Though science might take front and centre stage quite often in Svalbard, art certainly plays some interesting roles up here. There are long-standing artists residency programmes (for both Longyearbyen and Ny Alesund) and expedition trips (like The Arctic Circle or Cape Farewell) specifically for artists and art-science collaborations, which have attracted many to these shores, searching for meaning, inspiration, difference, peace, ways to communicate climate change...other things I'm sure. I've found inspiration and ideas from talking with some of them myself. Now art has been ramped up a step in Longyearbyen...
At the end of August I attended the Royal Geographic Society (with IBG)'s annual conference in London. In preparation for, during and after the event I did a fair amount of reflecting on what the purpose of taking part in conferences are. I think it's fair to say that academics put a fair amount of time into deciding which conferences to go to, which sessions to apply to contribute to, what we should actually say when we get there and then what to do with it afterwards, so I thought I'd share a few thoughts on that sort of thing before the moment passes.
We log in via the visitors book, pass the security guy, don hard hats with the Statsbygg logo (the state construction arm of the Norwegian government) and file into the dank corridor (which must be the bit outside the mountain) and through the second metal door that has been unlocked for us. We descend as we walk down the rounded tunnel, which feels like a pedestrianised version of road tunnels which go through mountains. Melt water steadily runs down the sides of the corrugations....
I've had a day focussed on tourism today, one way or another. It's actually 'low season' at the moment, between the busy snow-scooter, skiing - filled March and April and the summer season proper, although there are still visitors about here and there. So, like the tourist operators and service providers, I have been gearing up for the next round coming in...There are actually quite good statistics on what kind of people come from where for Svalbard, but not so much qualitative information on why they come and what they take away from their visit. So I am going to attempt to get a bit of an insight into value in Svalbard from this perspective as well, and am part-way to setting up a survey system. In fact, the most observant of you will perhaps notice there is a link to it at the top of this very website as well as the posters and forms I'm slowly getting around the town with. I say attempt as I really don't know what kind of response, if any, I will get from this approach, but sometimes research is about it being worth a try, right?
This evening I was very much looking forward to going to a cultural show from the people of Barentsburg visiting Longyearbyen, but due to one of my classic dispraxia-type blunders, I managed to miss it entirely (why do evening activities start so early here?!). Very trying, but ultimate failure. So instead, I ended up reading some more about tourism, which was actually quite well-timed, as some of the chapters were calling very strongly for more research into Arctic tourism...
(For anyone not of the right age and taste in music to get the Skunk Anansie reference, this blog title needs screaming loudly and with passion!)
As mentioned last week, Environmental Protection is a big talking point in Svalbard, as is the future of coal mining here. The 'paradox' between the two, is perhaps no different to other nations calling for more international action on climate change which have not maxed out on national efforts. However, in Svalbard these factors are drawn together in stark relief visually: coal - black - bad; ice/snow - white - good (especially when not melting!). Coal mining and scientific research (especially into climate science) makes up two of the three main 'pillars' of activity here (the third being tourism), so throw in a long cultural history and attachment to mining here, energy challenges, the issue of reinforcing sovreignty rights and the desire to be an environmental flag ship, and we have a very interesting melting pot which is not as simple as it might at first appear.
Today a 3 day conference that the research base and Norwegian Ministries had organised to stimulate internation action on climate change in Ny Alesund drew to a close. After her visit to Svalbard, the UN Executive Secretary on climate change, Christiana Figeures came out of that meeting with a message to Norway and Svalbard - stop mining coal, it doesn't fit with the climate research goals and image, though from her statement she clearly understands the challenges such a move would bring, insisting on needing to pull out in a responsible, fair and planned way that could set a good example.
From my perspective, this is all about value, values and how these input into the future strategies for Svalbard. If Norway is going to continue to push hard for positive environmental action, perhaps it will no longer be able to do so without re-evaluating how it's environmental 'flagship' is run both on and offshore (I might return to Grenpeace action off the coast another time!)...
Takes one to know one, so they say. In that spirit we booked ourselves on a guided walk up a glacier and into an ice cave as an exploration into tourist mode and a bit of a day off. Of course it wasn't, but it was heaps of fun in the sun! Along the way we talked history, politics, climate change, environmental protection and, erm, popular Swedish/ Norwegian TV shows... Though the concept of paying to go for a walk in the countryside is very odd in the UK, here it makes a lot more sense to follow someone who knows the good snow from the bad, the crevasses and avalanche sites and where the best bits are. This is not countryside as we know it! It's quite understandable why many are drawn to Svalbard to access this kind of stunning surroundings and winter sport activities, either as tourists or residents, especially on a really sunny day like today! Lots to think about value-wise along the way: silence vs adrenaline, legislation vs freedom, location and data (e.g. Svalsat satelitte company), landscape, local knowledge....
From 2 -9th July I joined the KTH (Stockholm Royal Institute of Technology)/ Illinois University field course: Environment and Society in a changing Arctic on their trip to Petunia Bay (we named our camp 'Avangostad' in honor of the course leader/ benevolent dictator, Dag Avango). What an incredible and magical week this was! Coming into a group of 35 Swedish and U.S students and leaders as a stranger, to join them in their field camp in a relatively remote location in Svalbard; well, it was a leap of faith from both sides…
The next installment of icy films and TV
The Polar Bear Family and Me
So, polar bears. They have been fascinating to me from the point where they started being flag ship species and campaign motives for action on climate change (which I’ll come to shortly). However, since starting this project, they have started to haunt my dreams (nightmares) in a rather different sense, given getting eaten by one is a possibility when I head out to Svalbard! Don’t worry, I’ll be taking all the necessary pre-cautions to minimise the risks, but I think it’s good to have a healthy respect for these arctic residents, and watching this series has been useful in cultivating this.
With there being some snow around (although not much in Aberystwyth), along with a flurry (sorry!) of documentaries popping up featuring one hell of a lot of ice, I thought I’d start a little series of posts about the ones I’ve been watching.
First up: Chasing Ice
If you haven’t heard about this one, it’s a documentary about the Extreme Ice Survey, a time-lapse photography project led by James Balog. About 30 cameras were installed (no mean feat!) to take time lapses of glaciers in the Arctic. That climate change is happening, is not something I need much convincing of. One can easily point to the many many variables this visual imagery cannot take into account (despite media headlines of course of ‘irrefutable truths’ etc). Nonetheless the retreat of the glaciers these cameras record, over just a few years, is quite staggering. Yes, this was over a short time period, but for me, watching such massive chunks of ice calving off into the sea and thinking about the long term trends and predictions at the same time, made for some scary and quite emotional viewing. Which, I presume is the main point of the project: giving people something real and happening to visualise when scientists talk of sea level rise, melting ice caps.
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.