Swedish artist to chart Arctic expedition in clay

Swedish artist to chart Arctic expedition in clay
A Swedish ice-breaker is heading to the chilly waters off Greenland last week, equipped with maps, charts - and a container full of clay, courtesy of a Stockholm-based ceramics artist, contributor Katherine Dunn reports.

The clay comes courtesy of Linda Karlsson, a Stockholm-based clay and ceramics artist who will accompany the Danish-Swedish EAGER (East Greenland Ridge) 2011 expedition.

Artists were a fixture on the classic expeditions of the 1700s, tasked with recording the highlights and discoveries of the journey.

The Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, one of the organisers of the expedition, brought back the tradition in 1980. But now, freed from recording the journey for posterity’s sake, the artists come from a wide range of disciplines.

“This is the first time in the artist program we have this kind of artist,” says Eva Grönland, head of communications at the Secretariat.

The extra crew member, she explains, brings diversity to the crew, reaches out to the public, and sees the Arctic a different way.

“It’s so exciting to see how we all on an expedition have our different stories to tell.”

For Karlsson, who said she has long dreamed of going to Greenland and Svalbard, this will be her first trip to the Arctic.

She applied for the trip with a proposal to create two cups and saucers a day, stamped with the longitude and latitude where they were made.

Inspired by traditional Japanese tea sets with undulating rims, she said the cups will reflect the landscape and life on the ship. They’ll be hand formed in porcelain and shipped back to Stockholm, unfired.

She also plans to create clay miniatures inspired by the trip.

“In my dreams, I’m just working all the time, hardly sleeping for four weeks… creating masterpieces every day,” she explains, sitting in her sun-lit studio in Stockholm.

Recently returned from visiting the expedition’s icebreaker, Oden, Karlsson saw her temporary studio for the first time – a shipping container with bright yellow walls and a sea view.

The setting should suit the graduate of Stockholm’s University College of Arts, Crafts and Design (Konstfack), whose work evokes child-like images and worlds of fantasy and escape.

In one of her exhibitions, titled “This is planet earth”, clay-fired aliens presented images from our planet both mundane and absurd.

In her studio, ceramic cups jostle for space with clay skulls and salt and pepper shakers shaped like polar bears. It’s this diversity that makes clay an unlikely fit for the expedition.

“Clay itself is really magical,” she says.

“You can do whatever you want, big sculpture or small sculpture, tablewear, colours, patterns. It’s filled with possibilities.”

This diversity is a requirement on a trip where few things are certain – including how much ice they will see.

Ville Lenkkeri, a Finnish photographer based in Stockholm, was on the Oden icebreaker over 2009 and 2010, on an expedition near Antarctica and the clement weather forced him to revise his original theme.

“It was about man meeting the great elements – the sea, the ice,” he recalls.

But with little ice to see, he found himself instead entranced by an obscure island labeled “ED” – “existence doubtful”, and indigenous culture on the very southern tip of Chile, an area which he has been back to visit since.

The photographs will form a book, which he hopes will be released next year.

But the expedition offers a rare opportunity for an artist to go where few are able. For Karlsson, this will mean a chance to sculpt far above the Arctic Circle, and, she hopes, a chance to see those polar bear salt and pepper shakers in reality.

The EAGER 2011 expedition itself is a joint Danish-Swedish expedition, and will criss-cross a patch of sea off the coast of north-eastern Greenland, mapping the ocean floor as part of the Danish Continental Shelf Project.

The Continental Shelf Project aims to map Denmark’s territorial claims in the Arctic, which will be submitted to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas in 2014.

A copy of the Danish Arctic Strategy, leaked to Danish newspaper Information in May, stated that Denmark’s claim will include the North Pole.

Rapidly melting ice in the far north means resource extraction, including oil and gas, and increased shipping are on the rise – along with territorial claims.

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