Art in the Time of Coronavirus – LAND 1

Arctic Fox, Arctic Turn

 May 1988, I have moved up to Hammerfest in Northern Norway with my family. We have driven for 3 days up through Sweden, Finland and into Northern Norway. Starting in a heat-wave in England and driving North back into winter. The trees get smaller, there is snow on the ground, then there are no trees – rolling tundra and finally the Barents sea. We will be here for two months on a British Council artist’s exchange. I chose Hammerfest because it is the most Northerly town in the world.

I drive off Soroya and on to the mainland. I park and walk out into the tundra.

Sixty nine degrees North, Just North of Karasjok, Northern Norway.

Camped on a lake in early June

The snows have gone, the stunted birch are not yet in leaf

Too early as yet for mosquitos

My tent is a canvas Lavo –a Sami tipi, with a big smoke hole in the roof, designed for short stunted birch poles

The sun never sets – goes round and round in the sky. It dips low in the North at Midnight.

I am here just to be, for five days. I watch and observe what is around me.

The landscape is rolling stunted birch forest with lakes. It all looks the same. Easy to get lost, few landmarks. One lake looks like another.

I have a fire going inside the tent and out. It is still very cold at night.

I wander around picking up objects; pieces of silver wood, discarded antlers and bones, small stones. These I will tie to the flattened canvas of the tent and their shadow shapes rubbed into the soot from the fire which has coated the inside. The land itself will make the work (Canvas Lavo)

Birds nearly feed from my hand. A lemming runs over my foot. Time passes, the sun circles the horizon.

The lake in front of me is narrow and long, the further shore is a stone throw away. There is a dead birch close to the edge –a place for a bird to fish the lake from.

It is close to Midnight so I walk up the hill behind me to watch the sun at its lowest point.

It glows a glorious orange, painting the land around me an in unearthly light.

I stand watching it all. There is a movement to my left. About 30 metres away is a short birch stump which moves again and becomes an arctic fox. He is watching me. He is the same colour as the white birch bark.

I turn away to look back into the sun. The fox barks. I turn and bark back. The fox replies.

This continues for a while.

Eventually I turn and make my way down the hill to my tent. The sun is just over its lowest ebb. All sound has ceased. No bird calls, complete silence.

The land in front of me is painted in horizontal stripes:

the pale blue of the sky,

bright orange,

dark charcoal brown,

a double line of pale flecks,

dark charcoal brown,

bright orange,

pale blue

Not a ripple in the lake. On the dead birch is a single arctic turn. As I watch it flies, hovers above the lake, the only movement within stillness; a white bird hovering above an image of itself.

I turn in to sleep burying myself into the down of my arctic sleeping bag, my head close to the canvas fabric of the tent.

As I drift into sleep I am woken by a sharp bark, close to my ear. The fox wants to continue our conversation.


Art in the Time of Coronavirus – LAND 1 | 2020 | Uncategorized