"Ruins challenge us to make sense of them, as they frame emptiness and dramatize the evanescence of meaning...we need to make them speak and militate for our theories" Schönle, A. (2006 p. 652)
Whilst the fascination with ruins in academia and beyond can be questioned for it's potential for nostalgic views on troubled pasts through the attractive aesthetics of urban decay, or 'ruin porn', there are still important stories, experiences and lessons to be learned from such sites (DeSilvey and Edensor 2013)....
I haven't said much about the landscape round town for some time. To be honest, for a while I got busy and less attentive after the excitement of the ever changing ice-snow situation in the melt a month or so ago. Also, I have felt more and more weird walking round with a camera given the increased number of tourists around, and my emerging identity as some sort of 'non-tourist'. Well, the wheel keeps turning and though it was a bit grey for a while, summer and plants have to act fast around here. Now, there are flowers everywhere. And grass, not just the straggly yellow stuff that was around before, actual green grass :) oh, and some moss. Seems I won't get complete 'landscape shock' when I get home afterall. So I went out especially for you this cloudy evening and tried to look as casual and local as possible with my camera (probably a fail on that count!)...
I've been following the dicussions in the local paper on the changes to the built environment in Barentsburg over the last few months. Having seen the stark contrasts between old and new last year, I could see where these debates were coming from and where the concerns and different view points on cultural heritage value, decent living conditions, and symbolic image projection met, physically on the streets of the town. I wasn't quite prepared for the level of change I saw between last year and this though. ...
'Pyramiden has captured a part of my heart - so many secrets, stories, such beauty... Diolch yn fawr!' Samantha Saville, Aberystwyth, Wales, UK.
The guest book at The Tulip Hotel, Pyramiden, in which I attempted to sum up the impossible, has entries from 1987 up to 2000 (I guess some tourists found it after the settlement closed in 1998) and then resumes again in 2014.
Last year I visited the town as part of the fieldtrip visit to Petunia bay and discussed a key text on Pyramiden. For this trip, spending a couple of nights at the hotel and wandering the streets, hills and through the buildings of this Soviet-time settlement,sometimes alone, has been another quite magical experience. Perhaps that its history is so recent, yet seems so distant and another world away from the one I was growing up in is what makes it so very intriguing. That you can glimpse the different layers of development, inhabitants and activities in the peeling layers of the disintegrating structures and their contents at every turn had my imagination firing on overdrive.
Out goes the snow, in come the birds! It seems more and more geese, ducks, gulls and other varieties arrive daily at the moment. I am not much of a bird watcher, but wildlife here seems especially interesting, partly because it is different from home, but also because although it is relatively sparse in comparison, there is a lot more of it than one might expect from an 'arctic desert' environment. I wake up to bird song from what I think is the 'snow bunting', the only song bird of Svalbard. It really is amazing how much has changed over the last two weeks: gone are the snow-packed scooter tracks and ice-laded paths in town, replaced in part by tundra and meltwater - ideal for ducks and geese it seems! So a great discovery today, it's not only a handful of researchers, students and tourists that make the journey from West Wales to Svalbard ...
Quite a bit of the week's discussions have been around cultural heritage, how that is defined, protected and managed in Svalbard. Time with my trusty field assistant is running out, so we went on an excursion to go and experience some local cultural heritage...or did we? Gruve (mine) 5 was built from 1957 and extracted coal from 1959 to 1971. All artefacts on Svalbard before 1946 are protected as cultural heritage within the Environmental Protection Act, as well as other newer things that are deemed significant or interesting enough. It seems Gruve 5 is heritage enough not to be pulled down as a blight on the landscape, but it doesn't come under the governor's wing for priorty protection either (which after going through a number of official documents and web searches is as close as I can come to being sure of it's status!). We found it incredibly interesting to imagine how such a structure was built, operated and what working conditions were like there. As well as observing what was taken away for use elsewhere and what was not. Just how valuable is that experience though, and how do you compare that to others elsewhere and by other people...?
It was only a few days ago I posted about ice and snow melting, but I'm going to do it again! It's happening really quickly now, snow men there one day, gone the next. Channels of water appearing under, over and cutting through ice. The slabs of snow cleared at the side of the road which looked pretty huge a week ago are now looking dirty and diminished. Everyone is watching the ice conditions closely, monitoring whether to chance another snow scooter trip and there is a sort of mourning of the ice as those opportunities for adventures melt away with it. We are stepping gingerly towards the few weeks between times of spring and summer seasons...
It is only a matter of time before Svalbard moves into full summer mode and the snow cover receeds. The 'big melt' is coming, in fact it might have started today with temperatures edging over the zero degree mark, (though I am holding out for more snow and re-freeze next week :)). Today we saw glimpses of what is to come as the normally treacherous ice patches we were becoming used to negoiating have melted to slush over the course of the day. Puddles are appearing, and the dagger-like icicles which were here at the start of the week are dripping away very rapidly. The value of snow and ice in and to Svalbard (as a place, to people and other species here) is one thing that I'm hoping to learn and think more about while I'm here...
Just before attending this event  I remember questioning why I was going. Sure it sounded interesting, but I had umpteen assignments, marking, supervisions, all sorts that were looming, should I really be going to a conference that I’m not presenting at? Well, I’m really glad I did, it was an inspiring day full of interesting people and perspectives, lively cross-disciplinary discussions and I have to say I learnt a lot about what I need to learn more about! I won’t mention all the speakers, but here is a round up of the discussions and questions that sparked particular interest for me.
Thinking about temporality
The centre’s director, Graham Dawson got the day off to a good start by getting my brain ticking over the ways in which understandings of the past can be useful, not just interesting. Apparently this quote’s famous, but it was a first hearing for me: ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’ L. P Hartley: The Go Between (1953) – into which he interjected that the same could be said of the future. But how to do we ‘go’ to the past or future? These are key ponderances for me as I am thinking through the different temporalities my proposed case study sites invoke. Indeed climate change as an entity has time woven into it in every strand.