Arctic Day

Looking North

On March 25th in Inverness, the Scottish Government – in partnership with Highlands & Islands Enterprise – held Arctic Day.

Scotland is the first significant landfall within northern Europe when coming from the Arctic: Dunnet Head lies less than ~400 miles south of the Arctic Circle boundary. Scottish-Arctic neighbourship was celebrated during Arctic Day, through a variety of events, workshops and debates, mostly with a climate focus.

Climate change is already having serious consequences in the Arctic, endangering its pristine environment as well as its inhabitants’ lifestyles. Arctic sea ice is receding at speed. The region is ground zero of climate change: a temperature increase of 2% worldwide might as well mean an increase of 4–5 degrees within the Arctic Circle. On the day, Dr Laura Watts described the Arctic as becoming “a sea of collaborative coastlines”, an “archipelago of test sites” in tackling the issues it faces.

A key focus during the day was Scotland’s climate change initiatives. A leader in energy innovation and a renewable energy pioneer, the Scottish Government has pledged to decarbonise the country completely by 2050. Yet, despite its 2050 target, this action may still not be rapid enough. While the country recognises that it’s taking positive steps forward – not least in establishing the world’s first Climate Justice Fund, which now supports climate adaption projects in developing countries – First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has acknowledged that “we are still a long way behind countries such as Iceland and Norway. And so increasingly, we want to work with and learn from countries in the Arctic to help achieve our ambitions.” Solutions presented on the day stressed the importance of collaboration and re-localising communities.

We heard from the director of Transition Black Isle – one of many establishing transition locations – that even if the entire planet became carbon neutral tomorrow, we would still struggle to meet the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement. Transition believes that coming together as communities is key in harnessing our global average temperature. In the Black Isle peninsula and on Orkney, residents are working together to transform their approaches to achieve sustainable pathways: addressing the need for always local futures.

Dr Laura Watts introduced her project Energy at the End of the World, presenting Orkney as a prime example of northern sustainability: “Orkney has been making technology for six thousand years, from arrowheads and stone circles to wave and tide energy prototypes. The islanders turned to energy innovation when forced to contend with an energy infrastructure they had outgrown. Today, Orkney is home to the European Marine Energy Centre … the islands generate more renewable energy than they use, are growing hydrogen fuel and electric car networks, and have hundreds of locally owned micro wind turbines and a decade-old smart grid.”

The role of artists in exploring and presenting these issues is vital. I was on hand to discuss my own ongoing and upcoming artistic projects – including the environmentally focussed Rising Horizon series, as well as a summer program at An Talla Solais comprising an exhibition, open call and more – but was also there to learn more about Scotland’s climate initiatives and the impact of climate change in the north and Arctic region.

Northern Artists Raising Environmental Awareness

Art can bridge the gap between public awareness and science and a rich catalogue of northern artists are trailblazing this ground, presenting wide ranging environmental commentary.

Take Fife based artist Elizabeth Ogilvie, who has dedicated an entire career to the study of water: from an environmental standpoint, to poetic observation. Ogilvie’s recent project Out of Ice speaks of the threat to some of our most precious natural elements: the ice sheets.

Take Finnish duo Pekka Niittyvirta & Timo Aho’s intervention piece Lines 57° 59 ́N, 7° 16 ́W created for Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum in Lochmaddy on the island of North Uist. Their site-specific installation uses LED strip-lights to show where the water will flow during storm surges if the Earth’s temperature continues to rise.

Take Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s Ice Watch installations: sets of ice boulders – harvested from a fjord outside Nuuk, Greenland – positioned in circular arrangements reminiscent of clock-faces… reminders that time is running out for meaningful action.

Horizon 42%

I’m a northern artist exploring this global theme. Horizon 42% was exhibited during Arctic Day.

Painted upon a vintage copper boiler, the height of this seascape’s horizon-line rests at 42%. I’m presenting this artwork for two reasons. The piece is an illustration of where we’re at – providing fact-based commentary on sea rise whilst also marking progress:

Firstly, 42% is the proportion that thermal expansion contributes to overall sea rise (apt given the painting’s past function: to warm water).

Secondly, 42% is a really important figure for Scotland: this was the goal set to cut carbon emissions by before 2020. That goal was achieved six years ahead of schedule. The same goal beating must be achieved in total decarbonisation.

Horizon 42% 2017–2019
Oil & varnishes on copper boiler · 79 x 70 x 30 cm

Rising Horizon Overview

Filmed live in The Scottish Gallery, the below offers an overview of my Rising Horizon series, by way of a conversation between Prof. Dave Reay (Chair in Carbon Management at Edinburgh University) and myself.

Also in attendance during Arctic Day was Art North magazine. Art North ran a series of features covering my Rising Horizon series earlier this year.