It has always been a dream of mine to visit the “end of the world”, where frigid temperatures lift the spirits into a hue of vapors, in the faraway land of the North, where ice is larger than buildings, where the view has no end. This expedition, the great voyage, took place in June 2015 in the archipelago of Svalbard as part of The Arctic Residency Program along with 26 other artists.
I gear up for the occasion and Baffin© sponsors me for a pair of warm arctic boots. As the date gets closer, I realize more and more that I’m going to the Arctic, and will be on a sailboat for the entire residency, a type of transportation that I have never been on for more than a couple of hours. Nervous, anxious, excited, this residency is just unreal!
I head to Longyearbyen, Norway and upon arrival at the city’s airport, (which is quite small for the most northern city in the world), I meet several fellow residents as we all are easily spotted in the crowd of locals. The day before our departure, Sarah, the top guide, a Belgium artist, presents the rules of being at sea in the Arctic and talks dearly of our great lady: the Antigua – the vessel that we finally get to meet on June 13th. We are all jittery with anticipation. We step onto this lovely creature that will become our home during the days to come. After the introductions of the Captain, his mates, the crew, (German and Dutch), we finally float away. We all are in awe of the beauty of what surrounds us! The water is calm as the Antigua cuts its way through it. Then we all meet in the “common/dining room”. As Sarah presents the three other “guards”, Sally, Kristin and Mari-Kristin, she explains that when landing, they go out first as danger might be lurking around: danger being polar bears! Once they have identified that no danger is lurking, they will form a triangle that we cannot exit in any circumstance. And then it hits me, Sarah has just defined my work!
When applying for this residency, I had proposed to explore different layers of my ongoing research in the understanding of in-betweens: expanding the meaning of “spaces” and “places” by the means of photography in an artistic context. By the end of the expedition, my plan was to alter “spaces” into “places” by their cultural and artistic re/construction in the arctic. But questions should be answered such as: how does one create a place in the arctic where no one lives? Is it possible to create places that physically exist for only a few hours, or even minutes? Sarah had just answered these questions in the very first few moments of the expedition: By forming a triangle, the guards were forming our place where we would all work individually “creating” something “culturally valuable”: art.
That first day, as we are sailing well into the night, we all stay on deck very late, as if not to miss a single drop of this glacial water that looks so unforgiving and so friendly at the same time. Night comes but does not fall, as we are nearing summer solstice. This is partly why we are having so much difficulty going into our rooms to sleep, as when it is light all day long, everything can be seen 24h a day …nothing is hidden by darkness! I finally succumb, and let myself be rocked to sleep by the movement of the boat till morning arrives and we experience our first landing.
Once on land, the perimeter is formed and off we go conducting our own creative processes for a period of 2 to 3 hours. It is quite interesting to see everyone pushing forth in this new type of environment with his/her own eyes, thoughts, equipment. I, for my part, start walking towards Kristin, one of the guards. We’ll come to notice that each guide, like us, has her own way of living/knowing/practicing in the land. As I come closer to her, another part of my work comes to life: these women, these strong women, are an integral part of our “place” within this arctic sphere. I immediately choose to capture every one of them seen from the back as they look toward the land every time we do our “landing”.
Therefore, this very first image defines the last key element of my work.
This work, where process meets practice and practice meets process is defined as so:
- I, the artist, capture the guard that forms the triangle (or square, depending on the sites) looking towards the land.
- I’m in the place, she is the fluctuating boundary between place and space; she is looking towards space.
- I take a color image of her back looking towards the space.
- This space could also become place.
- I step up to her lieu, at the boundary, at an edge, at an in-between. I capture the space, in color and on silver halides.
- Then, I take a GPS reading of her location knowing very well that one step to the right or to the left will change the place and space …therefore, she becomes the in-between.
- Both place and space are changing each time she moves.
I trek on slowly, on uneven terrain, from one guard to the other. This first day sets the tone for the rest of the expedition, at least for me and my work, as I follow the same pattern day after day. As time goes by, it’s interesting to see how each guide turns automatically around to show their back when I arrive near them.
I also find quite interesting that walking the whole terrain each time I step out on landing becomes a reflective period, inwardly and outwardly. I think of my work while walking, seeing each artist “living” in the place: 27 individuals each separately working towards an accumulation of ideas for the finality of an art piece, a cultural idea of value. Hence, all these places have 27 different layers of value being built while physically in them, and they will also live on as places within the works themselves in the future.
Also, and evidently, as I trek from one guard to the other, one point of boundary to the other, I capture different elements that catch my gaze, not for my work per se, but rather as a “tourist” in the land that I will probably never see ever again. I want to capture everything. I find that every image I take will leave an incredible impression on my memories of these surroundings. But, I also know that I must look rather than constantly capture. I need to feel instead of remember by an image.
And, on June 27th, we float back to Longyearbyen …with our hearts left in the sea, in the cold waters of the arctic.
Originally from Ontario, now living in New-Brunswick, Julie Forgues obtained her BFA at Université de Moncton in 1995 and her MFA Studio – photography at Concordia University in 1999. Between 2002 and 2005, she finished her schooling and continued her research as part of the Doctorat en Études et Pratiques des Arts at l’UQÀM. She has been a faculty member of the Department des arts visuels of Université de Moncton since 2000 as a photography professor and is the head of department since July 2016. She has shown solo 2014 at the Galerie Colline in Edmundston NB and in 2005 at Galerie d’art Louise-et-Reuben-Cohen in Moncton. Her work has been exhibited in group shows such as at Galerie d’art Louise-et-Reuben-Cohen in Moncton, at the Beaverbrook Gallery in Fredericton. She has also participated in numerous artist residency programs in China, Japan and the Arctic. Throughout the years, she has also show work nationally in Ontario, Québec, NB, and internationally China and Japan. Julie will be participating in an artist residency program at the renown Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai from August 2017 to February 2018. She considers her work as a visual in-between a space and a place.