Down North / Contemporary Art in the Arctic is organized by Bildmuseet, Sweden; Portland Museum of Art, USA; and Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland. Curators: Anders Jansson, Jaime DeSimone, and Markús Þór Andrésson.
The world's most northern regions are emerging as more important than ever before. Areas previously seen as peripheral are leading a societal transformation that will shape our common future. The exhibition Down North presents works by thirty contemporary artists from Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the United States, as well as from Sápmi and other indigenous nations in the Arctic regions. They explore the critical issues of our time and use art as a catalyst for change.
Today's climate and environmental changes and a problematic colonial history have inspired works of art that address social, economic, political, and ecological challenges throughout the region. Other works confront the illusion of the North as remote wilderness and challenge the romanticised notion of untouched land and its perceived homogeneity.
The exhibition traces shared experiences within the region through a wide range of works of art in different media, reflecting novel affinities and chasms within societies and among nations in the North Atlantic.
Participating artists: Ragnar Axelsson (Iceland), Jordan Bennett (Canada), Jason Brown/Firefly (USA), Reggie Burrows Hodges (USA), Christopher Carroll (USA), Jóhan Martin Christiansen (Faroe Islands), Lauren Fensterstock (USA), Gideonsson/Londré (Sweden), Julie Edel Hardenberg (Greenland), Joan Jonas (USA), Jessie Kleemann (Greenland), Justin Levesque (USA), Anna Líndal (Iceland), Meagan Musseau (Canada), Ann Cathrin November Høibo (Norway), Mattias Olofsson (Sweden), Frida Orupabo (Norway), Katarina Pirak Sikku (Sweden), Bita Razavi (Finland/Estonia), Joshua Reiman (USA), Hans Rosenström (Finland), Máret Ánne Sara (Norway), Magnús Sigurðarsson (Iceland), Andreas Siqueland (Norway), Peter Soriano (USA), Anders Sunna (Sweden), Superflex (Denmark), Snæbjörnsdottír/Wilson (Iceland/UK), D’Arcy Wilson (Canada), Arngunnur Ýr (Iceland).
LIST OF ARTWORKS
Iceland, born 1958
Terminus – No 5, 2018
The Sea – No 2, 2018
Archival ink on white cotton paper
Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson, also known as RAX, has worked in some of the northernmost regions of the world, in Iceland, Greenland, and Siberia, documenting people, animals, and landscapes. RAX first fell in love with the massive ice caps when he saw the ice-covered volcano in southeast Iceland, Öræfajökull, at seven years old. Ice caps cover over 10 percent of Iceland, shaping the country’s land and psyche. The photographer has nurtured a deep affinity for ice through his photography for more than four decades.
RAX’s pictures are documents of a specific time and environment, yet the emphasis on glacial forms, textures, and patterns abstracts them. The series Terminus highlights the region’s beauty and environmental degradation, specifically in respect to shrinking glaciers. The terminus is the end of a glacier, usually the lowest end, and is also often called a glacier toe or snout. The photographs on view connect the vital regional story to growing global concern over climate change.
Ktaqmkuk/Canada, born 1986
13 Moons: Full Suite, 2020
Prints on paper
Jordan Bennett lives and works on his ancestral territory of Mi’kma’ki in Terence Bay, Nova Scotia. He explores land, language, and familial histories in his art to challenge colonial perceptions of Indigenous histories. His signature style consists of elaborate patterns and bold colours rooted in a deep history of Mi’kmaq porcupine quillwork. Over the years, he has studied and acquired these cultural objects. Today, Bennett connects with his ancestral visual language, remembering and reimagining our relations to each other, to our histories, and to the land.
For generations, Indigenous peoples have measured the year by a lunar cycle of 13 full moons, visible every 28 days over the 365 days that make up a year. In 13 Moons: Full Suite, each circular print represents one of the moons in the Mi’kmaq year. The Mi’kmaq lunar cycle begins in Siwkewikús (March), the forerunner of spring. It ends in Apunknajit (February), the snow-blinding month. The names of the full moons vary from tribe to tribe and from region to region, since each full moon was known by whichever natural resources were most abundant at that time. Bennett’s prints capture time, changing seasons, and ancestral knowledge of stewarding and sustaining the land as it is portrayed in Mi’kmaq visual culture. Bennett’s 13 Moons: Full Suite visualises, marks, and addresses annual Mi’kmaq traditions.
With thanks to the Portland Museum of Art, USA
Penobscot/USA, born 1973
Video, 5 min
Jason Brown, also known as Firefly, is a native American of the Penobscot Nation, with Swedish roots. Born and raised in ancient Wabanaki territory, he grew up in Wabanaki, an area close to present-day New England, the Canadian Maritimes, and Quebec, where the Wabanaki people, including the Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Abenaki nations, have inhabited the land since time immemorial according to oral histories, and for at least 13,000 years according to archaeological records. In the dreamscape video Wabanavia, Brown is the lead protagonist who explores familiar yet fantastical environs that draw upon his personal heritage, traditional Wabanaki greeting songs, Scandinavian musical notes, and Norse mythology.
USA, born 1981
Forest Floor with Mirrors, 2019
The Summer Song Sings Itself, 2019
Studio Floor with Mirrors, 2019
The House of Strawberry, 2019
Fall Thorn and Hazelnut, 2019
Archival pigment prints on dibond
From the series Viridis Genii [Green genius]
Maine-based artist Christopher Carroll is concerned about plant autonomy, or the capacity of plants to assess, perceive, and act on their environment and, in doing so, generate the conditions for their own flourishing. He regularly explores the plant life surrounding his studio in rural Skowhegan, specifically those plants with a fabled and often symbiotic history with humans. Carroll’s photographs provide a way for him to visualise the location, folklore, and essence of local flora.
The series Viridis Genii [Green Genius] results from the artist’s interest in animism, or the attribution of a soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena—the five photographs on view present Maine’s seasons. After choosing the plants, the artist arranged them on the floor of his studio and photographed them. The images document the local flora and remind us of man’s seemingly congenital desire to arrange, organise and control nature.
Jóhan Martin Christiansen
Faroe Islands, born 1987
Flip Flop, 2020
Plaster, pigment, reinforcement mesh, fibreglass mesh, plastic strips, textile, fluorescent lamp, reinforcement steel, and textile
The Faroese artist Jóhan Martin Christiansen’s works are characterised by contrasts. He draws inspiration from the nature on the Faroe Islands and from the city landscapes in Copenhagen where he now lives and works. His works reference contemporary architecture, but in the same sculpture, the audience can see a wave crashing onto a beach, a weapon or a giant clam. The sculpture Flip Flop is a meeting between different materials, such as plaster, reinforcement mesh and textile. An iron rod has pierced through the sculpture, and the plaster has been broken off. Remains of what used to be a solid construction lie scattered on the floor. It can be seen as an embodiment of scaffolding in the ever-changing urban space while reminding us of natural and uncontrollable factors such as time and decay.
Flip Flop can be seen as a sculpture in transition. The question is if the work is about to fall apart and be destroyed or if it is born again and becoming something else. Here lies Christiansen’s second agenda. The sculpture’s material contradictions become metaphors for breaking free, changing perceived rootlessness for belonging and writing one’s own history. The rebirth is about embracing what others have seen as flaws, leaving the person you are expected to be behind and instead living life on your own terms.
USA, born 1975
The Order of Things, 2016
Mixed media with shells, resin, rubber, paint, and wood
Portland-based artist Lauren Fensterstock creates detailed, labour-intensive, large-scale installations that draw inspiration from, among other things, mosaics. She is preoccupied with our relationship with nature and humankind’s attempt to control it. The Order of Things is a triptych that merges her interests in Palaeolithic caves and collections from 18th-century England. The shells are originally sourced in coastal Maine, from friends and businesses, from eBay and estate sales, and then meticulously arranged, adhered into place, covered in resin, and painted black. Alluding to our inability to control the natural world, this cabinet of curiosities is cluttered, at once chaotic and controlled, symmetrical yet overgrown. The Order of Things reveals our desire to master, order and identify nature, while illustrating the futility of such actions.
With thanks to the Claire Oliver Gallery, New York, USA
Lisa Gideonsson, Sweden, born 1985
Gustaf Londré, Sweden, born 1986
Waxed wood, steel banding, and cast iron
The artistic duo Gideonsson/Londré, who live and work in the village of Kallrör, Sweden, examine the relationship between time and body through performances, installations, and interventions. Part of their practice consists of positioning and using the body in new and challenging ways in order to interrupt the usual patterns of movement. For them, this approach liberates knowledge and characteristics stored in our bodies that we have lost contact with over time.
The new installation Arch, developed for this exhibition, is part of Gideonsson/Londré’s exploration of biological development and what the human body was exposed to when we started to walk on two legs. The installation treats our bipedalism as an introduced trauma that we all carry in our bodies. The work also includes a performance during the exhibition period.
Julie Edel Hardenberg
Greenland, born 1971
Oqaluttuarisaaneq/History #1, 2019
Nylon flag, human hair extensions
Greenland’s complicated history informs the work of Inuk/Kalaaleq artist Julie Edel Hardenberg, who lives and works in Nuuk, the small capital city on the southwest coast. She explores identity, culture, and language from a postcolonial perspective. The artist says:
“As a child of a Danish father and a Greenlandic mother, I am a descendant of both Kalaallit Inuit and Danish missionaries characterized by a life with opposing interests for my identity formation, an ambivalence, and a kind of schizophrenic state, characterized by an environment of gender/cultural struggles and opposing paradigms, where narratives are created and used to affirm rights. Therefore, throughout my upbringing and existence, I have had to find myself in the ambivalent position between power and powerlessness. Partly to create my own raison d’être [reason for existence], then to articulate what it means to me to live in a (post) colonial society, with its established colonial structures.”
The work Oqaluttuarisaaneq, which translates to “history” in Kalaallisut, consists of a recognisable Danish flag — red with a white Scandinavian cross-stitched together with tufts of black hair. It also resembles broken threads, as if the tattered flag is unravelling or being sewn back together. The fact that the stitches are made with black hair, a reference to Greenland’s Inuit population, is a reminder of the country’s complex history in which Denmark was its ruler from the early 18th century until 1979, when home rule began. Hardenberg’s work is a postcolonial statement that questions what flag bests represents Greenland and its Inuit inhabitants today.
Reggie Burrows Hodges
USA, born 1965
Bathers and the Cleansed: Pearl, 2021
Bathers and the Cleansed, 2021
Acrylic paint and pastel on canvas
Maine-based painter Reggie Burrows Hodges uses memories from his own childhood and art history to address universal themes of identity, community, and memory. The colour black is central in Burrows Hodges’ paintings, and he always starts them by painting an unprepared canvas black. On it he then develops the settings and the characters with acrylic paint and pastels. The faceless figures encourage the observers to use their own experiences and memories to formulate the story behind the motifs.
The colour black is traditionally associated with things like danger, sorrow, or violence. In Burrows Hodges’ paintings, the blackness is the foundation for everything. It is this negative space that is everything’s origin. It is not about a lack of light but about how light, life and bodies are created in the darkest of darkness.
With thanks to Karma, New York, USA
Ann Cathrin November Høibo
Norway, born 1979
I know you less everyday, 2018
Handwoven wool, silk, cotton, jersey, plastic, nylon, and wood
Flukt Forover 2, 2017
[Escape Forward 2]
Handwoven coconut fibre, tulle and stones
Norwegian artist Ann Cathrin November Høibo’s handwoven textiles are characterised by uneven surfaces, exposed knots, loose tangles and worn hanging devices. In the tapestry I know you less everyday, November Høibo has used locally produced grey wool into which she has woven commercially produced materials such as silk, nylon, and plastic. The fabric’s dominant motif recreates the energy and grand scale of the Norwegian landscape. The wool comes from Norwegian spelsau, a breed of sheep with long, wavy wool that is one of the oldest livestock animals in Norway.
Sheep play a crucial role in shaping Norway’s cultural and natural landscape by grazing on the plains and wild, uncultivated pastures in the forests and mountains. Ann Cathrin November Høibo has described wool as a vital material for survival on the Norwegian coast. Along the coast from north to south, people live by and by the sea, and sheep have been crucial for handicraft materials, food and warmth.
With thanks to Lise Stolt-Nielsen and Standard (Oslo)
USA, born 1936
Mirror Pool from Moving off the Land II, 2019 – ongoing
Video, 13:04 min
Moving Off the Land – Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture, San Francisco, 2019
Moving Off the Land – Danspace Project, New York, 2018
Ink on paper
Since the 1970s, Joan Jonas has divided her time between New York and Nova Scotia, Canada. Her artistry includes video, performance, installations, sound works, text and drawing.
In Moving Off the Land, perhaps the artist’s most intense work to date, she turns to the sea. In collaboration with composer Ikue Mori and actor Francesco Migliaccio, she takes us on a magical underwater journey, using drawing and props to conjure up a myriad of aquatic creatures.
The performance, video and drawings explore the sea, in the words of the artist “a source of life and home for a whole world of creatures”. Underwater scenes are combined with passages from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus and Rachel Carson’s Undersea. In her performance works, Joan Jonas uses recurring mirrors to distort the viewer’s perception of their own position in relation to the actual work. Here, the reflections make the viewer part of an ecosystem and emphasise our interdependence with other species.
With thanks to Gladstone Gallery
Greenland, born 1959
Arkhticós Doloros, 2019
Video, 12 min
Artist and poet Jessie Kleemann is originally from Upernavik in northern Greenland; today, she lives and works in Copenhagen, Denmark. Trained as a lithographic artist, she works with traditional and contemporary Inuit themes, video, music, poetry, and dance. She is widely known for her performative practice that is based on ancient masque rituals.
On July 19, 2019, Kleemann travelled by helicopter to the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier in West Greenland, where meltwater is collecting menacingly, to carry out one of her trance-inducing performances. Its title Arkhticós Doloros is drawn from Barry Lopez’s book Arctic Dreams, which explores the many-faceted wonders of the Far North. Kleemann relies on her Inuit heritage, where myths, shamanism, and rituals reflect man’s centuries-long relationship with the harsh nature of the Arctic. Her bodily movements appear ritualistic, planned, and improvised. The video Arkhticós Doloros on view here conveys the terrifying sensation of being—acting—at the ground zero of the climate crisis.
USA, born 1986
Geographical Problems (your files are too powerful), 2021
Vinyl, photographs and acrylic.
Portland-based artist Justin Levesque’s interdisciplinary practice is rooted in photography. He is interested in how photographs, both historically and today, have been used to tell stories about and shape the history of places. His work is based on experiences and information he has gathered during trips to sea, on Svalbard as well as through social media, historical photographs and literature.
With the installation Geographical Problems (your files are too powerful), Levesque focuses on the image of the Arctic and how photographs of the Arctic region are reproduced, disseminated, and consumed on the internet. He believes that the Arctic has largely become a commodity, over-consumed and commercialised, with the risk of information being taken out of context, of images being repeated incessantly and the real history of the region not being told.In this work, Levesque used a technique where he had artificial intelligence scan thousands of online images of the Arctic and, based on this raw material, create new, completely unique images. Much of the digital representation of the north highlights the characteristic bluish glaciers and seas. At the same time, the artist’s own research shows that the colour blue has an overwhelming dominance over other colours on the Internet, in company logos for example. That makes it difficult for us to assess the authenticity of the images. For example, is Levesque’s image of the blue shimmering glacier based on a real photograph or on the Facebook logo?
Iceland, born 1957
What Was Measured When I Was on the Glacier, 2019–2021
26 copper etchings
Icelandic multidisciplinary artist Anna Líndal explores geography, mapping, and cartography informed by scientific expeditions that track, record and visualise the changing landscape. In 1986, Líndal first visited the Grímsvötn caldera on a cross-country ski trip over the Vatnajökull glacier in Eastern Iceland. A caldera is a large cauldron-like depression formed after the emptying of a magma chamber in a very large volcanic eruption. Caldera collapse happens a few times per century worldwide. Since 1997, Líndal has participated in several spring expeditions with the Iceland Glaciological Society (JÖRFÍ) to the area.
The etchings on view are based on Líndal’s personal experiences working alongside colleagues to record and survey the caldera for over 20 years. Líndal transfers these survey lines onto a copper plate, etched in acid and printed on paper, which you see here. For Líndal, this experience and her etchings are symbolic of the changing landscape and its impression on humanity.
Mi’kmaq/Canada, born 1990
Pi’tawkeqaq | our people up river / Re/Awakening, 2019–ongoing
Laser etched on Plexiglas with stainless steel hardware
The work Pi’tawkewaq | our people up river is a series of en-graved plexiglass sculptures that refer to traditional bone pendants made by the Beothuk people. The artist got her inspiration for the work during a visit to a museum where she saw the pendants displayed in display cases. The pendants, once created to be worn and used, were now out of reach behind Plexiglas. Musseau revives the traditional patterns and brings them into the contemporary era by engraving them on the same modern materials that previously formed a barrier. In the exhibition, they are presented on a human scale. Pi’tawkewaq | our people up river is a work in which Musseau wants to maintain the relationships with her ancestral artists and use her art to talk about the cultural survival of indigenous peoples instead of the disappearance of cultures.
Sweden, born 1973
Everywhere but nowhere, 2021-2023
Swedish artist Mattias Olofsson raises questions about community and belonging in his installation Everywhere but nowhere. The artist resides in his maternal grandparents’ home in Storbrännan, a village approximately 100 km north of Umeå. Everywhere but nowhere is an art project that re-centres this countryside village as a primary subject. The village, like many others, has felt the effects of urbanisation. The number of farms and jobs has decreased, the school closed, and trails are overgrown.
With the series Everywhere but nowhere, the artist has started a larger project that is about strengthening the ties between the residents of Storbrännan. After the photographs were taken, a new village association was formed, the school that was closed is undergoing renovations, and outside it, a firepit for both spontaneous and planned gatherings has been built. Olofsson uses art to get to know the village’s history, explore questions of what constitutes community and investigate whether a sense of belonging once lost can be restored.
Norway, born 1986
Collage with paper, pins and aluminium
The artist Frida Orupabo creates new readings and meanings of images from archives, social media and from her own life. Her physical and digital collages with fragmented black bodies deal with issues of colonialism and racism and reverse the perspectives, directing the gaze of former victims towards the viewer.
“Through the distortion and manipulation of images, my work tries to say something about different social constructions—race, gender, sexuality, beauty, and class. I aim to explore their interconnectedness as well as to look at white fantasies about blackness, specifically the black female body. I am concerned with the damage and consequences of being determined from the outside, but I also look into the possibility of resistance—how we challenge and re-create. I am trying to make works that speak to the reality I know. I aim for complexities—to show women in pain, women that are vulnerable, women that exhibit strength and wrath, confusion and clarity—and I try to speak of the interaction and clash between past and present, between self-representation and imposed representation.” — Frida Orupabo
With thanks to Galerie Nordenhake
USA, born 1972
Time Washes Over Us, 2022
Video, 21:18 min
Musical score consists of contributions and collaborations with Norihito Suda (Japan), Jóhann Jóhannsson (Iceland), Patrick Carey (USA), Anhoni (USA), and Ole B Fossdalur Reiman (USA)
In the film Time Washes Over Us, Joshua Reiman considers mortality through marine life. Years in the making, he worked with divers and scientists to identify a few of the longest-living animal species in the world’s oceans. All animals in the film are estimated to live from 250 to 400+ years. The film focuses on the Icelandic clam in Eyjafjörður, in Northern Iceland; the red sea urchin in Vancouver Island, British Columbia; and the Greenland shark in Baffin Island, Canada. Reiman wants the encounter with these animals to show the fragility of life, while philosophy and history intertwine with questions of life, mortality and the human condition.
Finland, born 1978
Video 50:06 min
The transitory nature of glacial ice is evident in the work of Finnish artist Hans Rosenström. The video Folgefonna presents a glacial ice cube from Folgefonna Glacier in Hardangerfjord, Norway, gradually melting and disappearing in the palm of his hand. To hold your hand still with a cold ice cube is measurable by time. It is a drawn-out, monotonous process. However, considering the transformation taking place, it passes quite quickly. The fact that it took 400 years to compress layers of snow into this glacial ice is a time scale beyond human comprehension. In this durational performance, Rosenström presents us with an effective image of the delicate connection between man and the environment and how quickly humanity can alter or destroy something that seems to have existed forever.
Finland/Estonia, born 1983
The Dog Days Will Be Over Soon, 2019
Video, 5 min
In The Dog Days Will be Over Soon Bita Razavi focuses on liminal states between physical and digital experiences and between artificial and natural spaces. Inspired by digital hunting games, she has taken scenes from computer games and used them to create new films. Razavi, uninterested in the sport of hunting, explores the nature-inspired screenscapes of the forested lands and coastal shores found in Canada. This video presents an array of wildlife — deer, bears, birds, insects — in their natural environment. Deer emerges from the forest and pause at the water’s edge as if they register the presence of the viewer, and then retreat into the wild. The irony of Razavi’s video is that it flips the script on the violent game — the wildlife is no longer hunted by the player on the opposite side of the screen. Instead, nature prevails, or at least the animals survive in this digital world.
Máret Ánne Sara
Sápmi/Norway, born 1983
Wear the downs as your ups, couse this dance will twist you inside out, 2021
Reindeer heads decorated with Guovdageaidnu gákti
(traditional Sámi dress from the artist’s area)
Sámi artist, activist, and writer Máret Ánne Sara is from a reindeer-herding family in Kautokeino, a village in northern Norway. Her work Wear your down as your ups, couse this dance will twist you inside out consists of a pair of reindeer skulls dressed in traditional clothing and patterns from the same parts of Sápmi, Guovdageaidnu, as she comes from herself. The skulls could be seen as reference to the photographs of countless buffalo skulls, piled together, that were taken in the USA during the 1800s and where the slaughter of buffalos was a way to take control over indigenous people and their land.
In her works Máret Ánne Sara often raises political and social questions from a Sami perspective. Her art not only speaks about the historic horrors of colonialism but also stems from personal and contemporary experiences. Her works are testimonies about the right to one’s own culture and to write one’s own history, as the alternative, in the sharpest of situations, seems to be destruction of the same.
Iceland, born 1966
IN COD-liver WE TRUST inc. I, II and III, 2022
Altered ready-made rain lamps
Icelandic artist Magnús Sigurðarson’s sculptures read as tongue-in-cheek memorials to the cod, a fish that is decreasing in quantity because of global warming and overfishing in the North Atlantic Ocean. The sea, fishing, and cod are interwoven in the environmental awareness in the High North. Sigurðarson’s sculptures read as kitsch statues to the species currently considered vulnerable to extinction. The cod is a unification symbol of sorts. Its story is closely connected to the history and living inhabitants all around the North Atlantic.
In his bestseller Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (1999), author Mark Kurlansky writes: “Cod, it turns out, is the reason Europeans set sail across the Atlantic, and it is the only reason they could. What did the Vikings eat in icy Greenland and on the five expeditions to America recorded in the Icelandic sagas? Cod, frozen and dried in the frosty air, then broken into pieces and eaten like hardtack. What was the staple of the medieval diet? Cod again, sold salted by the Basques, an enigmatic people with a mysterious, unlimited supply of cod.”
Katarina Pirak Sikku
Sápmi/Sweden, born 1965
Katarina Pirak Sikku vuorkkás: Birága ja Klementssone johtolagat ja máddariid boazomearkkat, 2021
[From Katarina Pirak Sikku’s archive: Pirak’s and Klementsson’s hiking trails and ancestral reindeer marks]
Ink and watercolour on paper
In her art, Sámi artist Katarina Pirak Sikku combines drawing, photography, painting, installation, and text as a mode of activism and visual storytelling. Pirak Sikku created a new body of work for this exhibition that traces her familial history through mapping and reindeer markings. The maps mark the burial sites and the landmarks that all sustain a history known to some, unknown to most. While growing up, Pirak Sikku got to know these places. Still, she also heard about places that no one was ever allowed to visit, holy sites whose geographical locations were kept secret in order to protect them. If the locations were revealed, they would likely be visited by ethnologists who would dig them up and remove anything of value for a museum. But the better the protection was, the more seldom the sites were mentioned, and the more they were forgotten, even by those responsible for guarding them.
In these drawings, Pirak Sikku portrays reindeer markings based on her own family marks. Reindeer markings are personal and are often inherited within the family. The unique markings are applied to both ears of the animal, showing the owner. The drawings of the marks on view illustrate subtle differences over time. Collectively, they register as a visual language of record and familial history. The artist realised that history and time are not linear. So, instead of creating a family tree that felt like a chart, she chal-lenged herself to reimagine the relationships between her ancestors. In this lyrical scroll, relatives’ names twist and turn upon themselves in cursive writing, suggestive of the circle of life.
Norway, born 1973
Painting Across the Atlantic, 2015–2016
Acrylic paint on canvas and wood panels
In 2015, the Norwegian artist Andreas Siqueland carried out an unusual experiment when he temporarily moved his studio out to sea and sailed across the North Atlantic Ocean onboard two sailboats. The journey from Århus in Denmark to St. John’s in Newfoundland, Canada, followed the northern route, docking in the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland along the way. En route, he created paintings on wood panels stored in a handmade trunk that was also used as an easel. Siqueland’s voyage was inspired by his longstanding interest in how different conditions affect the painting process.
His experience of the voyage completely surprised him, as the conditions always made him aware of his body. “Painting in motion is about being a moving observer and interpreter, tracking change and being part of it,” he says. In Painting Across the Atlantic, the seaborne works are installed on larger canvases made after the journey. Siqueland’s journey is a testament to a profound and personal experience of nature: at once enchanting, overwhelming, and repellent to be performed again and again.
Bryndís Snæbjörnsdottír, Iceland, born 1955
Mark Wilson, United Kingdom, born 1954
Edge of the World, 2021
15 silkscreen prints from the project Visitations: Polar Bears Out of Place
Artists Bryndís Snæbjörnsdottír and Mark Wilson study the effects of polar bear arrivals in Iceland and the consequences of the often conflict-filled encounters between humans and animals. Since the late 1880s, polar bears have arrived in Iceland by swimming and by riding packed ice or drifting icebergs, especially during springtime. Over a decade ago, the artists witnessed the arrival and subsequent shooting of a polar bear at Hraun, a coastal farmstead in northern Iceland. A polar bear’s arrival on land is an event that can be considered from various angles: as a cohabitant and foreigner; in the context of global warming and rising sea levels; and with regard to migration, voyages, preservation, and extinction.
To create this work, Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson tracked down and scanned the bones of the Hraun polar bear — now in a national scientific collection—and presented its skeletal remains as a set of 15 prints. Grouped according to how they are stored in a museum’s crate, each traced bone is reproduced to scale. A phrase relating to boat construction and thus to sea voyaging accompanies each print, paying homage to the bear’s arduous journey. Arranged anatomically, the prints possess a kinship to the polar bear’s physicality through its absence. The polar bear, the largest bear in the world and the Arctic’s apex predator, is a powerful symbol — originally one of strength and endurance but more recently of the broader fragility of the Arctic and the environment. Essential to its ecosystem, polar bears are part of the food web for Indigenous peoples who have hunted them sustainably for millennia. In many ways, these prints are a visual and poignant reminder that the Arctic region is facing significant ice loss in the coming decades—with potentially severe consequences for polar bears and others.
USA, born 1959
Ilulissat, Disko Bugt, 2023
[Ilulissat, Disko Bay]
Graphite, spray paint, and acrylic paint
Ilulissat #5, 2021
Ilulissat #6, 2021
Ilulissat #9, 2021
Ilulissat #10, 2021
Ilulissat #14, 2021
Ink on paper
Maine- and New York-based artist Peter Soriano is a sculptor who, in recent years, has turned his practice to drawing. Yet even now, he retains the distinct eye of a sculptor. His wall drawings and works on paper bring to life an intense, almost scientific process of observation and documentation that he uses to capture the unstable physical properties of the world around him. The wall drawing Ilulissat, Disko Bugt is part of an ongoing project that documents the rapidly changing natural environment of the High North, specifically snow, glaciers, and icebergs. The project began in 2018 when, at intervals over a period of two weeks, the artist measured, recorded, and traced a melting pile of snow in his backyard in Penobscot, Maine.
That simple initial investigation eventually led Soriano to a remote village near the town of Ilulissat, Greenland, where, in 2021, he executed a series of drawings inspired by icebergs calved from the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier. (Ice calving is the breaking of ice chunks from the edge of a glacier.) Day after day, perched on the hillsides and shore of Disko Bay in the North Atlantic, Soriano watched and sketched the icebergs as they drifted by, collided, or collapsed. The outcome is a group of small-scale ink drawings on paper as well as the large, site-specific Ilulissat, Disko Bugt. The schematised wall drawing is based on geometry, free-line drawing, colour, and texture. Its choppy, erratic lines echo the impermanence of icebergs. Collectively, these works address the impact of climate change and the instability of the planet we live on.
Sápmi/Sweden, born 1985
Torne STYX, 2021
Paint and collage on wood
Anders Sunna is a Northern Sámi artist from a reindeer-herding family in Kieksiäisvaara, in the Swedish part of Sápmi. Sunna’s politically charged artworks narrate the history of the violence and oppression against the Sámi people, specifically addressing his family’s five-decade-long struggle for their right and acknowledgement to be forest reindeer herders.In 1971, the Sunna family lost their right to herd reindeer due to changes in the law pertaining to reindeer herding. In turn, this led to a brutal relocation of the family, disagreements between Sámi villages, and a sense of legal disempowerment. The reindeer, the Sámi frock, the buildings, the machines, the balaclava, and the AK-47 all act as symbols of the artist and his family’s struggle.
Torne STYX, made for this exhibition, is situated in physical and mythological worlds. Torne is a river in northern Sweden and Finland, whereas Styx is the river in Greek mythology that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead. This mythological world is emphasised by its looming skeletal figure of Death, who surveys the land and whose gaze is affixed on a pocket watch. The artist collages historic Sápmi images, photocopies of forestry and mining, and his own family album onto the panel’s surface and then paints over them.
Thanks to Angelika Knäpper Gallery
Bjørnstjerne Reuter Christiansen, Denmark, born 1969
Jakob Fenger, Denmark, born 1968
Rasmus Nielsen, Denmark, born 1969
Pink Elements/Vertical Migration, 2019
Slip-coloured ceramic, ash wood
As sea levels rise and natural boundaries become increasingly contested, the borders between human and fish ecologies grow more fluid. Pink Elements/Vertical Migration appears as three cubic arrangements of stacked bricks, positioned on moveable wooden pallets. The material fulfils the needs of marine creatures, and the pink colour is scientifically known to propagate coral polyp growth. Each brick houses more organic forms within, porous enough for fish and other aquatic species to burrow. Presented on land, among other designed objects, they appear as detached sculptures or architectonical fragments of a corner or a column. Submerged in water, these sculptures will be repurposed by water-living creatures. Preparing for a post-human scenario, the work welcomes water and marine life to move throughout it. What is a pillar to a human today is a future penthouse to fish.
Pink Elements/Vertical Migration was developed as part of the project Deep Sea Minding in which the Danish artist collective Superflex, through scientific and artistic research, tries to understand the marine world and how the oceans will develop in the wake of global warming. The project was commissioned by TBA21-Academy
Canada, born 1983
#1 Fan (Long Run), 2018–2019
Video, 7:30 min
Music score by Russell Louder. Drone Footage by Tom Cochrane
Canadian artist D’Arcy Wilson’s work laments past and ongoing colonial interaction with the natural world from her perspective as a descendent of European settlers in Atlantic Canada. The film #1 Fan (Long Run) is filmed along the craggy oceanside cliffs of western Newfoundland. Areas of the High North, particularly in the 21st century, rely on tourism for sustainable economies at the expense of Nature’s future. #1 Fan (Long Run) is a parody of slick advertisements in which nature is commercialised.
The artist has described how the character in the film sees the land through a colonial lens as a spectacle. That is why her loving approaches is left unanswered. Her frenzy to be a part of the land and not to miss a moment, her romance for nature is unrequited. The terrain threatens to harm her as she runs further into the wilderness, closer to the edges of the cliffs, getting more tired and can’t seem to catch her breath. Instead of existing in symbiosis with nature, she is now at risk of being injured. Her more desperate expressions of love make the danger greater.
Iceland, born 1962
Skaftafell–Pia I, 2021
Skaftafell–Pia II, 2021
Oil on birch panel
In her paintings, Arngunnur Ýr interprets the Icelandic landscape from a unique perspective of a nature guide. Over the years, she has observed changes in the land and its nearby glaciers. To challenge her experience of the familiar landscape in Iceland, Ýr travelled to Patagonia in both Argentina and Chile, to the edge of the giant Pia Glacier. She recognised similarities, both visually and ecologically, between the natural worlds of Iceland and Patagonia. Most noticeable changes relate to the increasing pace of ice melting.
In a new series of paintings on view, Ýr invents new landscapes by merging views from the northern and southern hemispheres, including the wilderness area in Iceland’s Vatnajökull National Park called Skaftafell and the huge Pia Glacier that lies in a fjord along the Chilean Patagonia coast. The artist has commented that she is not interested in creating ‘ordinary’ landscapes, and deliberately doesn’t use ‘correct’ colours.
This is a new journey where one can look upon the world, and the global nature, with new eyes.
Down North / Contemporary Art in the Arctic is organized by Bildmuseet, Sweden; Portland Museum of Art, USA; and Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland. Curators: Anders Jansson, Jaime DeSimone, and Markús Þór Andrésson.
The exhibition is produced with support from Eimskip, Region Västerbotten, Icelandic Climate Fund, Nordic Culture Fund, Nordic Culture Point, Embassy of Canada to Sweden.