Entries in Donald Fortescue (2)

Monday
Aug182014

Kayaking the Arctic

On my last day in Longyearbyen, in the Arctic, I wanted to kayak. In a kayak you sit close to the water, and I hoped to feel more inside of this landscape that we had been floating through on a sailboat for the past two weeks.  But also, at home in the Hudson Valley I kayak every day, so to be in a little boat on the water for me is to feel home.

In 1896 Nansen with his traveling companion Johansen end their three year expedition in the Arctic crossing open water in kayaks made of skins stretched over a wooden frame. The kayaks were boxy and stable and could carry a large load. At one point, walrus surround their boats, and a walrus “shot up beside [Nansen], threw itself onto the edge of the kayak, took hold farther over the deck with one fore-flipper and, as it tried to upset [him], aimed a blow at the kayak with its tusks.” At another point, a walrus punches a hole through his boat.

 

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Thursday
Jul102014

Life on Board

Antigua in the iceI did not grow up around boats or water. I have never lived on a ship. But I have read a lot of narratives of ship life, of exploration. No matter how much I have read, I was not ready for the round porthole that opened onto my top bunk bed, letting in the relentless northern sun. I could not have anticipated the sense that living on a ship must be like joining a cult, all of us koolaided out on the vast and incomprehensible landscape. I could not have hoped for cake—cake!—every day at four to go with the constant cups of tea and coffee.

This trip on the Barkentine ship Antigua was not exactly a cruise, and not exactly an expedition, and not exactly an artist’s residency. It was a bunch of creative people—sculptors and painters and writers and sound artists—put on ship to sail north along the coast of Spitsbergen and create something: a painting, some music, a moment on the ice, an essay. We were sort of spoiled and often yelled at (who didn’t sign back in after going on shore? Who wore sandy shoes on deck? Who left their life vest on deck?).

I loved my traveling companions for all they showed me. I saw the land differently through the photos of the sun taken by Irish physicist Tom McCormack, or the sewn images of the Arctic Skua made by Australian artist Suzi Lyon, or the sound recordings of Donald Fortescue. In the evenings I read the comic books of Ursula Murray Husted and had conversations about sadness and shyness with the performance sculptor, Jess Perlitz. Of course I was focused on birds, and enjoyed the moment of separating out the Iceland from the Glaucous Gull with David Heymann, the architect from Texas who had designed George Bush’s house. This was all far from the experiences of my polar explorers.

 

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