On top of the world
Monday, 2nd March, 2020
By Callum Marshall
The beauty of the Arctic, and the freedom one experiences while exploring it, is being highlighted in a new exhibition at the Regional Art Gallery.
Titled ‘Adrift’, the exhibition comprises a collection of photographic portraits, landscapes and still lives that Melbourne-based artist Jesse Boyd-Reid took while traversing a rocky archipelago in the high Arctic.
His visit was part a residency program run by a not-for-profit organisation towards the end of last year, a program which artists and scientists can apply for by proposing a project they wish to complete whilst up there.
“We went to Svalbard, which is a little rocky archipelago between Norway and the North Pole,” said Mr Boyd-Reid.
“We spent about three-and-a-half weeks there on a boat, on a traditional Dutch Barquentine sailing vessel.
“And we spent a little bit of time on either side of Longyearbyen, which is the biggest settlement in Svalbard.
“I made this body of work, which is an investigation into life in one of the most remote communities in the world.
“Essentially it’s a documentation of the landscape and the people inhabiting the landscape.
“Looking at the way people shape the landscape that they live in and, in turn, are shaped by the way the landscape is.”
Once he finally got to the Arctic area, all his previous ideas about what to pursue artistically had changed.
“I went in a little bit blind,” he said. “I’d only been to the snow once in my life. I had no idea what it was actually going to be like.
“So then I got there and all my ideas changed. But I ended up with this body of work that I was quite happy with.”
He said a lot of it revolved around swimming.
“We’d do these big hikes when we would make landings, and at the end of the hike, and even though it was minus 10 degrees or minus 20 degrees, you’d be so hot because you’d have all your arctic gear on.
“So everyone would strip off and we would just run into the water really quickly and have this kind of invigorating life-changing swim.
“And after a week of doing that I thought I’d like to centre my project on that moment because it had a sense of rebirth and was almost a spiritual experience, having this swim in this incredible landscape.
“And that was also coupled with the fact that we had these amazing guides that you can see in the photos who were watching us the whole time, making sure we were safe from polar bears and walruses and everything.
“It was this amazing experience of being completely free and in a landscape that is so pristine and untouched.”
The experience was “mind-blowing”, he added, and made the task of effectively capturing the landscape’s beauty a difficult one.
“The first thing I noticed was that it rendered any sort of attempt to make art about it redundant because it’s already so perfect,” said Mr Boyd-Reid.
“You take out your camera and you think ‘what’s the point in even attempting to depict something that has such a heightened level of beauty and natural perfection?’”
He hoped people could see the parallels between the two landscapes of Broken Hill and the high Artic as well.
“That was something that I’ve been thinking about post the trip,” he said.
“They are both these incredible mining towns that are essentially desert towns, (one) an Arctic desert but still a desert landscape.
“Both built on the back of mining and with these really interesting histories that the more I learnt about the more similarities I could see.”