High Arctic: Future Visions of a Receding World, 2011 (past event)

In July 2011 the National Maritime Museum, in collaboration with United Visual Artists (UVA) and Cape Farewell, presented the High Arctic exhibition.

This exhibition has now closed

In July 2011 the National Maritime Museum, in collaboration with United Visual Artists (UVA) and Cape Farewell, presented High Arctic. It was the first exhibition in the Museum’s new Sammy Ofer Wing, a major capital project which enables the organisation to present its exhibitions in an entirely new way.

About the High Arctic exhibition

It’s 2100 AD and the Arctic landscape we once took for granted has changed forever. How will we choose to remember our Arctic past? Is it possible to travel somewhere that no longer exists? Set in one of many possible futures, High Arctic conveyed the scale, beauty and fragility of our unique Arctic environment through an immersive installation that filled the entire 820m2 gallery space. Designed to be a future vision of a receding world, it encouraged us to question our relationship with the world around us.

Matt Clark's sail to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard

In September 2010, UVA’s Matt Clark travelled with the arts and climate science foundation Cape Farewell to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, which lies between mainland Norway and the North Pole. Sailing aboard The Noorderlicht, a 100-year old Dutch schooner, Matt’s trip brought him into contact with scientists, poets, musicians and polar bears. He saw vast tundra, monochromatic rainbows and huge chunks of ice falling from calving glaciers. Conceived as a response to the expedition, High Arctic used a combination of sound, light and sculptural forms to create an abstracted arctic landscape for visitors to explore.

A truly immersive exhibition

An exhibition with no touchscreens, no static photographs and no panels with text, instead High Arctic was a genuinely immersive, responsive environment. Ultraviolet torches unlocked hidden elements, constantly shifting patterns of graphics and text that reacted to visitors approaching; an archipelago of thousands of columns filled the gallery space, each representing a real glacier in Svalbard; an artificial horizon bordered the gallery as a seamless canvas of light, shifting in intensity and colour. A Max Eastley and Henrik Ekeus-designed generative soundscape flowed through the gallery, weaving in the voices of arctic explorers across the centuries as well as the poetry of Nick Drake, who travelled with Matt to Svalbard.

High Arctic was the first time UVA had taken on a commission of this size and scale in the UK, and was the first time the NMM has showcased a work of this kind. UVA are an award-winning art and design practice who work at the intersection of sculpture, architecture, live performance, moving image and digital installation; with expertise in fine art, architecture, communication design, moving image, computer science and engineering. UVA’s work has been exhibited at institutions including the V&A, the Royal Academy of Art, the Southbank Centre, the Wellcome Collection, Opera North Leeds, Durham Cathedral and The British Library. Cape Farewell’s aim is to inspire a cultural response to the climate challenge and engage artists as catalysts to provoke a cultural shift towards sustainable society. Other artists that have been engaged in the Cape Farewell programme include Antony Gormley, Jarvis Cocker and Ian McEwan – whose recent novel Solar was inspired by the 2005 Cape Farewell Arctic expedition.

Watch the High Arctic film by United Visual Artists

High Arctic from United Visual Artists on Vimeo.

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