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Magnetic North: Artists and the Arctic Circle

By Libby Leyden-Sussler

The Arctic Circle, a nonprofit expeditionary residency program, has just unveiled its latest exhibit "Magnetic North." The Arctic Circle’s program entails bringing together artists, writers, composers, architects, scientists, and educators from around the globe, for several weeks each year on a voyage across the Svalbard archipelago aboard a specially equipped sailing vessel.

The participants live and work together, aiding one another in the daily challenges of conducting research and creating new work based on their experiences. The residency is intended to be both a journey of discovery, and a laboratory for the convergence of ideas and disciplines. The unveiling of the work created during the residency was sponsored by the 1285 Avenue of the America Art Gallery in New York City on view from May 27, 2014 through August 29, 2014.

Below are four featured pieces from the exhibit:

Raphaele Shirley [French-American, 2010 Expedition]

C-print mounted on aluminum

Her photographs are part of a series called “Arctic Lights,” which document several technically complex, immersive earth and light works performed during her stay in the Arctic. To transpose the idea of light sculpture onto the icy water, Shirley devised a makeshift “light brush” attached to a Zodiac (a small motorized boat) and used time-lapse photography to create multiple exposures of the Zodiac’s movements in space as it glided on the water’s surface. The lights and their reflections form what appear to be fantastical structures and ethereal presences in the landscape. 

Teng Chao-Ming [Taiwanese, 2012 Expedition]

Digital inkjet prints on fine art paper

Throughout his time in the Arctic, Teng Chao-Ming was vexed by the notion of being an intruder in a place uninhabited by humans. He became intensely aware of a sense of dislocation, moving from his home in Taiwan, a dense urban city, to an endless expanse of wilderness. To position himself within that landscape, he set up poles of the kind used by real estate developers, to demarcate in a 1:1 ratio, the dimensions of his apartment in Taipei. It was his attempt to reconcile his place in the world. The actions can be seen as commentary on conquest and territoriality, issues relevant to the shifting geopolitical history of the Arctic. 

Stephen Hilyard [British, 2012 Expedition]

Landscape Composition, Archival inkjet print

At first glance, Hilyard’s photograph appears to be based in reality, until, on closer inspection, we realize that it is in fact a composition based on various elements that have been digitally rearranged. The randomness of natural forms has been altered to fit a complex geometrical structure based on the Golden Section, a simple mathematical formula for arriving at an aesthetically-pleasing proportion of objects in relation to one another. By cutting and splicing together forms within the image of the glacier, Hilyard also creates rhythms in the monotony of ice, using artificial means to alter the landscape. His artwork calls into question the cultural constructs of landscape that inevitably come between us and a direct lived experience of the natural world. 

Beau Carey [American, 2012 Expedition]

Oil on canvas

A fata morgana is a type of mirage common to polar regions that occurs when certain atmospheric conditions bend light. It is perceived as a distortion of objects in the distance. The chain of islands that form the Svalbard archipelago is known to give rise to complex mirages, where distant islands appear to float above the horizon line. In his landscape paintings, Carey explores the interaction of humans in the natural world. He is interested in the question of how landscapes are received and interpreted, while at the same time conveying a critical awareness of how land is used and abused. Using the traditional construction of landscape in his work—of sky, ground horizon line and light—Carey shows us that landscape is informed by subjective viewpoint and memory. 

The Arctic Circle exhibition is located at 1285 Avenue of the Americas Gallery, New York, NY 10001. Visit or email for more information.



Libby Leyden-Sussler is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal. 

[Photos courtesy of The Arctic Circle]

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