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Polar Shelf

“What stands out during a sojourn in the Arctic and seems always part of travel in a wild landscape, is the long struggle of the mind for concordance with that mysterious entity, the earth” – Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams

In the spring of 1989 I spent a month as artist-in-residence in the Arctic Awareness Program which was under the Canada Council and the Polar Continental Shelf Project in Resolute, Cornwallis Island. The program offered artists an opportunity to experience the Arctic, live among scientists and learn something of their research. I had been using magnetic material in my sculptures so, geologically, this was the ideal place to test my work. Resolute is at 77 degree latitude.

Photo of Arc sculpture in landscapeArc – consisting of a 20’ tripod-like structure of aluminum, a 6’ steel bow and neodymiun magnets suspended with a monofilament thread and bronze plumbob for stability – was installed  over  an exposed mesozoic rock  with a deep fissure.

Then it sang.  Harmonic oscillations, beautiful electronic sounds flowing out  over the tundra. It sang as it moved and dipped, or mute silent when stopped, then sang again with violent jerky movements. This phenomena continued its haunting electronic sound until it was removed and taken back to my studio on Canada Day July 1.

I had no recording device until a sound technician with Karvonen Films recorded five minutes of the harmonic oscillation, otherwise it might be met with disbelief.Photo of Gwen in the Arctic

Months later, articles referred to 1989 as the apex of an eleven-year cycle of intense solar flares and sunspots, causing blackouts in New York.  In 2001 NASA had a sound recording of Voyager’s orbit around Mars of electronic sounds, but they were not harmonic oscillations.

My time in that phenomenal landscape was life changing and inevitably for my artistic life.  Though I had spent some years before in the north, the Yukon, nothing prepared me for the profound experience I had in the Arctic.

Every Canadian needs to see it, once.

Thule, traditional whalebone shelter