By Beth // Thursday 4 Oct // 15:34:47 // View
We are on the thirteenth day of our expedition. I have been unable to communicate until now as all has been moving both literally and metaphorically. As we make slow progress south along the barren Greenland coast it seems possible to gather together some thoughts.
Our passage to Greenland was extraordinary. A necessary exorcism out of urban life to ready us for the incredible sights we were yet to see. I had decided to read Heart of Darkness, which seemed very apposite material, a kind of double whammy of darkness out there and in my head. We zipped up, buttoned up and clipped on for ice watch as we encountered lumpy unpredictable seas, variable cold winds and small bombs of ice, a pretty scary ice symphony played out against the hull. I didn’t feel that my organs were my own with my body in perpetual motion. My faculties had all been removed by the constant movement and life on a 45-degree angle. Sleep deprivation had robbed me of my mental measuring stick which led to hallucinations and feeling like I was slowly losing my mind. I was unable to think and oscillated between losing it and laughing at it. Finally when we anchored at the Greenland coast and everyone rang various parts of the world to touch base, there was much needed merriment, a good night with lots of mirth.
Our crew, Gert, Renska, Barbera and Anna have been sterling and looked after us with such patience. They work so hard to make sure all runs smoothly. Quite apart from contending with force nine gales, reeling ships and swinging sails, there is also the rewiring of circuits and fixing of loos, cooking, cleaning and washing up. It is tireless, cyclical work.
My companions are a really wonderful group of individuals. In the face of seasickness and some really frightening moments humour and sensitivity prevailed. Liam in his full-length olive thermal undies looking a little Buck Rogers and scaring the hell of out of Dallas on deck will be an everlasting memory. We barely know each other yet within two days of meeting
were throwing up in front of each other in all but our underwear!
We are passing through almost unbelievable landscape; it is awful in the true sense of the word. In the sunshine it does feel a little Disney, the icebergs are almost erotic, we name them and they become porn stars for a minute, as they impress the celluloid.
The arctic is the most sensitive place on the planet to measure climate change as it is made largely of ice. As we started our voyage out of Svalbard we stopped in a moraine strewn Fjord which should have been covered in ice and snow. The mountains newly exposed by the melt ironically looked like rusting wrecks. The ice-burgs that surround the ship carcasses of their former glory. We endured nine days at sea as the ice had locked and shut Greenland. It shouldn’t be here now, it should be much further north. Our turbulent journey around the ice to get into Greenland in itself a chilling illustration of the advance of climate change.
I am here it make a film, the end part of a trilogy of musical films that explore ideas around nationality by making notional anthems that are both aural and visual. Migration due to climate change has already begun and will continue to accelerate. I wanted to conclude my exploration of these ideas in the arctic, a place without borders, a kind of no mans land or is it? I can see from the amount of cameras on the boat that we are rapacious in our appetite for the Arctic, as am I. I realised as I am filming the sublime that I am kind of shooting an ad. The Arctic has become a product and more so as it is increasingly contested site.
On board I find a book “The place names of Svalbard”. Svalbard (the furthest point north with human occupancy) comprises of all the islands and groups of islands of which Norway acquired sovereignty by treaty in 1920. Three hundred years of exploration (from all over the word) and maps drawn under harsh conditions in many different languages resulted in many places having more than one name. This leads to utter confusion. The introduction goes on to explain, ” We had no model to work with. For no other country in the world has been the area of operation of so many nations, and no other country has been so frequently visited and thus exploited and has remained a no mans land during such a long era as Svalbard. Therefore no legitimate authority ever took care of the place names.” The purpose of the book was to establish the final place names of the region. They could be anything from the name of the person that discovered the place, to names of sentiment, or names associated with the local environment.
It strikes me as we roll on towards oblivion with nations claming land under the ice and politicians performing PR stunts on islands in dispute that we too have no model to work from. One thing is for sure that we will have to find a common language from which to tackle the most important issue of our time. Staking claims on “land” is futile in the face of a dramatically changing weather system.
As I watch the scientists take the temperature of the Gulf Stream with surprising and shocking results I am aware that in the same moment that I am both experiencing the absolute beauty of this region and witnessing it disassemble before my eyes.