Points of Reference / Fracturing the Sublime

In the fall of 2013 I participated in “The Arctic Circle” Residency, which brought together artists from around the world to the International Territory of Svalbard, about 900km from the North Pole, aboard the tall ship Antigua.

During the 14-day voyage the, my perception of time was altered and my sense of personal space in relationship to my environment was challenged. Being on a tall ship fostered a sense of going back in time, a historical means of travel in a place that seemed suspended (literally frozen) in time. Personal space was, not surprisingly, confined on the ship, but that experience extended further; out of necessity (safety regarding polar bears) perimeters on our activity were imposed ashore and we had to remain and work in a defined area – a triangle between three armed guides. For me, this led to an intensified awareness of my personal space in relation to my physical surroundings, and inspired the installation activities that I undertook both on the land and on the ship. Using canvas, candles, sticks and string, I mapped my location in relation to landmasses and noticeable formations. Referencing traditional navigation methods of map reading, triangulation, and celestial observation, I sought to generate another level of experiencing/ understanding my location in the physical world. The installations also proved to be a prism through which to view the landscape.

The environment in Svalbard presented me with dualities I didn’t expect – between remote wilderness and industrial impact (past whaling and past/present coal mining) and between confined and expansive spaces. The feelings it evoked were also contradictory, immense calm, yet with an overwhelming underlying energy, a palpable sense of contraction and expansion in both the landscape and me.

Distortions of perception was something that became a focus– from my inability to accurately judge scale and distance based on the lack of physical points of reference (like trees), to an awareness of the influence of my internal points of reference – experience, time and culture, even imagination. This I have explored further with an interactive video installation made with the help of Marten Berkman and Baptiste Bohelay.

The genre of landscape painting has a romantic heritage, and a tall ship is a romantic way to see the far reaches of the world, but a less than romantic conversation reverberated in the background; climate-change/ human domination/destruction/ responsibility for the environment. In this remote wilderness remnants of previous human endeavor (buildings, equipment) and occasional finds of drift garbage had a fracturing effect on the sublime; the experience of awe and timelessness tempered by those realities. Still, based on my personal reference points, I couldn’t help but look for and see the magic and grandeur.

Participation in the residency as well as the creation of work was supported in part by Yukon Advanced Artist Awards. Thank you to Yukon Lotteries and the Yukon Government.