touching ice 2017 - 2020 5 x volumes
Arctic frottage, graphite, coal, carrara marble dust, ink, found objects, ice-melt drawing, gold leaf, in etched glass boxes
20 cm [w] x 27 cm [h] x 6 cm [d]
Whilst on a 2017 residency in the High Arctic aboard the Barquentine SV Antigua, I gathered field data in the form of frottage drawings made directly onto the surface of the landscape, found objects, photographs, recordings and ice melt drawings in petri dishes.
Each frottage came to represent a story of place and time; where they were made, whose mark is soaked into them - both human and environmental, and the history and substance of the location. They have now been assembled into a five volume series of artist books, a single page in each book with an accompanying text, that speaks of touching ice.
Designed to be opened, unfurled, studied and then replaced, the books will continually evolve into new iterations, repeatedly affected by the human action of being read.
78° 40, 59’ N, 016° 23, 59’
A ghostly Utopia, deep time’s ecosystem effaced in the blink of an eye, mined for the glory of Mother Russia.
1.396 steps to the top of the mine shaft, eyes down I religiously count, one foot in front of the other, short of breath. Gratefully pausing halfway up, I glimpse an Arctic fox through the broken window, a ghostly figure nimbly wending its way across the steep slope of the hillside.
The view from the top is worth the effort, a twilight panorama of Spitzbergen, white expanse and glassy ocean, a beauty in stark contrast to the abandoned piles of black coal and broken machinery in the foreground.
Lights from the tired hotel beckon us down with promises of authentic Russian vodka.
Collecting field data from atop the coal, icy coal dust and graphite mix and soak into the page. Arctic winds whip up the paper, threatening to snatch it away.
Reindeer and polar bear roam, reclaiming paths and squares, as humans retreat behind the security of the gun. The industrial architecture evolving into the backdrop for our creativity, refusing to fully relinquish its human occupation.
image: graphite & coal dust frottage on coal heap, English and Venetian water ice melt drawing in petri dish
78° 57, 7’ N, 012° 02, 7’ E
A Victorian Englishman’s folly, the promise of pure marble to rival Michelangelo’s Carrara.
Steam engines and hoists shipped across the ocean, ready to receive this frozen bounty, now lie in rusted desolation.
The pure marble hewn into rectangular blocks from the hillside, was loaded onto ships and sailed south to warmer climes. Unbeknownst to these intrepid entrepreneurs, permafrost melt was their nemesis, as it is ours today, rendering this pure stone into a crumbling, worthless bounty.
There is nothing to be done but walk away, leaving their machinery and quarry as a scar on the land, a cautionary tale.
We come across the remains of modern day hunters; empty bottles of Underberg Bitters carelessly tossed into the embers of their fire. I collect my half melted souvenirs, given permission to remove this modern human waste.
image: graphite & mineral pigment frottage on rock wall, gold leaf, found Underberg spirit bottles, Carrara marble
79° 00, 2’ N, 012° 14, 0’ E
The glacier towers above us, not clean or white or aqua blue, but a dirty brown, a moraine carried along on the face of the ice, the mud and stones destined to be deposited on the beach as it moves slowly towards the ocean.
A glacial river of melted water runs alongside, eating away at the underside of the ice. We lean into the side of the frozen water, each fellow voyager making their mark on the paper until the light of the sun, as it crosses the horizon, hits the graphite and explodes into a river of gold.
image: graphite frottage on glacier, ink
79° 39,6’ N, 014° 16,4’ E
The empty, grey hut sits alone atop a cliff overlooking the ocean, a clear view to the far horizon. They tell us blue whales can be seen passing in the right season, sadly we do not see them.
A single room is all the shelter the trapper has to shield him from the frozen winds and roaming bears. We peer in and try to imagine the fire lit, a book, open on the table, warm socks, and reindeer parkas, gun leaning in the corner.
The wide open and empty plain gives the hunter plenty of time to see an approaching threat, time to prepare or hide.
I lay the paper on the glassy thin sea ice edging the pebble beach. A gentle touch so as not crack it as it creaks under our graphite covered hands. A seal breaks through the ice in the lagoon to quietly observe us for a moment before sinking back under, leaving a perfect hole as evidence of his visit.
image: graphite frottage on ice, ink, found spent bullet
79° 41, 7’ N, 010° 58, 7’ E
Leaving the sleeping walruses behind, we slowly walk the peninsula, eyes down. Our task to pick up rubbish, flotsam and jetsam washed upon the shore.
It doesn’t take long for the first scraps of plastic to be discovered, broken pieces scattered amongst the rocks and seaweed. Mostly in shocked silence we pick up the evidence of human consumption, every now and then an exclamation at some unusual find.
I spot a corner of orange fabric, a flash of colour in this soft, almost monochrome environment. Digging down a complete lifejacket is revealed, I place it into the rapidly filling bags. In one hour, we fill two industrial containers, to be taken back to Longyearbyen Port for sorting and transportation back to mainland Norway for disposal.
A time-lapse video is made of the categorising of our spoils: footwear, lids, bottles, fishing nets, pipes, tubs, industrial strapping, plastic bags, toothbrushes, gloves, wrapping … a shameful record.
image: graphite frottage on ice, found rubbish