“Polar Bears Out of Place” is a three year collaborative research project run by Icelandic and international universities, galleries and museums. The aim of the project is to contribute to a growing body of knowledge concerning human/non-human relations and habitat in a time of global warming and rising sea levels. To this end we draw particular focus on historic and contemporary polar bear arrivals to the North & North-West coast of Iceland. Approaching the subject from a visual arts perspective, the project tests the contact zones between humans and polar bears and thereby, related networked effects of climate change, population displacement and environmental disruption. The research will gather and combine images, texts, audio, biological and other material relating to specific recorded polar bear arrivals. Methodologies will involve a close study of the relationship between source material and its cultural and environmental contexts as well as to the transmission, interpretation and presentation of subtexts, embedded within all visual and textual matter. By foregrounding the animal as ‘foreign’ and through the study of its multiple guises – such as a being, a cohabitant, visitor, environmental register, remnant and artefact – the project aims to make a significant contribution to current discourse on the objectification of both human and animal ‘Others’ in borderless environments and as such offer an alternative understanding of environmental ownership and response. The project has a satellite partner in another institution located in the USA allowing for further comparative study within a wider cultural context.
The project has been granted funding for three years (2019-2021) by The Icelandic Research Fund and is the first research project in the field of the visual arts to secure such a grant. It is based at Iceland University of the Arts and is directed by principal investigators Bryndís H. Snæbjörnsdóttir, professor of Fine Art at Iceland University of the Arts, and Mark Wilson, professor of Fine Art at the University of Cumbria in the UK. Co-investigator are Kristinn Schram, associate professor in folkloristics/ethnology at the University of Iceland, and Æsa Sigurjóndóttir, associate professor in art history and art theory at the University of Iceland. The project is multidisciplinary, with participants from the visual arts department of Iceland University of the Arts, the Institute of the Arts at the University of Cumbria, the Faculty of Sociology, Anthropology and Folkloristics at the University of Iceland and the Faculty of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Iceland. Partner organisations are Anchorage Museum in Alaska (US), Akureyri Art Museum (IS), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (US), and the University of Iceland’s Research Centre in Strandir (IS).
“Ísbirnir á villigötum” er þriggja ára rannsóknarverkefni sem er unnið í samstarfi íslenskra og alþjóðlegra háskóla og listasafna. Markmið verkefnisins er að auka þekkingu á fjölþættum tengslum dýra, manna og umhverfis á tímum heimsvæddrar loftslagshlýnunar og hækkandi sjávarmáls. Áhersla verður lögð á að rannsaka ferðir ísbjarna til Norður- og Norðvestur-hluta Íslands í sögulegu og samtímalegu samhengi. Unnið verður útfrá sjónarhorni samtímlista, þannnig að í verkefninu verða mörk menningar og raunveruleika skoðuð, samverkandi áhrif loftslagsbreytinga á umhverfisrof og fólksflutninga. Í rannsókinni verður safnað saman textum, myndum, hljóði, lífsýnum og öðru efni sem tengist ferðum ísbjarna til landsins. Aðferðafræðin felur í sér sértæka nálgun á tengslum þeirra heimilda sem aflað verður við menningarog umhverfislegt samhengi ásamt því að draga fram, túlka og miðla þeirri undirliggjandi merkingu sem finna má innan sjónræns og ritaðs efnis. Með því að setja dýrið í forgrunn og beina ljósi að hinu margbreytilega hlutverki þess í veröldinni sem; lífveru, sambýlisveru, gesti, umhverfisvísi, afsteypu og skrautmun verður reynt að afbyggja „öðrun” þess í mannheimum. Um leið verða niðurstöður mikilvægt framlag til orðræðunnar um hlutgervingu manna og dýra, sem jafnframt varpa ljósi á spurningar um eignarhald í umhverfispólitísku samhengi. Verkefnið er unnið í samvinnu við stofnun í Bandaríkjunum, en með því að vinna rannsóknina á tveimur ólíkum stöðum munu samanburðarniðurstöður skírskota til fjölþættara og víðara menningarsamhengis.
Verkefnið er styrkt af Rannsóknasjóði Rannís til þriggja ára (2019-2021) og er fyrsta rannsóknarverkefnið á sviði myndlistar sem hlýtur slíkan styrk. Verkefnið er hýst innan Listaháskóla Íslands og er unnið undir stjórn aðalrannsakendanna Bryndísar H. Snæbjörnsdóttur, prófessors við myndlistardeild Listaháskóla Íslands, og Mark Wilson, prófessors í myndlist við University of Cumbria í Bretlandi. Meðrannsakendur verkefnisins eru Kristinn Schram, dósent í þjóðfræði við Háskóla Íslands, og Æsa Sigurjóndóttir, dósent í listfræði við Háskóla Íslands. Verkefnið er unnið þvert á fræðigreinar, en þátttakendur koma úr myndlistardeild Listaháskóla Íslands, Institute of the Arts í University of Cumbria (UK), félagsfræði-, mannfræði- og þjóðfræðideild Háskóla Íslands, og íslensku- og menningardeild Háskóla Íslands. Samstarfsstofnanir eru Anchorage Museum í Alaska (US), Listasafnið á Akureyri, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (US), og Rannsóknarsetur Háskóla Íslands á Ströndum.
The Team and Collaborators
Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson
Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson are a collaborative art partnership. Their interdisciplinary art practice is research-based and socially-engaged, exploring issues of history, culture and environment in relation to both humans and non-human species. Working very often in close consultation with experts and amateurs in the field, their work tests cultural constructs and tropes, and human behaviour in respect of ecologies, extinction, conservation and the environment. Underpinning much of their practice are issues of psychological and physical displacement and realignment in respect of land and environment and the effect of these positions on cultural perspectives. Their artworks have been exhibited throughout the UK and internationally. They are frequent speakers at international conferences on issues related to their practice. Their works have been widely discussed in texts across many disciplinary fields and regularly cited as contributive to knowledge in the expanded field of research-based art practice. They conduct their collaborative practice from bases in Iceland and the north of England. For more information on Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson’s practice please go to: www.snaebjornsdottirwilson.com. Mark Wilson (PhD) is Professor in Fine Art at the Institute of the Arts, University of Cumbria, UK. Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir (PhD) is Professor of Fine Art at the Icelandic University of the Arts, Reykjavík
Kristinn Schram is an associate professor of Folkloristics/Ethnology at the University of Iceland. His field of study includes oral narrative, food and festival, ironic performances and media representations in a variety of cultural spaces such as Arctic shores and city streets. He lectures on the dynamics of national and cultural identity, tradition, folk narrative and urban folklore. Among current research topics are the exoticism of the north, transnational performances of the ‘West-Nordic region’ and sociocultural aspects of climate change and mobility in the North Atlantic. He participates in the research project ‘Visitations: Polar bears out of place’ with regard to human/non-human relations in the context of climate change and environmental behaviour- historic, current and future.
Æsa Sigurjónsdóttir is Associate Professor in Art History, Art Theory, and Curatorial Studies at the University of Iceland and a free-lance curator. Her research has been focused on contemporary art, art historiography, the history and theory of photography, visual culture and curatorial studies – and she has written extensively on these subjects. As curator, she has curated a number of exhibitions in Icelandic and European museums and galleries, such as National Gallery of Iceland; Reykjavík Art Museum; Reykjavík Art Festival; Bozar, Brussels; Riga European Capital of Culture; Curated by_ Vienna; FNAGP, France. She is the curator of the exhibition Visitations: Polar Bears out of Place, to be organised in Akureyri Art Museum, 2021. Photo credit: Anton Brink.
María Dalberg is a contemporary artist. She holds a Masters degree from Iceland University of the Arts in Fine Arts, and she studied History at University of Iceland. She has produced works in various media, including text, performance and film photography, but she is best known for her video art installations. For her subject matter, she explores different societies and/ or relationships between humans and nature. In her practice, she uses old artefacts and archival work, collects historical accounts, writes fictional and non-fictional stories and makes use of her own autobiographical text and field recordings. She is interested in different technologies, and for each piece of work she develops methods to manipulate sound and video images. María has exhibited her work in various places. She held a solo show at Reykjavík Art Museum (2018), performed at Cycle Music and Art Festival (2018) and exhibited her work at the 5th Moscow Biennale for young art (2016). Her next show will be in Tallinn Art Hall (2020). For more information on María’s practice please go to: www.mariadalberg.com.
Katla Kjartansdóttir is a PhD student within the department of ethnology/folklore and museum studies at the University of Iceland. Her focus is on museums and the mobility of people, objects and ideas across national borders. She has engaged in research on diverse aspects of human/animal relations with a particular focus on the Atlantic puffin and the great auk (the extinct bird) as tourist souvenirs, museum objects and symbols of the North. Her recent publications include “Puffin Love: Performing and Creating Arctic Landscapes in Iceland through Souvenirs” (Tourist Studies, 2017 – with Katrín Anna Lund and Kristín Loftsdóttir), “Fólk og safngripir á ferð og flugi” (Saga, 2019) and “The changing symbolic meaning of the extinct great auk and its afterlife as a museum object at the Natural History Museum of Denmark” (Nordisk Museologi, 2019). Katla has participated in various interdisciplinary projects and exhibitions including “Objects in Mind” at Jónshús in Copenhagen and the Nordic House in Reykjavík and “The Arctic – While the Ice is Melting” at Nordiska Museet in Stockholm. Katla is a co-editor of a themed issue of the journal Ritið on human/animal relations, to be published in April 2020. She is also the main coordinator of a new course on human/animal relations hosted by the department of ethnology/folklore and museum studies at the University of Iceland in collaboration with the University of the Arts in Iceland.
Ólöf Gerður Sigfúsdóttir
Ólöf Gerður Sigfúsdóttir has a BA degree in anthropology from the University of Iceland and an MA from the University of Chicago in 2002. She is currently a PhD candidate in Museum Studies at the University of Iceland, studying knowledge practices and research activities within public museums. Ólöf’s work crosses borders between anthropology, material culture, curatorial practice and research politics. Since 2007 she has been working at the Iceland University of the Arts, contributing towards the establishment of the emerging field of artistic research in Iceland and abroad. She is the coordinator for Visitations: Polar Bears out of Place.
Aðalheiður Alice Eyvör Pálsdóttir
Alice graduated with an MA in Folkloristics/Ethnology from the University of Iceland in the autumn of 2019. She plans to study for a PhD with the department from January 2020 on the topic of landscape and perceptions of the other in Icelandic legends and wondertales from 1700 to 1950, supervised by Kristinn Schram. In her MA thesis she explored the development of dwarf legends in Iceland from the pre-Christian era to the present day. She worked alongside her MA studies as an assistant researcher within the Folklore strand of the multi-disciplinary project Disability Before Disability. Her main areas of interest are folk narrative studies, medieval literature, pre-Christian religion and urban legends.
Julie Decker, PhD, is the Director/CEO of the Anchorage Museum in Alaska, which is a leading center for scholarship, engagement, and investigation of Alaska and the North. Decker’s career has been focused on the people and environment of Northern places and building projects and initiatives that are in service to local and global communities. Before becoming Director/CEO, Decker served as the Museum’s Chief Curator. She has a doctorate in art history, a master’s degree in arts administration, and bachelor degrees in visual design and journalism. She has curated and designed numerous exhibitions, taught classes, and authored and edited numerous publications on subjects ranging from contemporary art and architecture of the North, to many aspects of the Arctic environment and histories.
Craig Perham is a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in Alaska, where he specializes in analyzing potential human impacts to Arctic marine mammals. Prior to his work at BOEM, he was a senior staff biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and managed their Marine Mammal Protection Act regulatory program. At the USFWS, his main emphasis was managing industry impacts to polar bears and Pacific walruses as well as working to understand and reduce human-polar bear conflicts. For example, he developed mitigation measures to minimize impacts to polar bears from industrial activities. He is currently assisting the U.S. Department of Interior with marine mammal management and policy issues on Arctic projects in Alaska.
Aaron was born in Anchorage, Alaska of Dena’ina Athabascan heritage, the indigenous people of the area, and currently serves as the Chief of his tribe. He works as the Curator of Alaska History and Culture at the Anchorage Museum. He also serves as an advisor to the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center and is a member of the board of directors for the Cook Inlet Historical Society and the Alaska Historical Society. In his career, Aaron has played a vital role in indigenous curation in Alaska. He was instrumental in bringing the first exhibition of the Dena’ina Athabascan people, “Dena’inaq’ Huch’ulyeshi: the Dena’ina Way of Living”, to the Anchorage Museum in 2013. Building on knowledge obtained from his grandmother and after earning a degree in anthropology from the University of Alaska Anchorage, Leggett set out to change the historical narrative. He has authored numerous scholarly articles and co-authored publications about the Dena’ina language and people. In 2014, Aaron was recognized by CIRI as its Shareholder of the Year and was also awarded the Cultural Bearer of Year by the Alaska Federation of Natives and by the State of Alaska for the Governor’s distinguished service to the humanities.
Hallsson is an artist and has worked as the director of Akureyri Art Museum
since 2014. Hlynur sat on the board of Icelandic Art Center 2007-2010 and
2014-2018. He has also sat on the board of The Public Buildings Art Fund and
was the chairman of The Association of Icelandic Artists 2009-2010 and the
chairman of Myndlistarfélagið 2008-2009. Hlynur has worked as a self-employed
exhibition director and has put up exhibitions at The Living Art Museum in
Reykjavík, Kuckei+Kuckei in Berlin, Villa Manimo in Hannover, Kunstverein in
Hannover and at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. As the director of
Akureyri Art Museum, he has directed a number of exhibitions with artists such
as Joan Jonas, Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir/Shoplifer, Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir,
Sigurður Árni Sigurðsson, Aðalheiður Eysteinsdóttir and Arna Valsdóttir in
addition to many collaborative exhibitions. He was among the artists who
founded Verksmiðjan, a centre for contemporary art in Hjalteyri, in 2008.
Hlynur has also published the journal Blatt
blað since 1994. Hlynur has taught at Akureyri School of Visual Arts,
Iceland University of the Arts and the University of Akureyri. Hlynur has
exhibited his own work at more than 70 private exhibitions and taken part in
over 90 collaborative exhibitions since he completed his MA in Fine Art in
1997. For more information, please visit: hlynur.is og kuckei-kuckei.de
Jón Jónsson is a folklorist and project manager at the University of Iceland’s Research Centre in Strandir, which is located in the Westfjords of Iceland, and focuses on folklore research. University of Iceland’s Research Centres are located in rural areas throughout the country and provide a venue for collaboration with local authorities, institutions, businesses and individuals. Jónsson’s field of study is applied and public folklore and scholarly collaboration with tourism, museums and artists. He has also studied diaries and daily life in Iceland in the 19th and 20th centuries and recently published a book on beggars and vagabonds in Iceland’s old rural society. Jónsson participates in the research project ‘Visitations: Polar bears out of place’, with an emphasis on legends and folk belief in connection with polar bear encounters in Iceland.
Strand 1: Gathering Material (Jan – Dec 2019) Strand managers: Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir, Mark Wilson, Kristinn Schram. Strand team: Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir, Mark Wilson, Kristinn Schram, María Dalberg, Aðalheiður Alice Eyvör Pálsdóttir.
To research existing documentation of polar bear visits to Iceland from the 19th Century until today. According to statistics, 218 polar bears arrived in Iceland in the 19th Century alone (Petersen, 2010:22). There are 50 recorded visits in the districts of Húnavatnssýsla and Skagafjörður since 890 AD, of which 39 are within the period proposed for this research (Petersen, 2010). The research conducted by research assistant María Dalberg and Aðalheiður Alice Eyvör Pálsdóttir and supervised by Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir, Mark Wilson and Kristinn Schram, will examine and analyse material from various sources including manuscripts at the Icelandic National Library. Other sources will include the Sagas, 19th and 20th century collections of folktales and legends, surveys, news reports, photography, film and television. The research will also involve searches in public digital archives, such as sarpur.is, leitir.is and timarit.is. Parallel to the above, existing scientific data mainly from the Institute of Experimental Pathology, UoI, Keldur will be gathered. The project will draw on scientific writing and research in respect of each polar bear, tabling information relating to their biological status, their diet and deduced places of origin, using existing and new analysis from carcasses and associated reports.
Strand 2: Analysis and Art Methodology (Jan – July 2020) Strand managers: Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir, Mark Wilson. Strand team: Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir, Mark Wilson, Kristinn Schram, María Dalberg.
Bryndís H. Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson, together with María Dalberg, will conduct comparative analysis of materials and information gathered in strand #1. Further work on samples from tooth and other remains will enhance and extend existing readings. Scanning of samples through Microscopic and SEM technology will be applied for image resolution and scaling. Image files of ‘new’ and/or existing scans will be tested for image manipulation potential, in preparation for large scale artworks. In this and other works for this project we will build on the effects (as evidenced in earlier projects by S/W) of shifts in scale on the imagination and perceptions of audiences, whilst focusing attention and engagement on individual and specific nexuses.
Strand 3: Fieldwork, Interviews and Imaging (Jan – Dec 2020) Strand managers: Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir, Mark Wilson, Kristinn Schram. Strand team: Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir, Mark Wilson, Kristinn Schram, MA student #2.
This period will require site visits to gather new material in Iceland and in the USA. Individuals with first and second hand experiences of polar bear encounters in Iceland will be interviewed. Fieldwork will be conducted for these interviews by Snæbjörnsdóttir and Wilson and the research assistant/MA student in Folkloristics/Ethnology under the supervision of Schram. Visual discourse analysis and the collection of data through ethnographic field methods will be applied to some parts of these visits. For these site visits Snæbjörnsdóttir and Wilson will also incorporate surveys using field photography, drawing and prints from the recorded polar bear arrival sites on Iceland’s coast. The visual material will focus on details from the landscape and environment of each site with regard to features identified in the reports and stories pertaining to the ‘visitations’/locations. During the latter half of this period the focus will be on the final preparations for the solo exhibition at Anchorage Museum in October 2020 which will consist of artworks made during Snæbjörnsdóttir and Wilson during their PolarLab residency with the Museum from 2016 until 2020.
Strand 4: Art Production & the Archive (Nov 2020- Sept 2021) Strand managers: Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir, Mark Wilson, Æsa Sigurjónsdóttir. Strand team: Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir, Mark Wilson, Æsa Sigurjónsdóttir, Kristinn Schram, Katla Kjartansdóttir, MA student #3.
Bryndís H. Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson will engage in further production and development of material from the research conducted in strands #1- #3. They will be supported by an MA student curator and also work with Æsa Sigurjónsdóttir and with research assistant Katla Kjartansdóttir on the analysis of interview data, categorising this in accordance with the project’s established system. At this point the focus is on material relating to the development of work for the solo-exhibition at Akureyri Art Museum. This will include the editing and design of the project’s archive as a parallel installation in dialogue with the artwork. The “archive, its representation, and its commentary have, through the consolidation between museum, artist and academic research, become one object, aligned and supported by scientific data and research outcomes” (Sigurjónsdóttir, 2018). Without attempting to second guess at this stage the precise nature of the artworks, it can be said that they will comprise a synthesis of meticulously sourced information in the form of multimedia installations.
Strand 5: Publication & Conference (June – Dec 2021) Strand managers: Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir, Mark Wilson. Strand team: Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir, Mark Wilson, Æsa Sigurjónsdóttir, Kristinn Schram, Katla Kjartansdóttir, MA student #3.
During this stage there will be preparations for the planned publication and the international conference. The publication is conceived in line with other Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson publications, to embrace and encapsulate the overall project – to be a receptacle for all the research and strategic documentation of the multiple and varied outputs. Negotiations regarding the writing for the publication will have taken place during the course of the project and will include the co-proposers and the members of the peer review committee, together with invited professionals from the arts and humanities. The international conference, supported by research assistant Kjartansdóttir and an MA student in Fine Art, will be a collaboration between the Iceland University of the Arts and the University of Iceland. The speakers will include the co-proposers Schram and Sigurjónsdóttir together with three external international practitioners.
2019 Arctic Circle Assembly, 10 – 13 October, Reykjavík. Visitations: Polar bears out of place. Panel and paper presentation by Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson, Schram & Jónsson, Craig Perham and Aaron Leggett, Moderator: Julie Decker.
Kristinn Schram and Jón Jónsson. “Visitations: The Social and Cultural History of Polar Bear Narratives in Iceland and the North Atlantic.” In Owen T. Nevin, Ian Convery and Peter Davis (eds.), The Bear: Culture, Nature, Heritage. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell & Brewer, 2019.
Snæbjörnsdóttir, Bryndís and Wilson, Mark. “On the Oblique Imperative: What Revealing Conceals and Concealing may Reveal.” In Owen T. Nevin, Ian Convery and Peter Davis (eds.), The Bear: Culture, Nature, Heritage. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell & Brewer, 2019.