Sensing the Arctic

Sensing the Arctic is a large-scale land art installation located on a permafrost mire near the Swedish Tourist Association, Abisko. The work has been realized as a joint venture between the artists and the Climate Impacts Research Centre in collaboration with Naturum Abisko and Swedish Tourist Association Abisko. 

Based on the duo’s artistic practice of combining sculpture, technology, nature, the weather, and climate, the land art project Sensing the Arctic studies how to translate the processes of climate change into bodily experiences. Positioned at the interface of the boreal and the Arctic biomes, Abisko is a unique place to understand how climate change affects northern ecosystems and how it is linked to our global climate system. 

The project aims to create a possible model of the climate processes’ complexity – a chimera representing the conditions inside a thawing mire outside Abisko – that captivates the viewer. Inspired by the Open Top Chambers, the small open greenhouses scientists use to simulate a warmer climate, Bigert & Bergström have developed their own sculptural versions. This piece mimics the scientific experiment and develops it into experiential platforms that can induce alternative narrative structures to traditional scientific narratives. The artwork will most likely generate new impulses and extend its tentacles into future artworks, in the hope of expanding artistic, scientific, and emotional perspectives on how the Arctic and our climate will change over the coming centuries.


‘Sensing the Arctic’ was realized with the financial support of Kulturbryggan / The Swedish Arts Grant Committee. Stenvalls Trä AB, ESSVE, Cake, and Haglöfs sponsored parts of the production. The catalog accompanying the project has been realized with the support of the Längmanska Cultural Fund. 

Bigert & Bergström. Sensing the Arctic, 2023. Project catalogue.


Film by Lars Siltberg

Extracts from Bigert & Bergström’s catalog text

“Since 2017 we have been developing the project Sensing the Arctic in collaboration with scientists working at the Climate Impacts Research Centre, Umeå University, based in Abisko. Inspired by the Open Top Chambers, the small open greenhouses that scientists use to simulate a warmer climate, we have developed our own sculptural versions that together create a land art installation on the mire. Land art is an art form that we have been fascinated by ever since we visited James Turrell in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1990, when he had just started to work on the extensive land art project Roden Crater. 

Embracing this strategy of bringing together art and nature experiences to create something new has led us to the palsa mires* below the STF tourist resort in Abisko, where we have now been given the opportunity to install Sensing the Arctic.

Visitors approach the installation via a timber boardwalk that leads out to the middle of the mire, where you find five greenhouses, gradually increasing in size. The idea behind these sculptural greenhouses is to increase the temperature inside by a variety of degrees. The scientists’ small greenhouses that raise the temperature by between 1 and 3 degrees are used to study how the vegetation and soil conditions change inside the greenhouses as opposed to their surroundings. Ecologist Keith Larson, who studies the impact of climate change on species and ecosystems, has been our main collaborator on this project, and he expands on this research in his essay further on in the book. Our five greenhouses will turn up the temperature even higher and envisage future scenarios in which the temperature skyrockets according to a variety of future scenarios based on the UN’s Climate Report from 2021 (SSP – Shared Socioeconomic Pathways).**


The broken ice-floe shapes of the greenhouses also refer to the fears surrounding what massive amounts of gas could be released when the organic material that is locked into the peatland permafrost of the Arctic starts to thaw and is broken down by microorganisms into methane or carbon dioxide. To register part of how the system of the mire changes when this happens, the different greenhouses have been equipped with measuring instruments that, like the scientific OTCs, continuously measure carbon dioxide levels, ground and air temperature, as well as the moisture of the soil. The information is sent to an interface where it is transformed into signals that can control functions and phenomena in other, remote areas. Sensing the Arctic is thus ambiguous in nature, with one side being the sculptural piece in Abisko and the other a tele-connected work that uses the signals from the greenhouses on the Arctic mire to come into being. (…) The aim is to create links to the palsa mires and new methods of experiencing the changing nature in Abisko employing all of one’s senses.

Sensing the Arctic is in constant transformation and its development and lifespan are entirely connected with how the climate will affect the mire over time. Hence it is very inspiring to have the possibility to create this artwork that will likely generate new impulses and extend its tentacles into future artworks, in the hope of expanding artistic, scientific, and emotional perspectives on how the Arctic and our climate will change over the coming centuries.”


*The word pals comes from Sami and means peat mound. Palsa mires occur in areas with non-continuous permafrost and with an average temperature of -10°C for a minimum of 120 days a year. In Sweden this is primarily in Lapland. 
**“SSP-scenarier,” The Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, January 27, 2022, [accessed 2023-03-16].
Drone image by Aril Petersson


Photos: Jean-Baptiste Béranger


Illustration by Johan Mats
Illustration by Johan Mats
Initial sketch of 'Sensing the Arctic' by Bigert & Bergström
CO2, air temperature, soil moisture, and temperature OTC 1-5 (OTC 0 ref. point), 15 June–7 July


Photos: Studio Bigert & Bergström