2021_Public Seminar: Mediating the Arctic and the North

On 28 and 29 January WONA collaborated with the Department of Modern Art History, Humboldt University Berlin on a digital workshop entitled Mediating the Arctic and the North. Contexts, Agents, Distribution on a digital workshop/seminar with presentations on current research, artist projects and following discussions.

The workshop was conceptualised and organised by Dr. Linn Burchert, Humboldt University and Stephanie von Spreter, WONA/UiT. It was supported by Prof. Dr. Marie-Theres Federhofer, Henrik Steffens Professor, Department of Northern European Studies, Humboldt University).

Participants: Linn Burchert, Elisaveta Dvorakk, Hanna Horsberg Hansen, Elin Haugdal, Ingeborg Høvik, Stephanie von Spreter, Hanne Hammer Stien, Maike Teubner, Mette Tronvoll.

Moderators: Eva Ehninger, Anne Hemkendreis, Antje Kempe, Stephanie von Spreter, Hanne Hammer Stien

For centuries, the “Arctic” and the “North” have served as projection screens for ‘Western’ imaginations. Within its long history of exploration and exploitation, the Arctic was constructed as white, sublime and untouched, as well as dark, frozen and terrifying. Particularly with the onset of the industrial revolution, the development of modern science and heightened imperialist expansion, the Arctic was not exempt from becoming a colonized territory. Seen as largely uncharted from a Western perspective, it became a playground for heroic deeds and scientific endeavors, resource exploitation and the exertion of political influences. Visual and literary representations played no minor role in constructing an image of the Arctic as one of the last places on earth to be explored and scientifically examined, while simultaneously advocating the frozen North as a wild, unknown and non-civilized territory. Contemporaneous colonial and racial discourses fed well into expansionist and interestdriven politics, with visual imagery making a significant contribution to justifying the colonization and exploitation of land and of its indigenous peoples. Nowadays, in the face of global warming, the Arctic has moved into the center of scientific, socio-political and economic discussions yet again, and has— at the same time—given rise to an increased production and distribution of scientific, popular and artistic images in the media and in the arts. The workshop’s aim was to shed light on the persistence and deconstruction of stereotypical representations of the “Arctic” and the “North” with a focus on two distinctive periods: Firstly, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, often characterized as the grand era of Polar exploration. Secondly our contemporary present, in which the Arctic not only serves as a magnifying glass for the (visual) consequences of climate change, political and economic interests, but also demands reflection on the historical and contemporary violations of indigenous rights and territories deriving from colonial expansion. While awareness and reconciliation are important elements in such a reflection, it is crucial to see the region’s indigenous inhabitants—human and non-human—as equal agents. One of the seminar’s focuses will be on visual representation via photography. As a typical medium of choice it serves the representation of the Arctic according to various purposes: as a (scientific) document, as a political instrument and as an artistic medium. It investigates the specific conditions of images in history and the present, both technically and ideologically: One key aspect here is the creation and utilisation of expedition and documentary photography since the late 19th century up until today. The material is critically looked upon by questioning who represents how, whom and what, when, and to what ends. Which goals, for instance, did documentary photography serve in nation-building discourses of the early 20th century, who were the agents, and where were these particular images distributed? Other contributions shed light on contemporary, artistic multi- and various media approaches on and from the Arctic. In this context the question arises as to how different media confirm, reflect or subvert specific stereotypes and discourses connected to the Arctic and the North. Here it will be vital to reflect on discourses connected to the indigenous populations of the North themselves and discuss their agency, or the lack thereof. The specific contexts of creation, publication, and mediation of various visual media dealing with and emerging from the Arctic and the North are emphasized in order to stress the institutional and contextual conditions of images and their mediation.

Sessions were divided into the following topics: Place, Identity and Affect in Photography, Photography and Extraction, Negotiating Past and Present, Contemporary Exhibition Politics and a singular session with the artist Mette Tronvoll.