In recent years, media attention directed towards the Arctic has often been related to global climate changes and questions of future access to large natural resources. As such, the mediation of the Arctic is part of an image politics where struggles of attention and access are deeply entangled. In the artistic research project outlined below, I set out to explore the relation between image making and physical presence in the High Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, approached not so much as an empty wilderness but rather as an open field of becoming.
With a particular focus on guiding, the guide and guiding devices, approached as both actual ‘pathfinders’ and virtual ‘mentors’, the concern is how material-discursive narratives of both past and present ‘frame’ (or ‘cut’) the ontological ‘frame’ (or condition) as forms of scenographic guiding (re)discoveries. My ambitious aim is an expanded understanding of the artist as a guiding figure within an image politics of the Arctic.
I expect my PhD project to result in 3-4 related but individual video works. In the different works I will apply and analytically combine fieldwork material and formal strategies. Finally, I will exhibit this series of works paying attention to their contextual and spatial functioning.
In many ways, especially visually, Svalbard is representative of the Arctic. However, contrary to other areas in the Arctic region there is no indigenous population and therefore only few cultural researchers have conducted fieldwork on Svalbard – instead the population comes from the coal mining industry established in the 20th century. Moreover, the Svalbard society is characterized by temporality and international diversity. Among other factors, this is due to a relatively mild climate and special legal circumstances (the Svalbard Treaty of 1920), and in addition to the Norwegian main settlement, Longyearbyen, there are Russian settlements. 20 years ago travelling to Longyearbyen required a professional errand, family or other acquaintances, since Longyearbyen at the time was a company town without organized tourism. Today the town is a liberalized society with a local government and a growing experience and knowledge economy. One driving force behind this development is the desire of the Norwegian state to maintain sovereignty.
The PhD project
Critical of the symbolism ascribed to the notion of the empty and the absence (in the Arctic), and on the basis of a set of socio-philosophical key issues regarding Svalbard, notions such as temporality, locality and knowledge production are central to this practice-based artistic research PhD. As an artist and filmmaker informed by theories and practices within the field of visual anthropology, my aim here is to undertake a cultural-geographical investigation with the purpose of analysis through the development of artistic ways of working with the temporality and linguistics within audio-visual forms.
Over the course of the project period the ambition is to create a dialogical process that maneuvers between participatory fieldwork, writing and experimental filmmaking, resulting in public presentations of the work-in-progress in suitable formats (such as: performative lectures, video screenings and/or written essays). This will be the basis of the production of 3-4 single screen film works that will apply imaging perspectives on the History/ies of Svalbard.
The thesis of the project being that mediation and experience must be considered as interdependent site-constructive and value-productive processes, it is imperative to also include my own role as mediator and artist. In addition to the exploration of the guide as a figure that produces meaning and knowledge within the Arctic, a significant aspect of the project’s theoretical discussion is thus to contribute to the methodological development of critical, reflexive and intermediary audio-visual strategies and methods within artistic and cultural research.