An Arctic Circle Residency aboard the Antigua

artsnb Featured Artist Series – Written by Julie Forgues

In 2016, backed by an artsnb grant, I had the opportunity to participate in the Arctic Circle Residency Summer Solstice Program on board the tall ship Antigua that sailed for 16 days through the waters of the archipelago of Svalbard. Being in the Arctic while conducting visual research transformed who I was/am as an artist. The Arctic alters you to the core, as a person, as an artist! This summer, I had the opportunity to float, once again, on these waters after 7 years, and once again, with the support of artsnb and the Sheila Hugh Mackay Foundation. 

The main question that kept arising from other artists while on the ship was “why did you come back?”

After my first solstice expedition in 2016, when I was back in Moncton, I had this penetrating feeling that I had left a part of me on/in Svalbard. This is the reason I reapplied for this exceptional residency: to retake this part of me that I had left behind, there in the skies, the waves, the shores, the land of this part of the Arctic. The ruggedness and softness of the terrain were intertwined and floating …in waiting …not to be touched. I needed to go back. I needed to find what I had left in waiting.

For my first expedition in 2016, I had visually rendered with photographic images the wide spaces of Spitzbergen into places, and worked within their states of in-betweens. These areas were formed by the guards when establishing a triangle (or a square) on each landing, where we, the artists, would all individually be engaging in a creative act in “our place”. These where ephemeral in-betweens that would disappear as quickly as they were formed as we left back to Antigua, but they all continued living within our artworks.

Between a vessel and a circle : landing 03, 2016

For the June 2023 expedition, my plan was to create a visual comparison in the style of survey photographers of “what was” and “what is”. I therefore brought with me fifty silver gelatin prints from my 2016 collection to compare, once on landings, the changes (or not) of this “pristine” land. These were developed but not fixed as the plan was to re-expose them once in the Arctic under the 24h daylight and fix them once back home. However, we sailed to only one of the 2016 landings as the packed ice was too close to the northern shores where we had spent most of your expedition 7 years prior.

Row 01 – 2023 expedition

Row 02 – silver gelatine 2016 expedition images (developed but not fixed) exposed to the elements of the Arctic (rain, sleet, snow and daylight) and fixed upon return to Moncton.

Row 03 –2016 images (developed and fixed) during the 2023 expedition at Tiwayrebukta

After that one landing, I was delighted and lost!

Delighted because I could at least visually compare one specific area like I had planned. And there, sadly, one can notice a great change in the glaciers and land after only 7 years.

Lost because this project that I had so carefully planned had come to an end only after one landing. I was therefore lost in the preconceived thoughts that I had organized so strategically for this 2023 expedition.

How was I now supposed to address climate changes in the Arctic circle?

As we navigated from one glacier to another in an area of Svalbard that has yet to be charted, I quickly realized that my collection of images I had so carefully constructed could undoubtedly be re-exposed no matter where I was in this archipelago since what I was trying to foster with this artistic process, was to bring forward into the artistic realm the great importance of communicating visually drastic changes to/in the Arctic. As only a small number of people get to see, breathe, and feel the changes in the Arctic, the great value is to generate a conversation about the extensive impacts these changes have on all of us, no matter where we live, using art as a platform.

[work in progress], Arctic Circle 2023, June 2023

All of my images were therefore re-exposed by the Arctic daylight in different parts of the southern and eastern coasts of Spitzbergen with the subtle elements that are being altered by our selfish behaviors: the fauna, the warming waters, the melting glaciers, the weather changes, the changing ice floes, etc. With this work, I hope to generate the knowledge that our behavior elsewhere in the world, can have great impact on the smallest fundamental elements found in the Arctic.

[work in progress], Arctic Circle 2023, June 2023

These images are now physical ghostly icons of the past and present to examinate our future. The smallest impact on the arctic’s fragile system will come back to haunt us if we don’t take great care of it. Now is not the time to grieve; now is the time to change so that we will never have to grieve.

[work in progress], Arctic Circle 2023, June 2023

Living in Moncton, New-Brunswick, Julie Forgues obtained her BFA at Universitéde Moncton in 1995 and her MFA Studio –photography at Concordia University in 1999. 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.

Julie has shown her work in solo and in group shows, nationally and internationally. She has also participated in numerous artist residency programs in China, Ireland, Japan and the Arctic. She was an artist resident 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.

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