Sunday, 22 October 2017

Endings - 17/18 October 2017 - back to the begining

Monday 17/10/2016  8°C, light wind 2m/s, overcast, low fog. Sunrise 10:49 - Sunset 16:34
Early morning we take leave of Pyramiden. In dark grey green sea ruffled by a light wind, I watch the glimmer of dawn appear over mountain tops, the moon still hanging above us. 

I stand on deck watching mountains and glaciers passing, and the last time most of us will pass this way for a while. We are all subdued. 

A few hours later we sail into Longyearbyen and moor up. 78°13.7´N, 015°36.3´E; we’re back and it’s the end of the expedition.
After the chaos of packing and disembarking, pulling luggage back up the steps of the hostel, I retire to the peace and warmth of the Miner’s Bar for a cup of hot chocolate topped with cream. So we are back in civilization; people and cars and shops, even if it looks far more insubstantial than brick-built Pyramiden. 
In two weeks time the sunlight will disappear and there will be darkness here for the next few months. Even now the sun doesn't clear the tops of the surrounding mountains, and the amount of daylight is less and less each day. 
Back outside I walk to the top of town with my kite (ever hopeful), to where the road disappears into wildness and polar bear territory. There’s a suggestion of wind so I find a relatively flat space amongst the rocks and lay out the strings, untangling them, which takes a while. Turning on my GoPro I walk back and launch it into the air; a few seconds later it falls to the ground, the wind has gone. Frustration, my verbal responses disappear into the ether; fortunately there’s no-one around. I try again but by now the strings are stuck to the permafrost ground and snag on rocks. I give up; it's really not going to happen. I think that maybe I should have gone with the helium balloon idea. Too late now. A drone would have been even easier - but where's the challenge in that? 
Instead I wander down town and visit the local art gallery to discover a selection of old maps of the Arctic, complete with illustrations of past activites and creatures to be found in the waters of Svalbard.
An old book jacket shows the preconceptions that most people held of the region - as a bleak, dangerous, inhospitable terrain of ice and rock - the borders of the known world.
 
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It’s trying to snow/rain. Everyone is remarking that it is far too warm for this time of year. Where is the snow? In the night the snow comes.

Tuesday October 18th Climbing high. 
Making our way over boulders and loose rocks, pools of ice and snow, we head up into a blanket of white. We are climbing the mountain at the far end of town. A steep gully on one side falling into a snow-covered glacier at the bottom; I glimpse a glimmer of blue ice at the edges, a monochrome landscape rising and disappearing in front of us. Strips of brown-black and white, small peaks rise out of mist, smooth white slopes and edges, and lots of snow. 

I dare not look down, keeping my balance more by luck than skill. Ahead Sarah, her rifle at the ready (just in case), keeps up a fast pace; we follow in single file. 
Sarah Gerats, our guide, and Nemo, surveying from the top
Reaching the cairn at the summit level with the tops of mountains, we stand surveying a world of whiteness. The air feels wonderfully pure and cold. Below us Longyearbyen is a map of textures and lines.
It's as though I’m in the midst of an abstract drawing - how can I compete on paper?

Summit posing
Later in the dark we gather together under a street-light and take turns to read a few lines of prose/poetry. I read:
There is hardly anything that shows the short-sightedness or capriciousness of the imagination more than traveling does. … We measure the universe by ourselves… We remember an infinity of things and place…  Out there we can experience the new, even 
if such knowing means only to touch at nature’s vast strangeness’  
 (taken from Henry David Thoreau, ‘Redemptive Imagination’ – on Walking, written in mid 1850’s).

Walking…  thinking… drawing… erasing… overdrawing… pausing…
erasing… pausing… time  slipping… remembering  space… silence
Here is a link to the poetry reading held in Longyearbyen, 78 degrees north, October 2016 organised by Ersi Sotiropoulos as a part of the World Poetry Movement's Global Action:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=9&v=lghwVlimvd4
 In his introduction to ‘The Idea of North’, Glen Gould, a Canadian artist, writes:
Something really does happen to most people who go into the north—they become at least aware of the creative opportunity which the physical fact of the country represents and - quite often, I think - come to measure their own work and life against that rather staggering creative possibility: they become, in effect, philosophers". 
  
Postscript…..
Trying to absorb and grapple with all this, and then make work has been interesting –  challenging. In my studio I have the mass of drawings and paintings I made whilst traveling. 

Some of the things I attempted to do didn’t come off - like all those early attempts to fly in the Arctic (in their case their aim was to reach the north pole) my attempts at flying a kite with a camera failed - it was either too windy or no wind or it was raining or snowing or there were Walruses, or the strings stuck to the permafrost…  
Using ice with frozen watercolour pigments sort-of worked; what I produced was ephemeral and that’s okay since it was all experimental and will feed future work.
--> but perhaps also partly relates to Arctic melting. The impact of the landscape, its sheer scale was pretty  - to employ a word that the Americans used a lot – awesome! And it was certainly immersive.  
 
How to convey all this in a moment on a piece of paper I’m still trying to figure it out. I can still feel the frustration of trying to draw a series of peaks with the mist moving over them - to get at least something down on the paper. In my notes I wrote ‘I can’t put down what I’m seeing… it seems quite insane to be trying’. My notes are full of colour descriptions… ‘white isn’t white, white is many whites’… Work will emerge in the coming year, so watch this space…
Thank you all for your support