It begins with a disjointed encounter of vagueness whose outcome is shrouded by a black wall spanning the vast distance between you and fate.
If that seems like you’re simply unable to grasp the concept of the creator be reassured. You’re going through exactly the same experience that made possibly her abnormally long stretch of feeling blue – albeit artistically instead of physically, for which you should have a healthy appreciation.
Originally conceived as a series of “ordinary” blue-hued paintings as a sequel to her first such exhibition unveiled a year ago in Svalbard, Elizabeth Bourne and her project – like seemingly everything else on the planet – fell victim to the COVID-19 crisis that severely disrupted her life, schedule and artistic bent.
Those coming to Galleri Svalbard to view the 22 meters of “Drift Ice – Loss and Change,” being exhibited until Nov. 5, will find themselves entering a main exhibition room that has been converted into a clockwise series of long canvases showing exactly what the title suggests. An initial wall of blue filled with white specks and gaps, which to the uninitiated might be anything of that color, to a gradual inversion of the colors after walking the fours walls back to the entrance.
For those whose eyes can’t absorb the full story, a recording behind the black walls in the center of the room featuring Bourne’s narration of the project and “inspiration” behind it is playing on an endless loop.
Bourne, introducing the project during an official opening ceremony in September, said her vision of another traditional exhibit featuring the cyan artwork she has become known for was completely altered when the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdown of Norway’s borders. Her plans for a short holiday in her former hometown of Seattle, where she was when the pandemic was declared, into a multi-month ordeal of uncertainty, relocations and quarantines before she finally was able to return to Longyearbyen – where she was forced into yet another quarantine.
“This is not the show I intended to put on,” she said. “I was saying I’d be gone for month – what could possible happen – and the universe basically said ‘hold my beer.'”
So Bourne bought a very long canvas and, after hanging it, began pondering what to paint on it with a fresh acquisition of blue paints. Those following her on social media would see photos over the subsequent weeks of sometimes seemingly random dots and blotches, building up a theme and concept from the viewers’ perspectives.
She said that while the loss of Svalbard sea ice, which has been occurring at record rates both annually most years and during the past couple of decades, is a reflection of adverse climate change impacts, there’s more happening in the world due to climate that was also in her mind while painting the project.
“Climate change does not stop because of the coronavirus,” she said. “Right now people I know and love are homeless on the west coast (of the U.S.) because forest fires have destroyed their homes.”
Jan Martin Berg, manager of Galleri Svalbard, helped Bourne build what he said was a unique room divided meant to keep viewer on the proper path, so to speak (although some took a counter path during the opening). He said that while the vast canvas is a lot to take in, “I haven’t analyzed anything you’ve done so far and I’m not going to – people can judge for themselves.”
What I will say is thank you for the effort you’ve put into this,” he said. “I’m glad you decided to move here. The fact you are so light-spirited and so talented makes it a pleasant job to work with you even when the late night gets tiresome.”
While a project that’s 22 meters long and roughly a meter high might make for a bizarre postcard, those who truly covet can take home the full experience if they’ve got a cool 450,000 kroner for the collection, which includes six pieces also depicting drift ice north of Svalbard and other related themes. An attendee from a certain local institute of repute suggested the main “Drift Ice” canvas (at 180,000 kroner) might be a fine addition to its walls, although Bourne said she hasn’t actually received any serious offers so far.