2004 Expedition Blog - Day 17

Date:

Sunday, 26 September 2004, 23:10

From:

David Buckland

Expedition:

2004 Expedition

Subject:
Final daily blog post, Sunday 26 September 2004
Attachments: 2 images
Media crew filming in from of the monumental Kongsvegen glacier Director David Hinton, cameraman Philip Chavannes and sound recordist Albert Bailey filming at the Kongsvegen glacier

9pm. Heathrow airport - it is seriously disorienting to be confronted by these crowds and we all registered just how big London is viewed from our flight path in. Subconsciously I was calculating just how much CO2 gasses were being pumped out and how those gases would end up in Svalbard.

One of the reasons scientists station their research bases in extreme places is to be able to filter out the background noise found in our urban environments. This process has been similar for the artists, without the mess of noise that dominates our city lives, we were able to enter into a rarefied air of clear thought and clear practice. Landing at Heathrow was a rude awakening - great to see loved ones and friends, but longing also for that northern place that has been our home with just each other for company - totally devoid of any outside human mark - a place where we were the strangers and the habitat belonged to the polar bear.

Even I am impressed by the success of the expedition and impressed by the Cape Farewell team who have all worked their butts off, self-motivated yet always willing to help another to attain a goal. I thank them all, the reason for the work is one of necessity but actually being willing to partake in what was at times an extreme undertaking is courageous. More importantly, I have a feeling that many personal ambitions have been surpassed, including my own.

The film crew have shot some 50 hours of video between the two camera units, always endeavoring to achieve the vision and content asked for by the two directors, Colin on his science film and David on the arts film. It is difficult enough to even be able to film at all in this cold place so to be able to achieve this level of work is truly impressive. Likewise the camera work of Nick with the 16mm footage, once more over the glacier with tripod, camera and film!

The Captain and crew of the Noorderlicht were always positive, giving us endless local information and never once were phased by yet another strange request to perform miracles with the boat. The Cape Farewell project would not be possible or have the same vision if we hadn't been able to have the Noorderlicht to sail on - the true hero, a 90 year old lady with great charm and fortitude.

Now the next phase begins, we have all brought back tons of information, images and 'field work', this material has to be shaped into a usable and inspiring form and released into the public domain, whether it be in art galleries, science data, education material or television. We have to raise more money to be able to continue this work and make sure that the debate on climate change becomes an active one and make sure we engage as many as possible in the challenge of change.

To those who have followed our progress, please stay with us, revisit this website as it is our major bulletin board and the way to follow us as the work develops.

David Buckland

Date:

Monday, 27 September 2004, 14:10

From:

Max Eastley

Expedition:

2004 Expedition

Subject:
Thoughts on sound and listening in the Arctic
Attachments: 2 images
Max Eastley recording the Noorderlicht moving through sea ice Sea gull lit in sunlight as it flys past the boat

The contrast between spring and autumn in Spitsbergen is very marked. Last year the landscape hummed with living things competing for sound space, huge colonies of thousands of birds wove the air into vast sonic tapestry's that hung in sheets from the cliffs. Under the sea long lines of seal song intersected over unimaginable and unseen distances.

The autumn is different, sound is rarefied, a stratosphere close to silence. Wind is almost always present sometimes hardly there, a faint cold breath, at other times screaming and howling. Birds that are here hardly ever vocalise; when two or three Arctic terns cut the air in the far distance with shrill song, the sound is lingering and melancholy on the edge of winter and the dark, soon even they will be flying south.

I did hear a group of Fulmars however. I had never heard them vocalise in the air, although if it is exceptionally quiet their wings make a soft rushing sound. A group of Fulmars landed near the ship sounding similar to ducks. They appeared to be quarrelling about a matter of importance, territory perhaps; which of them should shadow the ship perhaps. They can live for eighty years, and sometimes fly very close to the ship, briefly looking at me when I'm on deck with recording equipment listening for something to record.

At Bear Island when we anchored overnight I did find something to record. A vast constant stream of wind blew offshore, and the ropes on the ship hummed with a sound I had never heard before, a sound of terror, a sound like a great creature, a sound from that place. Lifting a set of wind flutes into the wind I heard them begin to sing long lines of high harmonics. I held the microphone towards them and set the recording machine to listen. It hears things differently from humans - sometimes it reproduces something of what you hear many times not. I crouched on the deck with headphones watching the level metres flickering in the dark and hoping that some of this will have meaning to another listener in another place and another time.

Max Eastley

Date:

Friday, 01 October 2004, 12.19

From:

Dan Harvey

Expedition:

2004 Expedition

Subject:
Re-integration
Attachments: 2 images
The Aurora Borealis, or northern lights, viewed from the deck of the Noorderlicht, on the Norwegian coast near Tromsø The Aurora Borealis, or northern lights, viewed from the deck of the Noorderlicht, on the Norwegian coast near Tromsø

On our first arrival in the open spaces of Spitsbergen, we felt as if we were walking within an alien world, now on our return I feel as if I am the alien trying to understand a culture that seems to have lost its direction.

After about 30 hours of rough sailing from Bear Island the grey and clouds slowly lifted and the wind dropped - the last lap of the journey in beautiful sunshine. In the distance the coastline of Norway became visible, with its high snow covered peaks and mountains. That evening we sailed into the fjords, took down the sails and floated, drifting silently. It would have been illegal to anchor as we had to first be cleared by customs in Tromsø (a further 4 hours sailing). We had supper and then were treated to a night long display of the Northern Lights - the Aurora Borealis. A beautiful and fitting end to a fantastic voyage.

The next morning with filming and pick up shots, plankton trawling and science, we finally sailed into Tromsø around 5 o'clock. Very odd to see so many boats, movement, people and cars after such a time.

Stepping off the boat the smell of pollution, chewing gum stuck to the ground, cigarette butts everywhere, even "Burger King" wrappers and plastic cups rolling about. Cars been driven at speed by the young and foolish. The smell of what we call 'normal' living burning in my nose. We felt like aliens trapped in a strange world, moving like different creatures among the indigenous population, many of whom are students from all around the world -so it wasn't to do with race - perhaps more about pace and space ......as if we were running at a different speed, with a different perception.

Party that night on the Noorderlicht to ground our fears and swill them about a bit. Next day packing and off the boat, airports, plains, taxi and home.

Three days later and the ground still seems to sway under my feet, my head still dizzy, I still feel alien and am not sure if I want to forget and slip back into this reality, although it is the only one, and they are one and the same.

Dan Harvey

Date:

Sunday, 03 October 2004, 18.32

From:

Michèle Noach

Expedition:

2004 Expedition

Subject:
MEANWHILE, BACK IN GOTHAM
Attachments: 1 image
Figures dotted along the moonlike landscape of the ice cap dome

Tripping through the scalding attrition of Leicester Square yesterday and my inner dialogue was one question over and over: Was that pale blue dream true?

How to remember?

Gazing in disbelief at the colossus of the Arctic, the kilometres of zinc white ice struck through with inexplicable cobalt and black. Semi-mythical narwhal swanking past in the ultramarine deathpool our tiny boat floats upon. Climbing an ice-cap hued like the air, trying to remember to stay on earth, to not walk into the sky. Skinny polar bears appearing to greet self-sacrificing reindeer with a mimed peck on the cheek (did we really see that?). The Northern Lights peeling back the routine of night with a Haight-Ashbury display of sulky luminescence that seemed to mark out the exact dome of the sky; The top of it all is here, it said. How to square these things with what is now?

And the unavoidable spillover from what the oceanographers were busy observing with their 'scopes and graphs and screens and vials. These fragments of the real world, fragments that explain the real world, are also filtering through to how the whole is understood and recalled.

This was no mini-break. The violent spirit of this voyage demands attention. The High Arctic is a gifted child that needs particular love and is neglected at our peril. Like a monster that needs feeding or a vital garden, our last garden, that needs tending. I am amazed at the strength of my desire to return, despite the ambiguous beauty of this hostile Eden.

It was a journey to another world without the galling necessity of death. The desolation and absoluteness of the 80th parallel and its neighbourhood wrestles with everything we carry around in our choice-drowned heads. Its pared-down world of clicking ice and sharp air, its spectral animals and light games, these are True. To hell with Real.

"I absolutely refuse to leave until we are able to take back with us something in the nature of a chart." 1

Michèle Noach

1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World

Date:

Wednesday, 6 October 2004

From:

Heather Ackroyd

Expedition:

2004 Expedition

Subject:
Ten days later...
Attachments: 3 images
Walrus swimming just of the shore on Moffen Island Close-up detail of ice crystals Iceberg photographed near the top of the Hinlopen Straight

Ten days later, ten days after leaving the Noorderlicht, flying home, being reunited with our 7 year old daughter Adele, swaying continuously to a rhythm of the sea, or lurching with a wave of tiredness that sweeps me over towards the sofa, I have been at a loss for (written) words, tearful on returning home, probably a mixture of overwhelming tiredness, relief that we made it across the rough Barents Sea, and nature-shock.

I had never seen a glacier before, and nothing quite prepares you for the depth of turquoise blue emanating from a huge chunk of ice floating in the ocean. My brother Neil who has spent considerable time in this part of the world said that he has never seen such colours anywhere ever before. I was captivated by small eroded chunks of ice, crystal clear, exquisitely jewel-like, a preciousness prone to rapid melting on being retrieved from the water. My desire was to somehow cast one, capture a distilled moment of time, to re-create it in glass. In reality this ice has been formed under immeasurable pressure, in a time-scale beyond my comprehension, and I want to try and freeze a moment of frozen time.

I wanted to leave some time before I wrote. Try to turn from first impressions to second thoughts, and comb through some of the tangled feelings I have about this place and this experience.

The physicality of being there reduced the need for too much introspective thought. Walks across the tundra were delightful hours of slipping into another reality, everything we laid eyes on was unto itself, phenomenal and intriguing. I hovered near Dan who scanned the surface of the ground like a sculptural detector searching for evidence of complete difference. We have thousands of tundra pictures (be warned), detailed observations of moss formation, ice crystals, shattered stones, preserved bones, lichens and ice boulders.

A few days ago Dan and I spoke about being on Moffen Island, the island of the walruses, closed throughout six months of the year. David Buckland's thoughtful planning had us sail into the 80 degree latitude the day it was permissible to step foot onto the island. It was a bitter, cold day, sleet falling, and my thoughts kept irritatingly turning to my suffering chilled toes. We watched the walruses (a wobble of walruses?), pressed close, or heaving themselves across the land surface. Such an effort! Totally at odds with their engaging grace and agility in the water. For nearly an hour we watched a small group emerge and descend into the breaking waves, our intent curiosity matched by theirs. The older mature creatures visibly shouldered the younger walruses, constantly in touch, guiding. One huge walrus hauled himself out of the water, within a metre of Dan crouching on the shore, who could not resist the inevitable photograph, flash frustratingly not disabled and quickly stirring the creature to a rapid retreat to the water. When the walrus emerged again he had a blue plastic bag hanging out his mouth! We watched not knowing what to do, thinking it was somehow stuck in his mouth, suffocating him (I'm sure that in a blind split second the urge to jump in a save him entered my mind!). He moved and swam around, showing us this plastic thing we normally put the rubbish in, and then he dived and returned with nothing.

What do we make of that? Was it just chance he surfaced at that moment with a blue bag on his nose, or was he dog-like in an effort to welcome us, or was he showing us the detritus that litters his home? It is hard not to assign a consciousness to this act of showing us a blue rubbish bag, it impinges on our easily pricked guilt about pollution, discarded rubbish washed up on these remote beaches. All too disturbingly evident. Fishing nets, plastic buoys, plastic bags, plastic crap. There is a current move to 'Clean up Svalbard', and on our last night on ship we all became recipients of a small badge. It aroused some sort of 'Blue Peter' mentality, that we had done a tiny good-scout bit to help clean up this island, an emblematic encouragement for considerate action. Would it be that is was so simple.

On the final leg of our journey we approached the steep, forbidding Bear Island, and in the descending evening light, voice went up to declare a huge ship in the distance. Excitement and curiosity at our first sighting of other human existence for nearly ten days was tempered by the awesome size of the vessel, the multi-coloured lights that looked like some nightmarish Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the dawning reality that it was not a cruise liner (scary as they are) but a Factory ship. A fishing, filleting, freezing supership of demonic proportion, serviced by up to sixteen trawlers. There is no legislation for the seas around Spitsbergen. The land is protected, a wild-life nature reserve. But the seas are cruelly up for grabs. And as a pertinent news report kindly told us last night, the devastation they reek is out of control and threatening the loss of an irreplaceable eco-system.

It seems we are confronted daily by uncontrollable losses, threatened extinctions, disappearing habitat, polluted seas and rivers, decimated coral reefs, the disappearing world. I am not religious but I still suffer from redemptive fantasies that some kind of salvation is possible! A desire to stop the eradication of species, the relentless killing-fields and exploitation, protect the Siberian tiger, save the whale, stop global warming. It is not completely surprising. Even though I was brought up an atheist, the notions of religious longing towards redemption, immortality, permeated every Church of England school I went to. Casting them off I am now prone to the notion of scientific knowledge as cure, sustainable solution as support system. (I describe myself as an artist not as a social reformer, so these shadowy missionary urges are unsettling.) But the question perplexes me even more in the wake of returning back from the remote regions of the Arctic. "Can we truly live up to the idea of a better, sustainable world?" Or is nurturing the ideal part of the dilemma of experiencing continuous failure?

'Transient' is a word that Dan and I use often in describing our artworks. Our site-specific work involves processes of growth, change, decay, erosion. It is ephemeral. And we appear to celebrate this, (though I suspect there is a deeper tendency towards the apparent security of permanence.) A book that I keep returning to that illuminates how loss pervades our cultural thinking is Adam Phillips 'Darwin's Worms'. He proposes that change and transience is weaved into the very fabric of our being and with the advent of a secular and scientific way of thinking, in short, there is nothing between us and nature. Our world is a world of continual change and therefore continual loss, so how and why does loss matter? What do we fear in 'losing'?

Phillip's suggests that "losing requires a new quality of attention". It is in the face of losing something that we may re-appraise its value. See the qualities of uniqueness that give it an unquestionable place.

"Habit is evidence of adaptation, but habits are disabling when they tacitly assume that the future will be like the past. Our survival in what is always a changing environment depends upon our capacity to change our habits if need be. Habit, like bad science (or prejudice), creates an illusion of predictability; it keeps things the same by turning a blind eye to difference. And all this, becoming creatures of real reason, means simply: being alert to what is actually going on around us." Darwin's Worms

I've often thought that 'cynicism is a bitter pill to swallow.' And bleak pessimism leaves me cold. Maybe there is an art in being a realistic optimist, accepting that things continuously change, that the nature of the change can be affected by our willingness to see the extraordinary and refuse to accept the habit of continually regretting loss.

Credit where deserved, whatever is still here and changing represents the ingenuities of its own endurance. We may need its protection as much as it does ours. We undoubtedly need to change some of our less endearing habits ( too long to list) and draw our boundless creativity (an even longer list) to the surface in dealing optimistically with the inevitable permanence of change and transience in our very mortal world. Maybe it is an acknowledgement that we should be unseduced by monuments and utterly seduced by a mighty glacier casting off huge chunks of turquoise ice at an accelerated speed that leaves us gasping for breath.

Heather Ackroyd

Date:

Monday, 25 October 2004

From:

Nick Edwards

Expedition:

2004 Expedition

Subject:
Anecdote of the jar
Attachments: 1 image
I placed a jar in Tennessee...

Nick Edwards

Date:

Sunday, 26 September 2004, 9:31

From:

Emily Boxall

Expedition:

2004 Expedition

Subject:
Our last day...
Attachments: 3 images
Calm waters near the top of the Hinlopen Straight The Noorderlicht anchored in calm waters off the northern coast of Spitsbergen Walking on the dome of the ice cap, Northern Spitsbergen

It's the last day of the expedition, 17 days cooped up with the same 24 people - torture - no, I lie, it's been great.

From the first meeting at Heathrow airport, a big group of strangers all going away together, up until now, all getting to know each other pretty well. And believe me you become very familiar with one other when you have to spend at least 4 days sharing a 46m schooner at a 45º angle.

What an amazing 17 days it has been. 8 polar bears, 150+ walruses, whales, seals and reindeer are just little bonuses to the already mind-blowing scenery that surrounds us.

Each day is completely individual to the last - funny days, wet days, cold days, ill days, very ill days, lazy days, cloudy days, sunny days - you name it we've experienced it.

Earlier today we saw trees for the first time since we were in Oslo, that's 16 days ago. It sounds pretty stupid, but it was weird after such a long expanse of time staring at completely barren landscapes.

But it hasn't exactly been the incredibly difficult voyage full of starvation and loneliness that might have been imagined. Anna's cooking makes sure of that and you can't exactly get lonely when every direction you look you see another individual busily sleeping/working/eating/ doing whatever you do when you're in the Arctic.

Emily Boxall

2004 expedition route map