artist arctic circle northern sunrise sunset icy landscape archipelago of Spitsbergen

Putting the Art in Arctic

Formerly a favored destination of whalers in the 17th century, the archipelago of Spitsbergen - the most northerly point in the world with air service - is now annually visited by 14 artists, 2 scientists, and a crew of 4 on a ship called The Arctic Circle. 

Aaron O’Connor, a man with years of experience bringing artists together in unusual places, launched the first ever journey called The Arctic Circle nearly 10 years ago.

Inspired by the potential of unclimbed peaks, tongues of glaciers, and a setting untapped human presence, O’Connor wanted to explore how this landscape could be responded to in uniquely artistic ways.

An intersection of art, science, education, and activism,

The Arctic Circle is an “incubator for ...for artists....who seek out ...areas of collaboration to engage in the central issues of our time.” 

The group of artists selected each year to participate in this journey vary based on medium.

Working mostly in media between the lines, these artists dabble in installations, video art, staged photography, performance, and conceptual works.

Their created works are meant to surprise, drawing attention to the rapid change occurring in this seemingly static landscape. 

Raphaele Shirley [French-American, 2010 Expedition]

Artist Raphaele Shirley - a member of the 2010 cohort - plays with the mixing of lasers and light.

In the arctic, she photographed racks of laser lights zooming around their ship in the waves.

Her images result in dynamically warped trails of light that dance around the Arctic Sea. 

Beau Carey, an American artist who was a part of the 2012 journey, creates landscape paintings that explore the interaction of humans with the natural world.

Using a traditional construction of landscape in his works, Carey illustrates a fata morgana, or a mirage common to polar regions when certain atmospheric conditions bend light.

Carey’s representation of these complex mirages aims to prove that our landscapes are informed by subjective viewpoint and memories. 

Philosopher and musician David Rothenberg, former cohort member for The Arctic Circle, paralleled his experience to artists during the Age of Exploration.

Rothernberg states, “...we’re the only ones to offer up images grand and graphic enough to show people back home what the far reaches of the globe can offer.” 

Upon returning after the Arctic Circle journey, Rothenberg comments artists bear an extra responsibility:

“ turn our experiences into some lasting images that will make nature appear fresh, new, able to survive beyond the human tendency to destroy it.”

Beau Carey [American, 2012 Expedition]

Through their own respective lenses, these artists are aiming to reveal this foreign world in a whole new way. 

*partially sourced @