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  • filipvk


Updated: Jan 4

Four years ago I spent three weeks in an art residence in Krakeslottet, on the remote island of Senja in Northern Norway.

Krakeslottet is a regional arts center in this isolated and sparsely populated region north of the Lofoten, and it is the life's work of Georg Blichtfelt, ex-journalist, ex-activist, ex-politician, ex-teacher, arctic bon vivant, great cook, tango- dancer and host.

Krakeslottet is located in an old fishing base, a large wooden building, half built on wooden poles above the Arctic Ocean. Dating back to the end of the 19th century, the building is somewhere between a pirate's nest, a fairytale castle, and an enchanted maze.

This is the Far North: here we are more than 350 km above the Arctic Circle and only about 2000 km from the North Pole.

Most of the time I was alone in this enchanting building in this incredibly beautiful setting, part of the time I was in the company of Georg and other familiar visitors to Krakeslottet, and the last week in the company of two Norwegian artists in residence.

During these three weeks, I drew from the landscape, something I hadn't done in decades. And the scenery is extraordinary in Northern Norway: without a doubt the most beautiful part of the planet I've had the privilege of experiencing.

After many years of rather abstract and conceptual work as a draftsman and painter in my studio in Antwerp, drawing outside in this wild environment and immersion in the raw nature was a major change, a wonderful experiende, and a relief in a way.

It felt like coming home in more ways than one.

I sketched outdoors in sketchbooks, in between snow storms, and continued indoors on large drawings and gouaches based on the sketches I had made outdoors.

It was a return to what is the basis of drawing: a visceral and physical reaction to space and light and the elements.

In addition, I started to write. One of the reasons for the residency was the fact that I wanted to focus on a new medium: words.

Initially, my intention was to write about my own work as a painter, and from there to think about the connection between my work and my perception of the world, and vice versa.

In this way, five texts in letter form were created, which were to form the start of a 'letter project': I would write to artist friends to initiate an exchange of ideas and to create a dialogue about my work, but from there out also about any other subjects that would arise organically from this premise.

I did not continue that project, but the writing did open a door to a new way of epxressing myself.

And the associative thinking with words, starting from my work as a visual artist, made me realize many things about what I had actually been doing all those years in my visual work.

In addition, during my stay I was also passionate about photography - another lifelong passion - and traveled around the sparsely populated island trying to capture the unearthly beauty of this place.

Thus, during these three weeks, a number of circles of my life came around, and I now see the origins of processes that, three years later, would make me decide to stop painting and devote myself to help spread awareness about the converegence of ecological crises our world is already in the midst of.

What we usually call the 'climate crisis' (I prefer the label 'biosphere crisis') was also noticeable there. The Arctic region is warming much faster than the rest of the planet. When I arrived in February, it was warm for the time of year: about six degrees above zero. There was a lot of wind and rain, but no snow.

Which I found very unfortunate, because I was hoping for the real arctic winter.

Fortunately, after a week I was served my wishes, the mercury dropped to six to eight degrees below zero, and for the entire following week blizzard after blizzard swept across the island, until the entire area was covered with a layer of snow up to a meter thick. My car, an ancient Mazda from Rent-A-Wreck in Tromsø, was completely covered in snow and I had to dig for two hours with a large snow shovel to free it.

The doors of Krakeslottet were also almost barricaded by the snow at times, and simply going outside was not always easy and sometimes required quite a bit of work.

But this experience of the arctic elements did not hide the fact that the region's climate is out of balance, and that was at times a very palpable and worrisome realisation.

Last summer, temperatures in the Arctic reached a new sad record, with a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius in the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk. The cold spell in Texas in recent weeks also has everything to do with this 'global heating', as cold layers of air are pushed away from the arctic region by warming air layers. The warming of the Arctic will have dramatic consequences for the entire planet and contribute greatly to the 'global weirding', the term that may be more accurate than global warming. Our climate will not only become warmer, but also 'weird', strange, unstable and extreme. The melting of the Greenland ice sheet not only threatens to dramatically raise sea levels, but also threatens to shut down the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean, which in turn threatens to accelerate dramatic destabilization of the climate. Ironically, this could make it much colder in Northern Norway again, as the Gulf Stream permanently supplies warm ocean water there and acts as a kind of 'central heating' for all of Scandinavia and northwestern Europe. Without the Gulf Stream it would also be much, much colder in countries like The Netherlands, Great Britain, Belgium or Germany.

The weeks of immersion in the unearthly beauty of this Arctic region, the outdoor drawing and painting amid the wild elements in the rough scenery of the fjords on this remote island, the long evenings of reflection in the solitude of this wondrous building built on the water... ... it was an initiation, and this initiation has brought me to where I am today, or rather, was the final catalyst for processes that started long ago.

I would like to dedicate my time, resources and energy from now on to help portray the crisis our planet and habitat is in, and I hope to be able to do so above all through the media I have discovered in Krakeslottet in new ways: the word and the photographic image. Whether drawing and painting will ever find a place in that process again, I want to leave open for now.

When a new chapter begins for me now, I can say that the first words of that chapter were written here, in this enchanted pirate castle in the far north.


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