Thursday, 20 October 2016

Taking leave of Longyearbyen

Finally I am in the air and taking leave of Longyearbyen. A lot of us are leaving on the same flight so there's been a lot of hugging and kissing and some tears. I don't really do the big goodbye stuff. 
So onto the plane... Passing through mist and cloud and up, I see the sun for the first time. It has been so low on the horizon for the past couple of weeks that only a glow from below the horizon reminds us of its presence. Now here it is, shining gold in a blue sky above a thick bank of pink-blue-white clouds that stretch to the horizon. Small whisps sail by. I can see cloud roads and canyons and rivers snaking through their mass. The Longyearbyen I leave behind is a grey rain-filled landscape. It feels even more like a frontier town. Sad patches of dirty snow lie abandoned; the roads wet, no longer shining with slippery ice that had me skittering to the sides, arms flailing. Snow is fast disappearing from the mountains. I look up at the one I climbed yesterday; now stark, dark rock, not the snow-covered peak I encountered. Is this normal?

I am filming out of the window of the plane, a Boeing 737-800. It’s my last -ditch attempt at getting aerial footage, and I have no idea what will emerge.  If I get anything you’ll be the first to know. My kite has been carried up mountains and down, ridden in Zodiacs, sat on shores in front of glaciers. Occasionally it’s been unpacked and laid out across stone strewn ground ready for flights that haven’t happened, but mostly it been left rolled up in its bag. I have spent time walking around holding my arms out as though embracing the landscape, feeling for winds that weren’t there to be felt. When there was wind there were Walrus, or rain, or not enough wind, or too much wind, or wind that came in gusts and then disappeared, leaving me standing poised with strings held out, waiting and waiting, until they stuck to the frozen permafrost ground and snagged on rocks. Yes it’s been frustrating.

Back to the plane…… Below me are brown mountains, peaks poking out of the clouds stretching out beneath me. I can see down to the ground where shining lakes sit.

The in-flight magazine in the pocket of the seat in front of me tells me that this month’s questions are can spoon carving be good for your health, and should babies sleep in cardboard boxes? The answer is that apparently you can whittle your way to inner peace, and that yes, the Finnish baby box come with everything you need for the first years of life, and has been used successfully in Finland since 1938. I also learn that the plane I’m in is 39.8m long, 12.5m high, has a wingspan of 35.8m, two engines CFM 56-7B26 which give a thrust of 26,400lbs per engine with a cruise speed of 858kph. It tells me that the plane I’m in is one of the most environmentally friendly and greenest planes in the world; I feel smug. On following pages I am introduced to ‘smart tools’ for the ‘smart man’ in the way of personal grooming…. I wonder if I should takes some notes and pass them on. But then I find Gidsken Jakobsen – Norway’s aviation pioneer, who, from the look of her, would have no truck with sharp-looking men with or without tidy moustaches and big beard kits (do these actually give you big beards I wonder?). 

Racing a Chevrolet, and then taking up flying, Gidsken Jakobsen became the first person to fly her Finnish Säa ski II sea plane, Måsen, from Narvik in northern Norway to Oslo – a treacherous 35 day journey in the winter of 1929. Taking off on another epic journey from Balestrand in June 1934, her engine fell out of her plane midflight, 900m above Sognefjord. Somehow she managed to land in the bay and survive.  What a woman! 

Our pilot comes over the radio – apparently it’s 4 degrees in Oslo and we will be landing in 20 minutes. Outside we are back to masses of white cloud lying below us. The plane banks and starts its descent; white-out, and then the landscape flashes towards us and with a jolt we are back on terra-firma.

It’s dark when I finally leave Oslo four hours later; time spent hanging about in an airport is not my idea of fun. The plane is crowded and I’m sure I’m not in the right seat; I don’t do isle seats, but don’t want to argue with the person occupying the seat – my seat - beside me…  I crane my neck to look out the window as the plane taxis. I glimpse a sign saying ‘technical services’ and red green blue lights flashing past. The plane pauses, lurches forward with a roar and up into the air. Lights recede and we’re in dark sky. 
I have left the Arctic far behind… but not in my head…  it will be resurrected in work I’ll be making in the studio over the coming year.

Glacial Moments

Have now arrived back home - well I'm here but my head is still on a boat sailing through blue ice fallen from glaciers.... listening to the thunderous sound of glaciers calving.... standing at the top of a mountain looking through mist at more and more peaks.....  watching the moon from my porthole.... breathing in the silence and cold clear air.... smelling the walrus and hearing their strange primeval snorts and moans.... trying to draw an incomprehensible landscape... moments of complete absorption while others worked around me.... allowing my drawings and paintings to become ephemeral - washed away by Arctic rain and wind..... swaying with the movement of the ship.... eating my dinner on deck with waves rolling and breaking all around me... feeling overwhelmed... exhilaration

Here's a few glaciers for you...

Monday, 17 October 2016

Arctic Expedition posting

So I'm now back in Longyearbyen after 2 weeks sailing through the High Arctic. Have seen amazing sights and it will take some time to process it all… It's been such an experience and I will be making posts from my notes and images in the weeks to come. 

In the meantime here are a few images to be getting on with… I promise there will be more….

edge of the glacier

peaks and sunlight

view from the port hole

the ship surrounded by glacial ice - early morning

working on the deck
w/c drawing

Monday, 3 October 2016

Day 4 Arctic Expedition: waiting to leave Longyearbyen

A very quick post as we await the minibus to transport us to the ship.  
I awoke to a white world this morning, with sun glinting off the snow covered hills around the hostel. 

A magical world in which to walk. Have been out trying to draw... but the world was slowly obliterated as the snow began to fall again.

 So instead I thought you'd all like to see a polar bear in its native landscape:
Probably the nearest I'll get to seeing one.
I'm now sitting surrounded by luggage which is growing by the minute as more is added by people returning from shopping trips with last minute purchases. I scored a 2.5L plastic container and set of a mass purchasing of them. And bought another sketch book - just in case...
Back on-line again on Oct 17th when we will be in Longyearbyen for a day or so before I return to Somerset.


Sunday, 2 October 2016

Day 3 Arctic Expedition - Longyearbyen

It's raining, but it shouldn't be - we're in the High Arctic. It does demonstrate the general warming up of the climate.
It also creates rather atmospheric mist on top of the surround hills:

The Polar Museum in town was my destination today - has lots to say about attempts to reach the North Pole by air - both by hot air balloon, but mostly about trying the reach it (or rather failing) by airship and the ensuing arguments between the Italians and the Norwegians.
Then there's also a whole of lot of stuff about a red tent in the middle of the Arctic - yet another an ill-fated expedition to the North Pole in 1928, and a rescue operation, all of which seemed to go on for some time (both in reality, and especially in the museum). There are several bad films made about this event, one of which has Sean Connery playing the role of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who dies in the rescue attempt. Have just googled Red Tent and discovered that the film is the 'true story' about the mission to rescue Umberto Nobile and the other survivors of the crash of the Airship Italia, who have obviously taken refuge in a red tent.
The museum is a far far too wordy-a-place.  And there was not enough about the hot air balloon attempt by the Swedish August Salomon Andrée, about whom I was most interested.
Adrée's balloon shortly after take-off and before losing the steering ropes
But I did find a fragment of his hot air balloon:
I am still confused about who was the first to reach the North Pole. But I imagine that in reality it was the Inuit - but they clearly don't count! 
Escaping the walls of words I left and took shelter from the rain behind the museum in the carpark, and in the slowly fading light and general murkiness of the rain, attempted to draw the imposing hill looming up behind the hill - not particularly successfully as my paper became fairly quickly sodden and covered in rain drops.
View of one of the hills above Longyearbyen

Tomorrow we leave here to board the Antigua - which will be our sailing boat home for the next few weeks - and we set sail for the seas north of here. There will be no internet during the sailing, so my next Blog posting and update will be on return to Longyearbyen. For anyone who wants to see where we are you can follow this link:
I will be plotting our passage and making lots of notes as well as artwork.
See you all then - as long as we don't get frozen in...

Update: It's snowing! Huzzar!

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Arctic Expedition - Day 2, Longyearbyen and environs

So a free day today - no getting on the boat until Monday apparently - which hasn't pleased some of us.  I decide to walk and explore and draw. The walk into town centre is a 20 minute downhill hike, but (ignoring and skirting past the warning sign of danger up ahead) I branched off to climb up the hill to see one of the old mines - a ramshackle wooden building which doesn't look at all safe, and clearly had seen better days, although one wonders if it was ever really safe to work in.

It was strangely eerie, as though the place had suddenly abandoned and all the workers had just dropped what ever they had been doing and left - stuff strewn around it, an old shovel half in the ground as though whoever had been digging had been interrupted mid digging...............  It also afforded a good view down the valley of the town.
Having slipped and edged my way back down the rather steep path I continued walking into town, and after a protracted coffee stop for some really strong stuff (sadly missing at the hostel) I made my way down to the sea shore and sat drawing for an hour (I will photograph and post these another time), before retracing my steps to join a minibus tour of Longyearbyen and beyond and some of the history and politics of a place that is governed by a treaty of 30 countries.
To say the landscape here is awesome is not enough; it is breath-taking.  And we've not out on the boat yet. The mist and darkness drawing in just added to the drama of the place as we drove passed the reservoir - under which lie the only thermals in the area - most of the ground being permafrost - and then on upwards to the tops of the mountains to visit the science research stations that are dotted up in the snowy high grounds - monitors for northern lights activities, satellite dishes monitoring... well I'm not sure what.

I can tell you now - there will be a lot of painting and large drawings to come out of this trip.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Arctic Day 1 Longyearbyen

My first view from Longyearbyen Airport

Can't actually believe I am here. I felt quite emotional as we touched down. Here are the views -and this is just from the airport... can you believe it!! 
Having dragged my 2 large bags out of the airport I met most of my companions for the next few weeks as we gathered beside the minibus, loading our luggage and exchanging greetings and hand shakes, and I've promply forgotten their names. I've also met my room mate who's just spent the last 3 weeks in a desert making a light sculpture. She has decorated our windowsill with sweet chestnuts gathered in Oslo.

And now it's snowing! 

I am feeling overwhelmed. Surrounding me are hugh rock faces - which look as if they are covered in layers of dust sculpted by the winds - I've no idea what kind of rock it is. From the window of my room the building is without a roof - it blew off in the last hurricane and no-one knows where it landed. No wind today though. On the way up to the guesthouse we passed the only power station in the town, and coal mines - mining the last of the coal to come out of this region, finally depleted over the last years of intensive mining. But at the moment Longyearbyen is a quiet place. Sound seems muted. 

Water pipes snake around the town - water is pumped to each house in pipes above ground since the ground is constantly frozen. Boarded up wooden houses look abandoned - some by the mining community that is slowly but surely disappearing. It has the feel of being rather like frontier place... which I guess in some ways it is. But there is a culture house, a Raddisson Hotel (where the avalanch fell last year), a shopping centre and a young and healthily growing population (as the coach driver remarked, what else is there to do on the long nights?). 
More later....

Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Arctic calls

Had a frantic week doing Open Studios while trying to finish paintings for my solo show in November, and also trying to remember all the things I needed and had forgotten pack.  But now here I am on my way to Longyearbyen...
 Left Heathrow with a beautiful pink sky slowly appearing as the plane turned and headed east; a mass of small clouds drifting below us.

 Arrived in Olso this evening - and the most difficult bit was getting my trolley piled high with my 2 large cases (one for arctic clothing and one for art materials) through my room door in the hotel room (shhh, don't tell them!).
Thought I'd share my birthday card - made by my lovely son.  Maybe slightly too close for comfort... and probably the only view I'll get of polar bears.

Early start tomorrow - still I already have the trolley ready!

Thank you to all of you who have supported me and bought my little paintings - there are only a few left... so if you want to be tempted.. check out the last post before this.

See you in Longyearbyen...

J Kerr, White on White 2009