Polarizing art: ‘Crazy’ overtakes quality as ten live performance artists squeezed into nine-day Arctic Action festival

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Quality (and quirky) art – such as a guy being buried alive in coal – was the emphasis when it debuted last year. This year they’re just rushing impulsively through things all at once.

But that won’t mean it’s necessary less artistic – just a very different form of the live performance art by ten people featured at the second Arctic Action festival starting Tuesday. The artists will spend the first two days in the abandoned Russian mining settlement of Pyramiden before beginning exhibitions/performances Thursday.
Each artist will be featured once at each location, in contrast to last year’s event that featured one artist at a time for several days spread intermittently over a period of months.

“This will of course be an expanded challenge with ten artists producing 20 works in only nine crazy days compared to last year when we could work closer with each and every artist,” the festival’s website notes. “Still we believe in the blasting energy of ten artists working close together in the Arctic for an intense period of nine days.”

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Wathiq Al-Ameri and Ali Al Fatlawi play tug-of-war with a banner as part of their performance in front of a glacier during the 2015 Arctic Action festival. Photo courtesy of Arctic Action.

As for the projects themselves, there’s not much advance clue about what the projects will be – or when, as they will be announced on the festival’s and local Facebook pages as they are scheduled. But last year’s performances – ranging from throwing a bucket of gasoline on a chair sitting on live charcoal by the beach to a rock painted into a dog’ head hiding in plain sight in the center of town – suggest spontaneous creativity may indeed work better than the meticulous stokes of a master sculptor.

“There’s an ethic in it that you have to do it to yourself,” said Nigel Rolfe, who last year dragged a rickety sled a kitchen chair mounted on a metal trunk across Adventdalen, in a video promoting this year’s event at the official site. “You’re willing to put your own body, your own being into the work. (Explaining) how the conditioned human would want to be in such a place, to just survive on the edge of the world.”

The festival was initiated by Stein Henningsen, owner of a Longyearbyen transport and guiding company, who invited six artists to perform during a five-month period last year.

“One of the interesting things is doing works, performances in public situations,” said Alasair MacLennan, the artist who was buried in coal last year, in another website video. “I find it intriguing because its not just art lovers or gallery people that are seeing the work. It’s ordinary everyday people with different roles, different functions, different jobs, different interests.”

“It’s really important for performance artists to be aware of how the performances register with all different sections of life and society.”

This year’s lineup features artists from three continents and the addition of Pyramiden as a new venue The performance exhibitions are intended to highlight environmental issues and videos all of them are posted online.

“Although the performances will live on through high-quality recordings, the opportunity to experience the power of each work will only occur once as the performances will not be performed live again,” the festival’s website notes.

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