Posted on Wednesday, October 1st, 2008 at 10:34 am | See all Artists' Blogs, Thea Eck Entries.
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I have been working at the Arctic Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark for almost one month. It is a wonderful city and country, full of the Arctic, both past and present.
The Arctic Institute (AI) is a private polar archive consisting of two main collections: one is an expansive photographic collection of more than 100,000 prints and glass negatives by Danish and Greenlandic photographers dating from 1840 through the 1950s. The second is a document collection with letters, personal diaries, rare books, drawings, paintings and more, from Danish encounters in Greenland and the Arctic. The AI displays some of the items on the walls and shelves of the offices and hallways. A narwhal tusk hangs from the ceiling, plaster busts of Danes and Greenlanders stare down at you from bookcases, watercolors of sledging parties, fjords and landscapes adorn the walls. This creates a brilliant atmosphere for working in and doing research.

There are many mundane reports and formal correspondences in the AI’s document collection along with some very special items. Some are anonymous. One such item is a ‘poesibog’ with dedications to a Greenlandic girl by many famous Danish and Greenlandic explorers, researchers and artists. A poesibog, or poem book, is a special book that young girls give to their friends to sign, and to write poems and dedications in. The books are a part of Danish culture, though their use has waned in the past generation. This particular leather-bound poesibog is in the shape of a leaf and overflows with beautiful illustrations of coastlines, portraits, designs and elegant handwriting. Yet the young girl’s name is never mentioned. What is known is that she must have come from an upper class Greenlandic family, since she had very important people sign her book. All of the dedications are written in Greenlandic and at one point the book traveled to Iceland and then back to Greenland.

The poesibog sleeps upstairs in the attic archive, like the rest of the collection, protected from elements that would cause it to deteriorate. How can I reintroduce these historic objects to an awakened world? Approaching the archive as an artist, one of my projects is to photograph pieces like this poesibog with a thoughtful eye. What is their relationship to the archivists who found them special? What is their current relationship – if there is one – to our living world? How do we recognize memory’s past amongst our physical present that also allows an entrance into the future?

What Do You Think?