letters from the north

Artist Statement for Angalavaa: An Archive Tale

‘There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.’ -Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life

This quote defines how the arctic found me: in a state of curiosity that I had to follow. Starting with American arctic explorer Robert Peary’s photographs from the 1900’s, I became fascinated with the explorers and Arctic disasters and from there to all that was found, lost or returned from the Arctic: the ‘polar archive’. The Arktisk Institut became a pausing point for this archived realm. It carried weight: persons, locations, events, and their aftershocks. Each was not my own memory, but rather an archived memory left for others to learn about.

‘Modern memory is above all, archival. It relies entirely on the materiality of the trace, the immediacy of the record, the visibility of the record.’ -- Pierre Nora’s Les Lieux de Memoire.

The Arktisk Institut forms an intertextual framework for the friction and exchanges that occurred between Denmark, Greenland and the arctic: recorded through personal diaries, photographs, catalogues of Eskimo/Inuit dialects, and much more. They are textures from a common language, forming the archive's theoretical and visual environment: the nonlinear narrative about the Danish encountering the Arctic.

‘…Translation does not become inauthentic because it employs a different language from the original…. There is a significant difference between speaking about other cultures and presuming to speak for them.’ --John Mack’s essay Exhibiting Cultures Revised: Translation and Representation

The psychology behind basements and attics revolves around memory, the forgotten and the imagination: Strange that these spaces are where we normally keep our archives. And history is impatient; it is always ready to collect more and more. We can discuss how archived items retain their value and significance over time but we can only experience this observation by actually opening the archive doors. By lessening the distance between it and us. Every time we open the archive, we must strive to find how it has changed.

‘A memoryscape is constructed by people’s mental images of the environment, with particular emphasis on locations as remembered places. When one relates to the landscape as a memoryscape it becomes alive, meaningful, and personal and embeds person, places and activities in the rivers of history….Memoryscape is often felt rather than verbalized.’ --Mark Nuttal’s Arctic Homeland: Kinship community and development in Northwest Greenland

My approach at the Arctic Institute was not like that of an academic researcher out to gather facts about a specific person and then place them into historical or theoretical context. I did not want to concentrate on one subject or ‘document’ in the traditional manner. Rather I investigated as an artist all aspects of the archive’s contents: I saw browns, ochres, indigo blues and grays. Waterlogged paper, handmade bindings, frayed edges, crinkled flags and smooth paper. They were followed by names such as Rink, Freuchen, and Mikkelsen: Thule, fangersang, and Nansen’s map. I wanted to ‘bring history back to life, giving it a second level of existence’ (Pierre Nora). Sadly these were traces of an arctic that no longer exists.

‘The past becomes a way for people to navigate within and make sense of the present as well as a way to formulate visions.’ ----Frank Sejersen’s essay Horizons of Sustainability in Greenland: Inuit Landscapes of Memory and Vision

This is where the photographs and drawings stem from: my experience navigating someone else’s documented memory. I am an American born in this period, and so a level of inaccessibility will always exist. But within this distance we find emotion: melancholia and fantastic humor within History’s stories to counterbalance the coldness. An alternative memory manifests. My photographs are the archive, sitting in darkness. The photographic collections are gathered-history’s contents. The drawings are the contents seen from a different view: cairns and boats, flags and buildings, books and papers. My figures are sometimes dragging, waiting, carrying, and sometimes encountering. All is not history recorded. Rather they are memory retained from looking and touching, reading and translating, digesting and re-transfiguring. Angalavaa, wandering through the archive.