Cape Farewell

· culture ·

I watched a great documentary last week called 'Art from the Arctic' on BBC FOUR a week ago or so, which was about the Cape Farewell expeditions to the Arctic. This is a very laudable effort to bring together artists, scientists and educators to create work that will inform the public about the dangers of global warming. In the programme, they followed the latest voyage of the lovely Dutch schooner 'The Noorderlicht' to Svalbard.

It was fascinating to see how the artists (including visual and sound artists, a choreographer, a novelist, photographers and an architect) responded to their environment at Svalbard. Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey created some lovely playful sculptures out of ice, trying to make a camera with an ice lens, and another huge ice lens that could burn paper (it didn't, in the end, but was very beautiful). Antony Gormley and the architect Peter Clegg made a triptych of sculptures based on the volume of carbon consumed over the average person's lifetime. There was a coffin-like crypt, a standing box and a cave, all made from blocks of compacted snow like an igloo.

Max Eastley works with kinetic sound, and made some amazing sound sculptures from hollow, flute-like pipes, strings and so on, that made really eerie sounds in the wind. David Buckland (the organiser of the expedition) made a rather moving piece in which the image of a naked, pregnant woman walking was projected on to a bank of fog. It was ghostly and the woman's image looked so fragile and vulnerable in that freezing landscape, and yet also paradoxically strong.

Michéle Noach (who describes herself as an 'artoonist' as far as I remember) made an interesting comment while they were watching big chunks fall off a glacier. She said that she found it interesting that they were all here to try to inform people about global warming, and thereby perhaps do something about it, and yet when they were watching the glacier, they couldn't help cheering every time a big chunk of ice fell dramatically into the sea. I didn't catch her exact words, but her point was that the whole problem of humans was more or less encapsulated in that one observation: we are intelligent enough to grasp the fact that we are damaging the Earth, but we just can't help poking things out of curiosity to see what will happen.