Sailing North – Part 2 – In search of Ice

So I was headed north.

In search of Polar Bears.

In search of Roald Amundsen.

In search of Ice.

In imagining my Arctic trip from the temperate comfort of my Oakland studio, I did my required due diligence and read as much as I could prior to setting out. There is no shortage of literature on the Ice and there is a considerable body of research exploring how our imagination frames our experience of the the Arctic (and Antarctic). On the trip north my constant companion was the wonderful treatise by Francis Spufford “I may be some time” which deals in detail with how Victorian and Edwardian literature influenced the expectations and experience of Polar explorers. I was also rereading Barry Lopez’s “Arctic Dreams”. Lopez dwells at length on the characteristics of Arctic ice, listing many of the innumerable forms it can take (the English language has an incredibly rich and diverse nomenclature for ice and snow). Lopez says, the pack ice  “holds a different sort of attraction because of its constant motion, varied topography, and the access it provides to certain animals. But to venture out there on foot is, to put it simply, to court death. Pack ice moves irregularly before the wind, and the change in orientation of an individual piece of ice is unpredictable…. To be at its mercy in a boat or small ship however, is to know an exhausting, nerve-wracking vulnerability.” He goes on to describe  the famous whaler William Scoresby’s experience of being entrapped in the pack off the east coast of Greenland in 1814. “Scoresby set out on foot to reconnoiter the final mile of maneuvering that he hoped would set him free. Like many men caught in such circumstances, Scoresby was terrified. But he was mesmerized as well by the ice, by its sheer power, its daunting scale, the inexorability of its movement. The sound of its constant adjustment before the wind was like “complicated machinery or distant thunder,” he wrote. Even as he sought a way out, he marveled at the way it distracted him. He lost the sense of plight that spurred him, the pleading whining that came from his ship’s pinched hull; he became a mere “careless spectator.” It was though he was walking on the back of some enormous and methodical beast.”

Lopez goes on to describe the destruction of ships in the pack ice, collapsing “like a grand piano caught in an industrial press” and “of a final image of devastation: the remnant of several whaling crews found in a frozen stupor behind a sea wall of dead bodies, stacked up to protect them from the worst of the heavy seas in which their small floe rolled and pitched.” Gruesome!

This imminent threat haunted all who voyaged north, even in imagination. It was so much a part of the Ice that contemporary painters couldn’t imagine the ice without it. Frederic Church’s largest painting of his career originally lacked a human element, but after a poor reception at its first showing he added the cross-like wreckage in the foreground in the hope that it would add to its human appeal when shown in Europe.

The Icebergs  Frederic Edwin Church, 1861

The Icebergs
Frederic Edwin Church, 1861

Ten years later that other master of Arctic light William Bradford added what appears to be the exact same element of foreboding and loss to his painting of Melville Bay.

An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay William Bradford, 1871

An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay
William Bradford, 1871

It came as no surprise then that when the Antigua sailed into the pack ice our captain was very wary. Antigua was only permitted to enter a ships length or two into the ice where we tied off to a large floe with ice anchors.

Antigua, moored to the pack ice.

Antigua, moored to the pack ice.

We were able to wander around on the floe (about the size my studio!)  and savor the “enormous methodical beast”, while the guides kept a sharp eye out for  polar bears who might surface nearby unexpectedly.

Feeling the floe

Feeling the floe

Thankfully we were all kept safe. The only creatures we saw were some local walrus who were also taking advantage of the relative calm and safety of the floes.

Sitting on a corn flake Waiting for the van to come

Sitting on a corn flake
Waiting for the van to come

We were able to lower the two zodiacs and meander out through the leads in the pack to listen to the sounds of the ice grinding and melting (like deep frying chips) and to the sounds of harp seals navigating the soundscape under the ice. You can see my hydrophone in the foreground of this image and listen to a section from one recording to give you an impression. Can you hear the descending siren-like whistles of the seals behind the popping of melting ice and the motion of the floes in the waves?

Deploying the hydrophone on a nearby floe

Deploying the hydrophone on a nearby floe

This marked the furthest north we reached on our voyage – 79º51 N 11º12 E.

Furthest North amongst the pack ice!

Furthest North, at the edge of the pack ice!

The bergs really look like that - intense aquamarines of compacted snow/ice against the muted grays and violets of the sky and water

The bergs really look like that! Intense aquamarines of compacted snow/ice against the muted grays and violets of the sky and water

The captain only allowed us a single day of adventuring in the pack ice and then he set sail for safer waters further south.

Here is a time-lapse recording of our 9 hour trip south to the safety of Trinityhamna in Magdalenafjord, accompanied by a recording from an accelerometer attached to the mainmast.

 

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Sailing North – Part 1 – Life aboard Antigua

After having wandered the decks of Fram and envisioned the Arctic and Antarctic tribulations of Roald Amundsen, I was prepared to step aboard Antigua for three weeks of Arctic adventure. She first hove into view the day we were to board her, sailing up Adventfjorden to the docks of Longyearbyen on the island of Spitsbergen.

Antigua sails into view

Antigua sails into view

The figurehead - I never did learn her name.

The figurehead – I never did learn her name.

Nice rope work on deck!

Nice rope work on deck!

Our first day aboard was extremely civilized – in fact every day aboard was extremely civilized. I was expecting freezing weather, heavy seas and a good dose of “rum, sodomy and the lash”. There was considerable amounts of rum (or equivalent) and perhaps some sodomy (but at least behind closed doors) and the lash when administered was rather mild. The weather was hardly Arctic at all – a mild 35-39ºF most days, the very occasional sprinkle of rain or snow, beautiful sunshine most days and only a few days of strong wind and heavy seas – and those were the days we got to sail, so it made up for the rocky and disturbed night’s sleep. The first day we got oriented to safety protocols, the “daily routine” (tricky when there is no night and every day is a new adventure), how to wear life jackets, and cake!

Captain Jo laying down the law.

Captain Jo laying down the law.

That night we anchored in Trygghamna (Safe Harbor) and went to sleep in the beautiful late evening sunlight after a long afternoon of sea and sky gazing!

Our resident scientist Tom with his sun prepped binoculars watching sunspots and waiting for midnight.

Our resident scientist Tom with his sun prepped binoculars watching sunspots and waiting for midnight.

Midnight in Trygghamna - day 1

Midnight – day 1 on board

Sarah and Nemo - sleeping on deck at 1am

Sarah and Nemo – sleeping on deck at 1am

Not all of us slept on deck! Here’s a two way view of the cabin I shared with my roomy, David Heymann. (David being a poet/architect I think I’ll refer to him as my Rumi instead.)

Top bunk or bottom bunk?

Top bunk or bottom bunk?

View from the bunk.  Toilet/shower on the left

View from the bunk.
Toilet and shower on the left.

Top bunk has the porthole!!!!

Room with a view.

Room with a view.

Much of our time was spent in Antigua’s spacious saloon. Here we ate 3 meals a day (plus cake!), met and discussed the days agenda and our projects, hung out and socialized, and recharged both ourselves and our digital devices. The saloon is where we gave talks on our work or listened to the other artists and guides on the boat reveal new worlds to us! And like all good saloons, there was a bar, so that’s where people lingered and talked and conspired late into the sunlit early hours.

Antigua's luxurious saloon with room for 30  seated at a meal together.

Antigua’s luxurious saloon with room for 30 seated at a meal together.

Every morning after breakfast we would get a briefing on the days activities and then get ready to go ashore or to go out on a zodiac project or perhaps stay aboard and write or draw or even snooze!

Sarah explaining "the plan"!

Sarah explaining “the plan”!

Being on Antigua was a rich and delightful experience – a heady mix of work, rest and play. Inspiration and exhaustion wrapped up intricately together. But going ashore was fab!! From the first climb down onto the zodiac, to the feel of the water (and sometimes ice) under the cushioned hull, to the crunch of gravel and the stepping off into knee deep icy water, to the untouched shore. Well untouched very recently perhaps, but with plenty of evidence of human occupation and activity stretching back hundreds of years. And then again very quickly touched by us! We stomped on the snow, crushed delicate plants underfoot (gently) and hugged chunks of ice. We looked like a bunch of deranged LSD experimental subjects – wandering up and down making strange footsteps, using telepathy to communicate to distant places, crawling on our bellies and taking hundreds and hundreds of photographs (mostly of the ground, sometimes of the sky, often of each other).

Sylvie engaging long distance telepathy.

Sylvie engaging long distance telepathy.

Charley Young's ice rubbings and icy toes.

Charley Young’s icy rubbings and icy toes.

The architecture of Prof. Jess Perlitz.

The architecture of Prof. Jess Perlitz.

At all times we needed to be guarded! We were clearly focussed and engaged but perhaps not on those things that we should have been. For that we had our three guardian angels – Theres Anulf, Sarah “Blue” Gerats, and Sara “Red” Orstadius. Well trained, deeply experienced and armed! Keeping a vigilant eye out for Isbjørn!

Saint Theres caring for her flock.

Saint Theres caring for her flock.

Sarah Gerats, always stylish and well armed.

Sarah “Blue”, always stylish and well-armed.

Sarah and Nemo watching our rear.

Sarah and Nemo watching our rear.

Sara Ostadius, getting distracted by artist's shenanigans.

Sara “Red” distracted by artist’s shenanigans.

Ok! We are warm, comfortable, well fed, well-guarded, we know how  to buckle a life vest and have been ashore. Our boots stay dry and the cameras and sound gear seem to be working fine, and yes I will endeavor to not make a mess on deck when I make ‘art’ and to stay within rifle shot of one of the guardian angels at all times. LET’S GO!!!

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Oslo – In search of Roald Amundsen – Part 3 – the National Library of Norway

National Library of Norway

National Library of Norway

Getting closer and closer to Amundsen!!!!

I was given the privilege of taking a close look at some of the holdings of the National Library of Norway. I have a long standing interest in the Polheim – which was the tent structure that Amundsen erected at the South Pole when he and his team successfully achieved the pole for the first time in human history.  The Polheim is an inspiration and central focus for some of my own current research and artwork and I wanted to learn more about its origins and history. The Polheim was one of several tents that were constructed aboard his ship Fram as they voyaged south, it was  smaller and of a different fabric to the other expedition tents. It was based on a prototype that had been developed with his expedition mate, the explorer Frederick Cook (soon to be discredited following his disputed claim to the North Pole) on board the Belgica during the Belgian Antarctic Expidition of 1897-1901 (when Amundsen was 25). This was the first expedition to overwinter in Antarctica and one of the several arenas in which Amundsen honed his skills and tool set, which he used with apparent efficiency and even pleasure on his trip to the South Pole in 1911.

The Belgica anchored at Mount William.

The Belgica anchored at Mount William.

When I made enquiries with a friend and expert on the cinema of Polar exploration Jan Anders Diesen about the development of the Polheim, he introduced me to Anne Melgård, the very helpful curator of the manuscripts collection at the National Library of Norway. She told me that they had Amundsen’s original notebooks from the Belgica voyage together with a very neat, hand-drawn design for the polar tent penned by Amundsen. Oslo immediately became a key location for my research!

Anne and her colleague Guro Tangvald agreed to meet with me and to curate a selection from their manuscript holdings which they thought might be of interest – recent published books, image archives which included postcards and other printed materials and notebooks and other handwritten materials. I had no idea what a delightful rabbit hole I was about to plunge into!

Firstly, I meandered through several recent books that were relevant to my topic, including the beautifully illustrated Race to the End by Ross MacPhee, published by the American Museum of Natural History. Which included the following tantalizing image.  The fragments of cloth overlaid resemble a map of the ice! Here I was looking for tangible evidence of the Polheim; souvenirs of it sampled by the very next (and last) group of humans who found it! Anne Melgård subsequently informed me that the fragments are in the collection of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge.

Fragments of silk torn from the Polheim's seams by  Dr. Edward 'Bill' Wilson.

Fragments of silk torn from the Polheim’s seams by Dr. Edward ‘Bill’ Wilson.

The rest of the Polheim is now ‘lost’, buried under meters of ice somewhere near the South Pole, having drifted along with the ice from its original position a hundred years ago. There has been speculation and calculation trying to locate the Polheim but it is essentially unrecoverable – perhaps it will be imaged in a deep ice scan in years to come.

There were lots of wonderful photos in the Library’s archive. Including this gem of crew members whittling and spinning yarns on deck on their way South on Fram.

Polar whittling!

Polar whittling!

And delightful postcards!

Thorof Holmboe, 1915 Offset lithograph postcard.

Thorolf Holmboe, 1915
Offset lithograph postcard.

And yes, the hand-drawn design for the Polheim as developed on the Belgica.

Amundsen's tent patterns as used for the Polheim.

Amundsen’s tent pattern as used for the Polheim.

But wait!! There was more!!

There were the haunting images of Amundsen’s joyous team at the Pole. And the tragic ones of Scott’s party disappointed at the Pole a month later when they discovered that all of their effort and suffering had been for naught. The hardest part of their struggle lay ahead – a struggle none of them would survive.

Scott's disappointed party.

Scott’s disappointed party.

The B-side

The B-side

Then there were the original hand written journals in Amundsen’s impeccable, meticulous, tiny hand. Initially written in ink and later in perfectly sharp pencil. I can hardly imagine sharpening a pencil in the conditions they were working in, let alone everything else that they achieved. Accompanying the journals were the data books which record the readings and calculations to precisely locate the pole.

Amundsen's journal on the day they achieved the South Pole

Amundsen’s journal on the day they achieved the South Pole

Polar calculations and determinations.

Polar calculations and determinations.

But perhaps the most surprising and emotional documents in the archive was this single piece of paper!!

Amundsen's letter to King Haakon VII

Amundsen’s letter to King Haakon VII

I couldn’t believe I was holding it in my own hands. Amundsen wrote this letter to King Haakon after he had determined his location at the Pole and had ensured that he had definitely encompassed the Pole in a grid that he had his men laid out on the ice. It was the official notification of his discovery of the Pole. He left it in the Polheim along with other articles in the hope that Scott’s expedition would discover it and be able to return with it to Europe. In case Amundsen and his party were lost on the return route their discovery would live on. Ironically perhaps, Scott took the letter with him and it was Scott’s party that never returned to Europe. The letter was discovered along with the bodies of Scott and his companions 8 months later when their final camp was found. It was extraordinary to hold this piece of paper printed with the Fram Expedition letterhead that Amundsen had carried to the Pole, left behind in the Polheim for Scott, who in turn carried it back close to the edge of the Antarctic continent, where it lay beside his frozen body for months before being recovered and finally returned to Norway.

I am one of those people who feel that history gets inscribed on the things we use. Not that there is any totemic force at play, so much as a deep cultural overlay that gives some objects extraordinary value! I have only encountered one or two objects like that first hand.

Many thanks to Jan Anders Diesen, Anne Melgård,  Guro Tangvald and the staff at the National Library of Norway for guiding me to and allowing me to handle these irreplaceable documents.

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Oslo – In search of Roald Amundsen – Part 2 – the ‘Fram’

The next stop on my museum tour and in my hunt for Roald Amundsen was the Fram Museum.

Set right on the water on the outskirts of Oslo, the museum was built around the wonderful vessel Fram. As Amundsen is an icon of Polar exploration so is Fram. It’s not just a vessel, it’s a character in its own right!

Fram (“Forward”) was used in  both the Arctic and Antarctic regions between 1893 and 1912 by a series of Norwegian explorers including Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup, Oscar Wistig and Roald Amundsen. It was designed and built by the Norwegian shipwright Colin Archer for Fridtjof Nansen’s 1893 Arctic expedition in which Fram was supposed to freeze into the Arctic ice sheet and float with it over the North Pole. Fram has sailed farther north (85°57’N) and farther south (78°41’S) than any other wooden ship

The entire Fram is jammed into the museum!

The entire Fram is jammed into the museum!

She is as a three masted schooner with a total length of 39 meters and width of 11 meters. The ship is both unusually wide and unusually shallow in order to better withstand the forces of pressing ice. The idea was that as the ice formed and pressed close around her she would pop out of it like a squeezed olive pip and so would ride up on the ice rather than being crushed by it.

The smell of tar, oakum and engine oil when you enter the museum is wonderful. You can wander all over the ship and see how amazingly solid she is, and how comfy she must have been.  Nansen tried to make it as comfortable as possible for his crew as they would be staying aboard, fixed in the ice, for at least one winter, perhaps two. So it is heavily insulated and the kitchen is at the heart of the ship so that both food and heat become central. There are private cabins and a saloon and there were lots of entertainments on board – including a magic lantern projector and a piano! Being on Fram gave me a foretaste of life aboard Antigua - another 40m three-masted ship headed for the Arctic with a comfy saloon (more on that in an upcoming post).

Ice level view of the prow

Ice level view of the prow

Cross-battened hull for extra protection from the ice

Cross-battened hull for extra protection from the ice

Heavily reinforced hull

Heavily reinforced hull.

Cosy private cabin

Cosy private cabins

The displays that line the walls of the museum go into great detail about each of Fram’s expeditions. There are convincing reenactment videos of Amundsen’s crew working in their Antarctic base (the Framheim - the home of the Fram), based on contemporary photographs.

Working on the sleds in the wood workshop carved out of the Antarctic snow

Working on the sleds and gear crates in the wood workshop carved out of the Antarctic snow.

There are some wonderful large scale dioramas to guide our imaginations.

Diorama of preparations on the Antarctic ice

Diorama of preparations on the Antarctic ice

Many of the original objects used by the explorers are on display.

Amundsen's personal camera

Amundsen’s personal camera

Mysterious white 'stamina' tablets. I wonder if I can get some for the Arctic trip?

Mysterious white ‘stamina’ tablets. I wonder if I can get some for the Arctic trip?

I really started to get a feel for life on Fram. I can understand why Amundsen was so anxious to have her on his voyage to the Antarctic. She wasn’t a fabulous performer in the open ocean (her broad beam and flat bottom made her wallow and drag in heavy seas) but she was a major character in the heroic age of polar exploration. The first successful attempt on the South Pole wouldn’t have been the same without her!

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Oslo – In search of Roald Amundsen – Part 1 – the Viking ships

Donald & Roald

Donald & Roald

I was on the hunt for Polar Bears while I was up North, I was also on the trail of Roald Amundsen.

As you might recall from high school geography or history classes, Amundsen was the first man to reach both poles. In fact, he was the first man to reach each of the Poles independently. The South Pole in 1911 with four companions on dog sled and skis, the North Pole in 1926 aboard the Italian airship “Norge” (created and captained by Umberto Nobile). On both trips he was accompanied by his fellow explorer Oscar Wistig so technically he shares the honor. Though Wistig is mostly considered  an historical footnote (along with the first African American polar explorer Matthew Henson who accompanied Robert Peary on 7 voyages over 23 years including Peary’s now disputed first arrival at the Geographic North Pole in 1909).

Amundsen is a great hero in Norway. Which is hardly surprising for this great seafaring nation. I spent a day enjoying four great nautical museums on the outskirts of Oslo. The Viking Ship Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, the Nautical Museum and, the icing on the cake, the Fram Museum. All of them provided important clues for my understanding of Amundsen.

The Viking ship Museum was the obvious starting point and a pilgrimage in its own right. I have wanted to view the Oseberg and Gokstad ships since I first saw images of them (in National Geographic perhaps?). What incredible works of functional craftsmanship. They still provide the most revealing evidence of what viking ships were actually like. Prior to their discovery in the late 19th century, the only clues came from the oral sagas, carvings on a few extant standing stones and the Bayeux Tapestry (AD 1077?).

Vikings invading the Bayeaux Tapestry

Vikings invading the Bayeaux Tapestry

Both ships are believed to have been functional (one a luxury yacht and the other a trade ship) prior to their use as funerary vessels. They had been looted and were shattered and degraded when they were discovered in the late 1800’s but thanks to an amazing restoration effort they now seem ready to sail again.

Sightseers at the Oseberg excavation 1904

Sightseers at the Oseberg excavation 1904

Oseberg ship

Oseberg ship restored

Oseberg lines - sweet!

Oseberg lines – sweet!

The carving work is beautifully restored and preserved and both ships have a wonderful patina that comes in part from their age but primarily from their preservation in tung oil and creosote – a finish that I might pursue myself!

Gokstad ship

Gokstad ship

Prow details

Prow details

Bed head details - the women found aboard were laid to rest in ornately carved beds.

Bed head details – the women found aboard were laid to rest in ornately carved beds.

I enjoyed savouring the long and culturally layered history of the seafaring vikings. I’m from viking stock myself, as are most folk who have Britain in their ancestry, and my family name was created for a Norman lord who was one of the invaders in the Norman conquest of England in 1066.

The Norman conquest was taught in my grade school books as an invasion from France but it was actually a mingling of related folk from across the English Channel. The “Normans” were named so  because of their northern (i.e. Viking) roots. And by the time of the “conquest” the vikings had been living  amongst the ‘native’ britons for almost two centuries.

I couldn’t help but imagine the fabled viking raider of Britain and France, Ragnar Lodbrok (“hairy breeches”) moodily perched on the prow looking out to sea for new conquests.

Ragnar Lodbrok as played by the hunk Travis Fimmel on the History channel's fab series Vikings

Ragnar Lodbrok as played by the hunk Travis Fimmel on the History channel’s delicious series “Vikings”.

My favorite vessel was one of the small tenders found with the Gokstad ship. I could imagine myself at the prow of this one!

A sweet and handy little vessel.

A sweet and handy little vessel.

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Isbjørn – In search of the ice bear.

I have returned to civilization after my trek to the far north and I have many tales to tell.

Naturally, my true reason to head to the Arctic was to hunt Polar Bears. As I drew closer and closer to the Pole, they became more prevalent and, at times, I discovered them in the most unusual places where I was ill-prepared for the encounter!

My first close encounter with a ‘real’ bear was at the Fram Museum in Oslo. I think he’d stopped by to visit his old friend Fridtjof Nansen. He seemed docile but irritable – not surprising as he was in the cafe, waiting in line for a stale lamington.

Don't touch me!

Don’t touch me!

For some reason all the other customers had decided to leave.

Was it the bear or the stale laming tons?

Was it the bear or the stale lamingtons?

Some of his friends had decided to move into the museum too. I guess if Nansen was free to park in the drift ice for a couple of years, they felt free to return the favor and crash at his place for a while.

Looking for an inuit snack.

Looking for an inuit snack.

From Prof. Larsen's treatise on Polar Bear behavior.

From Prof. Larsen’s treatise on Polar Bear behavior.

Hanging out with the kids

Hanging out with the kids

One particularly hostile bear was to be found in the thrilling horror arcade next to the Fram. I entered with trepidation.

Icy tingles went up my spine.

Icy tingles went up my spine.

The atmosphere chilled and I could here the grinding of bergs.

The atmosphere chilled and I could hear the grinding of bergs.

The ice mummy!

The ice mummy!

Suddenly! There he was!

Suddenly! There he was!

I thought the Natural History Museum in Oslo would be a safer place for me to expand my understanding of Polar Bears. However even here I was in for a harrowing surprise.

Red in tooth and claw.

Red in tooth and claw.

He had some interestingly gruesome tales tales to tell. Mostly of the loss of his kin!

Tales of loss and woe.

Tales of woe – and the need for breath mints!

I found his brother bjørn upstairs stalking some rather moldy prey.

Waiting forever for the seal to make a fatal move!

Waiting forever for the seal to make a fatal move!

With my newfound understanding from encounters with the many  expat isbjørn I met in Oslo, I decided I was ready to head north in search of their more lively brethren. I was lucky. As soon as my plane touched down in the distant town of Longyearbyen on the coast of Spitsbergen, I encountered a noble specimen.

Don't complain about missing luggage in Lonyearbyen.

Don’t complain about missing luggage in Lonyearbyen.

Here the Isbjørn were more fearless than in the civilized cities of Norway.

This one was running loose in the supermarket.

"Where's the seafood section?"

“Where’s the seafood section?”

Surprisingly, they were even prowling in the Svalbard Musuem!

"These seals look stuffed to me!"

“These seals look stuffed to me!”

And so it was finally time to climb aboard the good ship Antigua and set sail for the drift ice and glaciers of the Svalbard Archipelago to see if I might  find a truly wild and free Isbjørn – one less familiar with the ways of humans. We sailed for days. Cruising through the ice floes, searching along glacier tongues, listening to the walruses and seals to see if they had any news.

On and on through the fog and ice…

We came to the fabled abandoned Russian mining town of Pyramiden, where we had heard that there had been a recent sighting by a vigilant local hunter.

Comrade Alexander on his endless vigil.

Comrade Alexander on his endless vigil.

Our trusted native guides found nothing!

Saint Therese, the far sighted.

Saint Therese, the far-sighted.

Eventually we heard the alarm call that a bear had been sighted in the local bar! Imagine our disappointment on arrival. I thought the Russians knew their bears!

A Red Herring!

A Red Herring!

We set sail once more upon the open seas and icebound fjords.

We sailed further south, away from the pack ice, looking for lone bears who had decided to risk the warmer weather in search of prey.

After days of hunting, finally, we were rewarded. We bravely landed in our zodiacs and mounted a montane rise to spy a solo bear among the growlers and bergs calved from the nearby glacier. He was comfortably munching on what appeared to be a seal’s noggin’ but at that range and in my heightened sense of fear it was hard to hold my spyglass steady.

I calmed my nerves, took aim, crossed my fingers and took my shot!!!

At last, a living Isbjørn!

At last, a living Isbjørn!

At last, after thousands of miles and many (very) dead ends we had seen the majestic Isbjørn. Striding powerfully through his native habitat, confident in his position as apex predator (almost!).

We took our leave. Returning to the trusty Antigua we set sail for a safe harbor and a well earned reward!!

An icy cold Isbjørn.

An icy cold Isbjørn.

Stay tuned for more tall tales and true from the Arctic soon!!

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New York – Tara Donovan and Hiroshi Sugimoto

Continuing to explore the New York galleries, I headed to Chelsea with my old Icelandic comrade and superb photographer Mark Hartman.

Icelandic comrades re-united on a Vespa

Icelandic comrades re-united on a Vespa

By far the best work was at Pace Gallery. Two outstanding exhibitions by two of my all time favorite artists – Tara Donovan and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Both end on June 28th so get going!!!

Tara Donovan

Tara Donovan

This amazing geological work is composed of millions of of white index cards stacked on top of each other in sedimentary layers. The structures remind me of those dribble sand mounds you make at the beach. The textures when you get up close belie the scale and I found myself imagining scaling the cliffs of paper.

Getting lost in the detail

Getting lost in the detail

The detail reminds me of my friend Stephen Hilyard’s seductive Rapture of the Deep  photo series created from images of diving in the crystal waters of Iceland.

Dougal, Leysin 1977 from Stephen Hilyard's Rapture of the Deep series

Dougal, Leysin 1977

Going deeper.

Going deeper.

In the adjacent gallery was another of her hard to define, but oh so evocative large sculptures made from thousands of narrow square section rods of acrylic.

Tara Donovan Untitled

Tara Donovan
Untitled

Detail

Detail

As if that wasn’t delicious enough, in the adjacent gallery space was a huge showing of part of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s ongoing series of diorama photographs.They were presented beautifully. Huge black and white prints with immensely rich tonal range and detail,  mounted in fat black frames but with no glass, so there was nothing between you and the surface of the print – an open window onto an illusory landscape. They were all mounted high on the wall so that the I felt dwarved by the works. Almost as if I was a kid again peering over the lip of the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History (in Sydney, New York, San Francisco,Oslo, etc.). I’ve always loved dioramas and I feel already that they are going to be an important part of this trip – deja vu in hindsight – if there is such a thing.

Sugimoto in the woods

Sugimoto in the woods – c. 10 ft long!

Detail

Detail – luscious warm tones

Sugimoto on ice

Sugimoto on ice

Lone gull on the otherwise empty diorama.

Lone gull on the otherwise empty diorama.

Sugimoto and the Isbjørn

Sugimoto and the Isbjørn

A preview of travels and dioramas to come! Next stop Oslo……

Unfortunately, I won’t have internet access again until the end of June.

So stay tuned…..

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Filed under Arctic, Artists and Designers, Museology, On exhibition, Travel