Outset of Sensing the Arctic (S+A) - a research-based land art project


Building on an artistic tradition of using technology to mediate nature, weather and climate, the land-art project Sensing the Arctic (S+A), will study how to translate the processes of climate change in the Arctic into bodily experiences. These experiences will be accessible through immersive art installations, channelling the signals and information generated by an installation on a mire in the Swedish Arctic.

The project is a joint venture between us, Bigert & Bergström, and the Climate Impact Research Centre (CIRC) at the Abisko Scientific Research Station (ANS) in Northern Sweden. Positioned at the interface of the boreal and the Arctic biomes, ANS is a unique place for scientists wanting to understand how climate change is affecting northern ecosystems and their important teleconnections to our global climate system. One of the experimental methods that the scientists use to study this is the usage of OTCs—Open Top Chambers. In these small plastic ‘greenhouses’ the temperature can be manipulated in order to study what happens to the soil, permafrost and plant communities, for instance, with a 1° Celsius increase, something well within current climate projects for a warming planet. The permafrost mires surrounding Abisko often host such experiments due to their critical role at sequestering carbon over long periods.

In 2017, we visited the station for the first time and met Keith Larson and Ellen Dorrepaal from CIRC to document their research on film and discuss the possibility of transforming their experiments and research into an artistic research project. We believe there is a lack of understanding of what is really going on up in the Arctic and how fast its climate is changing. Ever since we were up on Kebnekaise in 2015 and tried to rescue the melting mountain top, we have come to understand that the transformation this region is undergoing is rapidly changing the landscape, fauna and the living conditions for the inhabitants. This realisation came after we went up to the mountain peak and experienced the changes in real life. This experience became the starting point for this project. The project aims to determine if it is possible to create a model of the complexity of the climate processes – a chimaera or a ghost, if you will, representing the conditions from the inside of a thawing mire outside Abisko – that will captivate the viewer. The idea is to take the OTC experiment and transform it into an interactive sculptural land art installation that will not only mimic the scientific experiment, but develop it into experiential platforms that can induce alternative narrative structures to the traditional scientific narratives, which are largely inaccessible to the public.

Our OTCs will be built in the shape of ice shards made out of irregular, transparent panels, capturing the sun’s energy to heat the air and soil within the structures. Inside these chambers, we will monitor the changes in temperatures, soil conditions, and the flora and fauna using solar-powered instruments over time. Our ambition is to run this experiment over a ten-year period. Or as long as the mire and the permafrost is stable. The result will not only be the experience of visiting the site, but also a series of teleconnected exhibits and symposia that will examine how art can transfer these signals and observations to another remote room or place in the form of temperature, light, movement. We hope this new narrative structure will transform the data or evidence of climate change into an experience that transcends traditional ideas and biases that so far have led to global apathy and inaction. The term that we use for the exhibits is Teleconnections, which in the atmospheric sciences refers to weather and climate anomalies that are connected over great distances, often more than 1,000 km.

"Sensing the Arctic," computer visualisation