty of water
  • Sun as a spotlight

22nd June 2017

Fridtjofhamna – Recherchebreen

5°C. Sunny, with some passaging bits of rain. No wind.

10:30 – Brunch!

13:05 – Anchor up.

13:30 – Anchor down close to Fridtjofbreen,77°46,6′ N, 014°34,5′ E

Hike up to Fridtjofbreen on the eastern shore.

Hike up the morenes and stationairy hike on the W. shore.

Bear appraoching, Western party back to the ship.

17:50 – Anchor up.

Sailing South, passing the impressive rockformations at

Midterhuken. Bear on Akseløya.

21:25 – Anchor down Recherchefjorden, Fagerbukta

77°29,6′ N, 014°39,3′ E.

Evening landing close to Recherchebreen.

We are granted a much needed lie in after the solstice party which didn’t end until about 5pm for some. I think most of us are feeling quite wiped out at this stage of the trip so a morning without alarms or a landing was really beneficial. As we are not landing, the Antigua moves even further south, with the plan to make an afternoon landing at one of Sarah’s favorite sights; a huge glacier that we can hike on. This is something that a lot of us have been keen to try whilst we are here so I feel lucky to be able to actually do it today. We anchor close to Fridtjofbreen where the vast white, blue and black glacier dominates the view, bookended by two rocky beaches, decorated with patches of un-melted snow and borderline ice islands. To dust of the cobwebs from the night before, various levels of hikes are offered to us, I decide to do the longer option, which will take us up high, onto the top of the glacier.

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Led by one of the expert guides Tim, we walk, trudge and scramble from the beach up a rocky, tempestuous hill, laced with streams of water and puddles of mud which my feet (unfortunately in walking shoes, not muck boots today) get stuck in often. Once we make it onto the snow and ice sheets of the glacier the sound of our feet meeting the ground is incredible, crisping, cracking and at times almost popping. The texture of the ice is like nothing I have seen before, in areas there are fine sharp shards, tightly packed, whilst in snowier areas the ice forms shapes reminiscent with polystyrene nuggets. As the glacier is peppered with numerous crevasses and holes that drop down for tens of meters we trace Tim’s footsteps very carefully, like a surreal, quiet and concentrated conga line. Whilst on our hike the guides are radioed from the ship to inform them that a polar bear has been spotted on the other side of the bay from where we are and where another group of us are just beginning a hike of their own. All of us on the glacier pause and immediately direct out gaze, binoculars and cameras to the other side of the bay to try and seek out the bear. With a running commentary from the captain we all can follow the movement of the bear, who appears to be tracking the other hiking group and after some climbing, a swim in the bay and a playful slide down a snowbank he or she gets extremely close to the group’s belongings, which were left on shore with the lifejackets. Expertly prepared for this kind of situation the ship’s crew and guides calmly and swiftly arrange for two zodiacs to pick up the hiking group being followed by the bear from further around the bay, picking up their belonging on route. Once in the zodiacs the group get an incredibly close up view of the bear and amazing photos, which spark some envy from those of us who weren’t over that side. It was a relief that the situation unfolded so smoothly, the group were evacuated easily and the bear did not have to be disturbed by any deterrents.

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Photo: Hailey Lane

After the bear drama had concluded we continued our climb further up the glacier, the view becoming more and more intense, with a snowy, pristine desert upwards and a bay speckled with beautiful broken ice sheets that were shimmering in a strip of sun. When we reach the highest point of our hike, there is a good 10 minutes of hush as we each take in the view and take another look at the polar bear. Some of us use the break to do a bit of work in the small area we are perched. I work with Natalie (an artist and marine biologist from LA). She has a large scar on her knee from reconstructive surgery that we experiment with photographing within the ice. The starkness of the very white idea and contrast of skin tone is difficult to capture fully on my camera and although the juxtaposition of textures is interesting I’m not convinced by the final results. It was very interesting to find out about Natalie’s scar story, which sparked a conversation with some others in the group too about operations and illnesses they have experienced.

Eventually we start to make our decent back down to the beach, for which we are led down a much more straightforward route that heads to the beach front. As we clamber down we encounter quite a bit of flowing water that is melting from the glacier and making its way to the sea. In these areas the land is seriously boggy and at one point I even have to get a piggy back from Tim over a knee deep rapid. I’m glad to get back to my muck boots on shore and have learnt the hard way that they are always the best choice.

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Once back on ship we lift anchor and get underway again to sail even further south to Recherchebreen where the plan is to stay for a whole day and have two landings.

Imagery:

  • Every step has a consequence
  • Follow the line in front
  • Sticking and brushing away
  • Leap across drops
  • Melting and freezing

What was sacred?

  • Polar bear encounter
  • Depth and power of ice
  • The strength of the glacier, our powerlessness

21st June 2017

Camp Bell – Fridtjofhamna – Summer Solstice

NNW3. 7°C. Sunny, partially cloudy, with gentle north eastern winds.

04:00 – Gibe.

Morning under sail. Presentations.

13:00 – Sails away.

14:35 – Anchor down Vårsolbukta. 77°45,3′ N, 014°20,2′ E.

Afternoon landing at Camp Bell.

18:55 – Anchor up.

20:10 – Anchor down Fridtjofhamna 77°45,8′ N, 014°36,3′ E.

Spotting 2 bears on Akseløya.

Summer Solstice celebration at Hamnodden, bonfire, swims and dances.

Today is the summer solstice, an event we are going to celebrate this evening with a bonfire on a beach the location of which is yet to be determined.

The Antigua continues her journey southwards, propelled by a steady wind. Getting up for the morning shift was a bit of a struggle from a gloriously darkened cabin, but it was great to spend some time up in the wheelhouse with Pauline and a couple of the other participants. It was fascinating looking at the equipment that powers this incredible vessel, a mix of contemporary technology with features which look more vintage/traditional. We ended up not actually having to do any work, which felt like a cop about, but apparently the big direction change which required sail maneuvering happened earlier in the morning. As our hands on services weren’t required I was allowed to go out on the nets by the jib boom at the head of the ship, which I had been longing to do for the past week. I was given a thick belt with a carabiner, which I had to attach to a metal safety rope that traced along the boom. Being out on the nets was incredibly comfortable and relaxing. The nets molded to the shape of my body and supported me securely as I tossed and turned to get a sense of the different perspectives possible. I took my GoPro and 360 camera with me to experiment with what footage I might be able to get from this location on the ship and I am really intrigued by the results, especially in the mixture of horizon shots, interrupted by parts of the ship. The physical sensation of being suspended over the water as the ship cut through the waves was also incredible and I had the desire to play around with spreading my weight across the net in different ways.

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As we were continuing to sail until later in the afternoon some more people did their presentations after breakfast. Again it was fascinating to find out more about everyone’s individual lives, work and increasingly people are reflecting more on their experiences during this residency.

At times I have been feeling quite lost and confused about my time here, I find myself questioning what I am doing and not always in a positive or productive way. Talking to a few of the other participants about this it is a relief to discover that some of them are experiencing the same feeling too. I have a sense that the impact of this trip on me could take quite a while to manifest in my work once I return to the UK as it has already felt like such a lot of information, experiences and ideas to process.

Eventually we arrive at the site for our afternoon landing at Camp Bell. The sun is blazing in the sky which makes putting all of my outdoor gear on again a bit more tempting. The landing location is a long sandy beach which layers next to mossy grasslands, there is then a strip of neat snow which borders the base of dramatically steep mountains, the tops of which are disguised behind flat grey clouds. There have been fresh polar bear tracks spotted further up the beach so we are warned to stay strictly within the parameters the guides have set out. It is thrilling to know that there are potentially bears nearby, but there is also a slight anxiety that we don’t want to disturb them and end up in a confrontational situation. I spend the first part of our time on land working with Brandy on framing her arm tattoos among a huge grey and white rock formation that is reminiscent of veins. I am surprised that the majority of people who have tattoos on this trip have them on their hands or arms. Brandy moves eloquently around the rocks and it is as if her tattoos are a part of the rock patterns. After photo documenting the different textures by the beach and on the grassland I work with Pablo (an artist from Spain, now living in Copenhagen) who has a tattoo that reads ‘Grande’- his father’s nickname for him. We chose to work in a hollowed out piece of mossy word to frame his tattoo, Pablo’s arm fits ergonomically within the crevasse in the wood. Pablo says that he doesn’t feel inclined to move all that much so we focus on capturing stills and film one simple movement pattern of him sliding his hand into view palm up and turning his arm over so the tattoo is facing downwards, imprinting on the moss. For contrast we then experiment with some shots of his hand interacting with two beautiful whale vertebrae that have been washed up on the shore. The coloring and texture of the bone is incredible and make an interesting contrast to human skin.

As the sun was shining so brightly and the sand was nicely warmed up for the first time in days I had the urge to experiment with movement myself. I decided to set myself a bit of a score:

  • 5 mins observation sitting
  • 5 mins observing lying
  • 5 mins free writing about what I notice
  • 10 mins improvising in response to the above

It actually was really nice to move again a bit more fully and having bare feet and hands outdoors felt like a real treat. Whilst improvising I kept coming back to a falling, rolling pattern which I decided to film travelling down the beach towards the water. A suspended fall forwards, broken by an angular roll, a sharp impact to my back, a rebound recovery to standing, again, again and again.

We head back to the ship for dinner and to prepare for our solstice party, for which we had gathered some fire wood during our landing. The guides go ahead to check the parameter and start the fire. We head over in the zodiacs group by group, there is a night off, party atmosphere tonight, which I think we all need as respite from our projects. My body and brain is feeling tired today and in need of a heavy night’s sleep. As a part of the party, Justin (an artist from Maine) performs a ‘Blue Nose’ ceremony, in which all of our noses are sponged with a light blue chalk paste, apparently an old military tradition which takes place once you cross the Arctic Circle.

Imagery:

  • Grazing nooks and crannies
  • Tumbling down a slope
  • Gathering momentum
  • Sinking into softness

What was sacred:

  • Feeling bare feet on sand
  • Neatness of snow and exposed ground
  • Prints of polar bears

20th June 2017

20th June

Ny Ålesund – Sailing South.

NW 2-3. 2°C. Cloudy, with northerly winds chilling our faces.

Morning in Ny Ålesund.

Shop, museum, walk to the mast, stories about Amundsen and Nobile.

13:00 – Weather balloon launch by AWIPEV,

the combined German and French research station.

13:49 – Let go Ny Ålesund.

16:15 – Deciding to sail outside of Forlandsundet. Sails up!

Main Sail, Inner Jib, S1, Outer Jib, S2, Lower Topsail,

Upper topsail, Top Gallant, Course.

19:00 – S3 and Gaff topsail set.

Presentations.

Seawatches during the night.

We spend the morning having a look around the town, sticking to the roads of course, eyes peeled for any signs of polar bears and fending off Arctic turns who have a tendency to aggressively dive bomb on people’s heads. I am impressed by its quirky, contained museum that uses a lot of raw materials for the spacious displays to track the progression of Ny Ålesund from a mining town during the turn of the century, to an iconic location for numerous expeditions to the North Pole in the 1920s, to its current identity as an international Arctic research center, which records atmosphere, marine, weather, glacier wild life data.

The town shop, which was much bigger and glossier than I had imagined was opened up especially for our arrival and it was really strange to be back in a commercial environment with walls of tourist memorabilia and branded snacks as well as seeing new people. As we are at the northerly most post office/post box I feel obliged to send some postcards, something I haven’t done in years and felt quite special given the absence of communication with the outside world since being on the ship. Although it has only been 7 days it seems like we have been in a residency bubble, shut off from the chaos and drama of the real world for much longer, something I am very much enjoying, but am also slightly apprehensive about what news awaits us when we return to Longyearbyen on the 26th.

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After the museum and shop Sarah leads a guided walk to the outskirts of the town, the landscape of which is strewn with scars of previous mining activity, abandoned as apparently too costly to dismantle. This is a stark, manmade contrast to the surrounding pristine snowy mountains and glaciers. We visit the rusty colored mast, which Admunsen and Nobile used to build and launch their fateful expedition zeppelin in 1925. Whilst exploring the town we encounter a number of memorials and commemorative structures that pay respect to a number of lives that were lost in various mining accidents in the town as well as explorers who did not return after epic expeditions. These are a harsh reminder that the environment around us is hostile and dangerous, a sign perhaps of nature fighting back against human progression.

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We loop around the town after Nemo is teased by two playful seals on the beach and head for one of the weather stations where we witness the release of a weather balloon that the scientists working here release into the air every day at 1pm UTM to capture data about the temperature, moisture and humidity in the surrounding areas. We head back to the ship for departure, today I feel more like a tourist than I have done before during the trip, being herded back to our ship after a brief invasion of a town.

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This afternoon we stay on the ship to continue our journey south, with the intention of travelling on the outskirts of the most westerly island of Spitsbergen through the Prins Karls Forland. The winds dramatically pick up so excitingly it is possible for Antigua’s sails to be put up and the motor to be turned off for the first time during our trip and only time on this expedition for the past couple of years, which feels very special. The epic and complicated process of releasing the sails begins and after a very brief overview of how things work by the first mate Pauline many of us participants are called to help pull, tie and haul various ropes around the deck, which strikes me as an intricate choreography of people grouping and regrouping, moving individually and as collectives, scurrying around the deck in pathways determined by the very patient and generous crew. After about 45 mins of raising, lowering and re-raising the sails, we are cruising along on the power of the wind and the real splendor, beauty and power of the Antigua is highlighted. The motion and sounds of the boat feel different to when the motor is driving us forward. Without the protection of land, the sea is much choppier and the rocking of the ship intensifies, it feels good to experience the sensation of the ships movement more tangibly and the body has to work a bit harder to find a solid and safe grounding. A pleasant disorientation until an air of queasiness kicks in half way through the night which makes it difficult to sleep.

As the sails are up and need to be manned by a larger number of people during the night so we are asked to sign up in groups to take part in night watch shifts of two hours. I sign up for the 6-8am slot, which I am looking forward to as it is usually very serene and quiet on the ship in the early mornings.

19th June 2017

Blomstrandbreen – Kronebreen – Ny Ålesund.

No wind. 5°C. Sunny, with bits of clouds.

Morning landing close to Blomstrandbreen.

14:00 – Anchor up, sailing further in to Kongsfjorden.

15:40 – Hanging out close to Kronebreen. Zodiac projects.

Bearded seal on the ice.

Minke whale and blue whale close to the ship.

21:05 – Moored in Ny Ålesund 78°55.6′ N, 011°56.4′ E.

We start the day anchored in the same location as yesterday and have our third and final landing on the island next to the epic, marbled glacier. Although we land in pretty much the same spot as yesterday the landscape looks and feels very different; the hundreds of mini ice islands from the beach had been washed away, new bulbous sheets of ice with a blue-ish tint had formed on the snow covered area of the sand and there was a lot more ochre colored mud spilling further away from the glacier side as the ice was melting to mix with the ground. I also seemed to be a lot more aware of the cascades of running water that were flowing from the glacier, making their way down to the ocean. A constant subtle sound of gushing, a gentle backing soundtrack.

I spent the majority of this landing working with Lucy (an architect and artist from Sydney) who agreed to share two of her scars with me. For the first scar on her left wrist she chose to explore one of the rapidly moving brownish streams and directed by me we took some stills and video of her moving within the water and around some rocks that were disrupting the water flow. Some interesting spraying and rewind effects were creating by Lucy moving against the flow of water which was interesting to play with. For her second scar above her right eye we found a rock with a clear contrasting marking on it which resonated with this scarring/marking idea. For these shots we just experimented with capturing stills as the contrast between skin and rock was a really powerful image in itself that movement felt unnecessary.

I am enjoying focusing on the capturing of people’s scars and tattoos against the landscapes we encounter as I feel that not only does it give me a very specific task to work with in these vast and sometimes overwhelming environments, but also means I am getting to know my fellow participants in different ways and hearing stories about various areas of their lives that I might not have otherwise encountered. It is also helping me to make more sense of the human body and presence within this unfamiliar world and think about broader themes of climate change and impact in a more tangible way.

We spend the afternoon on the ship sailing, giving me some time to read up on some Arctic facts from the many books aboard and process the past couple of days. In the evening we dock in Ny Ålesund: the most northerly permanent settlement in the world. An active research hub for numerous nationalities, which meant we had to turn off any Wi-Fi or Bluetooth devices in case they interfered with data signals that are being constantly collected across the town. We were allowed to roam free in the town as long as we stuck to the main roads/tracks as not to disturb any of the scientific equipment or bird sanctuaries that take up a large area of the land. Although we were allowed to travel around without a guide, which has become second nature now, we were informed that all of the buildings in the town are always open in case you should encounter a polar bear and need to retreat into the nearest shelter, an equally daunting and reassuring nugget of information. Myself and some other participants have a brief walk around the town, which was nice to get another stretch of the legs, but soon headed back to the ship as it was getting late, the town was in sleep mode and unfortunately the town bar is only open Wednesdays and Saturdays. We have heard rumors that the one shop in the town would be open for an hour tomorrow, when we will return for a better guided look around.

18th June 2017

Blomstrandbreen.

SW1 – flat – N1. 6°C. Sunny. Some clouds.

08:45 – Anchor down Blomstrandhamna 79°00,0′ N, 011°57,9′ E

Morning landing close to Blomstrandbreen.

The glacier used to cover the Island Blomstrandhalvøya –

‘Flowerbeachpeninsula’ – but has retreated so much that it uncovered the peninsula as an island.

Afternoon landing, stationary hike on the shore.

Hike up the morene to look out over the glacier.

Long steep hike up Skreifjellet – 563m.

Presentations.

We wake up surrounded by a new glacier, a new spectacular view to take in. By day 6 at sea I feel that I might becoming slightly numb to the wonder of the vistas we are encountering, as if my brain can only comprehend a certain quota of natural amazement. As a change to the last week we will be staying in this location for a whole day and a half, which will give us a chance to land on the same part of the island several times and work a bit more consistently within the same landscape. This is appealing to many of us as at times we have been changing locations so frequently that it is difficult to get a real sense of a place, let alone make something in response to it.

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Today I decided to narrow my ideas and just focus on trying to capture some of the tattoos and scars on myself and other people within the landscape to discover if in reality it is something I am interested in and want to pursue. For our first landing we can stretch out along a sandy/rocks beach which ice from the glacier is spilling onto as well as climbing further inland to explore the side of the glacier, which is full of interesting crevasses, caves and rock flow where the glacier merges with the mountain. I begin by working on photographing and filming my own tattoo on the inside of my ankle within some crystalized ice, which proved to be quite tricky to get a good angle on. Although it was liberating to have a bare foot out moving through the snow, rocks and sludge, my toes did start to get numb and burn pretty quickly. After this I worked with Emma who has a tattoo of two dots on her wrist. I have decided to ask the people I work with to choose an area of the landscape that they are drawn to and want to reveal their scar or tattoo to, I then document this encounter with photography and film. Cecilia then allows me to photograph a scar she has on her back which was an interesting contrast to the rolling landscape she chose as her location. The scars on people’s bodies can be quite tricky to capture in the daylight, especially with reflection off of the snow, but I am interested in the way the texture of the scar is different to the surrounding skin and is almost embossed against the landscape textures. The results of the images and videos are intently focused on a single part of the body, which is more manageable and curious to me than attempting to capture the whole body as it seems too complex and loaded against these extremely diverse and multi-layered landscapes.

After shuttling back to the boat for lunch, a quick change of socks (a process that takes place many times throughout the day) and a change of bag we head back to shore once more this time for a hike. Today I decide to go for the medium length hike, which offers a look out over the side of the glacier about half way up its entire height. Although I was tempted by the longer and steeper hike to the top of the mountain with a look out over the whole glacier I was drawn to a smaller group of people and a less intense journey. Whilst hiking we came across several white reindeer who allow us to get quite close before bolting down the hill side with expert precision and pace. Getting a higher view of the glacier gave a greater insight to the complexity of its form and sheer magnitude. I was particularly interested in capturing close up shots of the glaciers cracks, lines and collision scars which reminded me of markings on skin. Whilst on higher ground we also saw quite a bit of vegetation pushing its way through the ground surface, a pleasant contrast to the rocky/snowy terrain below.

Looking down on the epic layers of the glacial ice I get a strong sensation of time, the time it took for these multiple layers of ice to form, the time for each part to decent down the valley, the time it will cascade off the edge into the ocean and the time new ice is formed.

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Whilst at the lookout point I work with Deidre (a fellow choreographer, from California) who helps me capture some more images of my tattoo against some moss and orange speckled rocks, she then allows me to photograph two scars she has on her chest juxtaposed to a large flat rock she chooses.

As we make our way down the hill back to the beach we pass through a large patch of long grass, which looks quite out of place again the contrasting ground textures. We also spend some time milling in and around a spectacle of hundreds of icicles that have washed up on shore and are bridging the gap between land and sea.

Imagery:

  • Mini crystal islands
  • Multiple rhythms of droplets falling
  • Sliding beyond control/limits

 

What was sacred:

  • Evidence of time in glacier ice
  • Comparison of glacier and skin textures
  • The reveal of the land below