It’s been a few days since I came back from Svalbard and I had a chance to gather some thoughts. As my first residency (yes, I haven’t mentioned that, have I?) and such an intense one at that, this experience has been transformative for my practice and I am immensely grateful to a-n for supporting it.
I have been inspired, saddened, thrilled, uplifted, entranced, sobered, confused, awed, thwarted and encouraged.
As a result, I am re-thinking my entire approach to the development of my practice and the ways of incorporating theory, research, and activism into it. I now see much more clearly what it is that I want my practice to be, but also what I don’t want it to be. The initial interest in marks, traces, and the human need for „leaving a mark”, re-surfaced several times after I’ve abandoned the project, although in different forms. Following up on the many threads, which share common denominators, I will now devote some time to research aimed at choosing the „hooks” that will develop interests into projects.
I will definitely be coming back to Svalbard, and this time to do a project, hopefully early next year.
If you find what I wrote here resonating and would like to see if we share interests, you’d like to collaborate, or would like to go to Svalbard and want advice – get in touch, I’ll be happy to talk.
Greetings from Roja, Latvia, where I will be spending the next two weeks at Roja Art Lab.
photos are a mix of Foxfonna and Nordenskiöld glaciers.
On Friday I visited the Russian settlement of Barentsburg, the second-largest community of Svalbard. The easiest way to get there in summer is by boat, as there are no roads between it and Longyearbyen. Barentsburg is said to be home to some 500 people, but apparently noone has ever seen more than a few dozen. At first it may seem almost abandoned, but you can quickly notice signs of community life reflected in the way space is arranged. Tables, chairs, benches and grills create both formal and informal outdoor gathering spots, suggesting a lively self-organised community. To meet its energy needs Barentsburg relies on coal, like Longyearbyen, and there is a growing tourist sector and some research. I’ve been told this is the place on Svalbard that will change in the most in the coming years.
By now I’ve entirely abandoned all previous plans for making anything concrete during this residency and just focus on research. I’ve met some great people, each with their own reason to be here, and gained a bunch of new and different perspectives on Arctic climate change and the influence it has on Svalbard’s environment and communities. Feeling of impending doom hangs heavy in the air, but there is also a staggering number of initiatives and very motivated people who come here to make a difference, and there is determination.
People are getting involved.
Each day in this extraordinary place brings new experiences and new perspectives. From sheer awe at the austere beauty of Spitsbergen, through interest in the different people who inhabit it, to certain uneasiness caused by signs of changing climate. Bruno Latour comes to mind, asking „How to feel the sublime when guilt is gnawing at your guts?”. Mountains bear signs of having been gutted for their coal, glaciers are retreating and houses have to be moved because they are threatened by landslides caused by climate change. I came here with a plan to make outdoor installation work that wouldn’t leave any marks behind, but it’s all too clear that the marks are already here. And some of them are mine.
I don’t have anything intelligent to say at the moment.