Inside Oxbow

Alex & Megan's Arctic Journey

09/19/19

This residency brings together a wide variety of people who are interested in and concerned over some of the most pressing issues of our time, namely, climate change and the treatment of earthly resources. The Residency strives to "support the creation and exhibition of new and pioneering work, and aims to empower the creative individual while fostering the collaborative." Now in its 11th year, the Residency provides a unique meeting place for people working in these fields.

Having known of the residency for several years, Megan suggested to Alex they apply as a team in the educators category, and the rest is history! They sought this experience to explore ways of further integrating expedition based experiences into the Oxbow curriculum. For two weeks, they sailed on the tall ship Antigua along the mountainous west coast of Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago. The ship manifest consisted of 30 artists/participants, 4 guides, and 9 ship crew members. The carefully curated participants represented a globe spanning community of thinkers and makers interested in testing out ideas related to responding to climate change. The Arctic Ocean provided a profoundly dramatic setting to research together, network, tell stories and reflect as they sailed the glacial bays and hiked through thawing permafrost and snow.

Alex and Megan encountered various stunning coastal ecosystems and explored the worlds of arctic ice. Many early Arctic settlements, along with artifacts from whaling and mining lie perfectly preserved by the frozen desert setting, and they one day learned to differentiate potential firewood from “cultural heritage” (the ratio was pretty skewed, as it turns out there is a lot of “cultural heritage” strewn about!). Each version of the residency is unique, and this summer developed into a thorough tour of the west coast, with the southernmost destination being Hornsund (an extensive fjord) and the farthest north just off the coast of Amsterdamøya where the ship got locked in pack ice for many hours at 79.75 degrees north, 650 miles from the North Pole.

Despite planning and scouting, they were often drawn into unexpected adventures by polar bears, minke and beluga whales, calving glaciers, or particularly excellent sailing conditions which directed them day by day to new bays and through dramatic sounds. They experienced vast differences in the landscape, from muddy glacial lagoons and cracking permafrost, to glacial moraines and a fantastic array of different types of ice.

Though the entire trip, the Arctic Circle crew and guides maintained absolute order and taught everyone how to responsibly experience the place by placing respect for it before curiosity. Lessons learned included understanding that distance is key when it comes to calving glaciers (which cause massive waves they retreated from both on foot, on the ship, and once in a zodiac), and wildlife (walruses are gigantic, and also snore).

Fully unpacking the experience will be a slow and rich process for Alex and Megan. Stay tuned to learn more about how this experience will shape their personal work, and all of our work here at The Oxbow School.

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