Awe and Wonder

Posted on Wednesday, July 30th, 2008 at 12:38 pm | See all Artists' Blogs, Thea Eck Entries.
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Shades of blues and greens, mixed in with browns and reds and radiating grey, and not to forget florescent whites that glow right off their 2-dimensional frames: This was the world created by the Polar Attractions exhibit on opening day, June 28, 2008. It wasn’t so much about the specific artworks presented in the show than how the colors of each seemed to reveal a cold world that was different than my own Michigan winter. The colors seemed to speak about revealing and transforming something that is and isn’t visible. From Mary Edna Fraser’s batik Iceberg to Jane Marsching’s time lapse Arctic Listening Post–subtly presenting within a few moments more shades of white, grey and blue than I’ve ever seen–the Polar Attractions show gave me a sense of awe and wonder about the transformations that are part of the Arctic and Antarctic’s history.


One of my favorite pieces in the show is a small ivory carving that wavers between being human and/or walrus. This intimate object speaks about how the Arctic isn’t always what it appears to be to the human eye, but rather how it is a shape-shifting animate being: a creature that lives many lives all at once, from the deepest oceans to the sky lit aurora borealis. The hidden waterways underneath shallow ice graves mentioned in writer Barry Lopez’s book Arctic Dreams are reflected in Billy Akavak’s Global Warming photograph presenting his village in the throws of summer: browns and grey, but ever aware of the long winter with its bluish whites. One cannot live without the other. The artist’s simple gesture of combining the two images diagonally reminds me of a cross breeze blowing down from the North as if we could physically see winter’s quickening pace. Yet he asks the question through his title, are we now causing winter’s whites to arrive more slowly?


The Arctic’s transformative dance is mimicked in the interactive display that accompanies my Looking Northward photographic series. A table with toy seals and huskies, hunters, skiers and bits of fabric rests underneath a wall-mounted digital camera ready to save created scenes onto a computer. On the day of the opening, I watched children construct their ‘Arctic moments’ then press the mouse cursor to save their images. Their need for arranging, rearranging, and then transforming again imitated the Arctic’s pace. It also reflected how technology has changed the way we learn: how quickly the children understood the computer program and their role as the user, as storyteller. The pace of technology upon our youth exceeds their understanding of this powerful gesture. How does this affect the Arctic? How will this affect the Arctic? How will this affect our children’s outsider view of the Arctic?


Within a month I will be traveling to Copenhagen, Denmark on an American Scandinavian Foundation Fellowship to further my polar history research. I will be there as the colors of the Fall fade into the twilight of the winter. My goal will be to collect stories from the Arctic Institute’s archived collection of Danish interactions in the Arctic and Greenland from the early 1800s through today. I aim to use the ‘mysteries’ I find to fuel my artwork and my own understanding of the Arctic’s history, always revealing and always transforming.


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