Sunday, September 25, 2011
I've talked here before about the ongoing Cape Farewell project which takes a group of artists and scientists each year to the Arctic. Last year's trip sailed around Svalbard and among those on board were poet Nick Drake and artist Matt Clark of United Visual Artists. They have now collaborated on an installation for the National Maritime Museum: High Arctic. It is described as 'an exhibition with no touchscreens, no static photographs, and no panels with text: instead High Arctic is a genuinely immersive, responsive environment. Ultraviolet torches unlock hidden elements, constantly shifting patterns of graphics and text that react to visitors approaching; an archipelago of thousands of columns fills the gallery space, each representing a real glacier in Svalbard; an artificial horizon borders the gallery as a seamless canvas of light, shifting in intensity and colour. A Max Eastley and Henrik Ekeus-designed generative soundscape flows through the gallery, weaving in the voices of arctic explorers across the centuries as well as the poetry of Nick Drake.'
The exhibition looks into a future where we will have to imagine the Arctic as it once was. As you walk on what seem to be pristine snowfields dark patches spread around you, and ice-floes break up as if melted by your torch. When the voices are silent you can hear the bleak sound of wind whistling over the ice. Each ice column has the name of one of Svalbard's disappearing glaciers on it, which appears and then vanishes when you move the light over it. These minimal white blocks and their arrangement in the museum space reminded me of Rachel Whiteread's Embankment at Tate Modern, which was a response to her own Cape Farewell trip in 2005. I took my sons along to High Arctic today and they really enjoyed interacting with the lights and exploring the labyrinth of ice blocks. I see that, according to an article in Wired, the scale of these was 'based on Lego models because, as team member Ben Kreukniet explains, “Lego is awesome.”'