Released: Monday 23rd September 2013 at 11:04
National Glass Centre's Chris Blade, returns from artistic residency in The Arctic Circle.
The only British man among a group of 26 international creative artists and writers to brave the ice cold Arctic Circle has returned to the warm glow of National Glass Centre with an inspirational collection of photographs.
Chris Blade fought off worldwide competition to leave his world of molten glass in Sunderland and brave the “bearable” Arctic summer temperatures of -15°C. The end result meant travelling and living with a group of “strangers” sharing creative ideas and working in one of the most remote areas in the world.
Chris, Head of Commissioning and the Studio at National Glass Centre, flew to the small town of Longyearbyen in Svalbard, Norway, before embarking on a traditionally rigged 160ft tall ship for a three week trip up the north west side of the archipelago, with polar bears and seals for neighbours. Svalbard, previously known as Spitsbergen, has a population of around 2,000 but is rumoured to be home to 3,000 polar bears.
Chris left his River Wear base on September 24 for three weeks as part of a collaborative project organised by the Arctic Circle Group, a New York based arts charity, and was the only British representative. He was one of 26 artists from 14 nationalities selected from an initial 320 applicants of painters, photographers, musicians, poets, writers, composers and videographers. Travelling north, stopping most days to land and pursue projects on land, ice or sea, he lived in cramped conditions in tiny cabins, but enjoyed the crew providing three cooked meals a day while sailing through treacherous sea conditions. It wasn’t until he was 600 miles short of the North Pole that Chris got to work with his camera to capture the natural scenery on offer.
He said: “I didn’t really know what to expect, despite however much reading anyone does beforehand, it can only create an impression of the reality. However, I did know my project was going to be based on my reaction to the landscape and environment. It’s outstandingly beautiful and remote, and I don’t think you realise quite how so until you’re actually there.
“We had to be very conscious with the nature around us, and one polar bear did sniff us out, but thankfully we were back on the ship by this point. It was all an incredible experience, especially the scenery and how in a few places with a legacy of human habitation, the mining and whaling industries still affect the environment. For example in Magdalene fjord, fat spilled onto the ground from the boiling and processing of slaughtered whales 200 years ago now provides nutrients for a brilliant yellow lichen. It was inspiring to work alongside so many talented and creative artists. We were all doing our own projects, but also interested in what other people wanted to do and new projects and concepts developed as a consequence.”
It is not just the temperatures and the unusual neighbours that are different in the Arctic Circle, it is a world away from modern communication with the instant access to mobile phones and the Internet.
Chris explained: “In the UK we’re saturated with images through the media and advertising. Most people have seen images of the Arctic, so have developed preconceptions of what it’s like. But when you actually get there and see it in front of you then the experiences of seeing, feeling and hearing it hits home at to just how remote, beautiful and hostile the Arctic really is.
“We’re surrounded by people all the time and in a world of easy communication with phones, the Internet, satellite TV, etc. We have access to all the information and goods we could desire. Then you head to the Arctic Circle and realise that none of that exists any more. I love the remoteness and harshness of the environment and feeling that I’m away from everything except raw nature. There’s something wonderful about it all.”
However, Chris wanted to leave his own mark on the Arctic Circle when his wife, Katya Izabel Filmus, an internationally renowned glass artist, gave him a statue of a pregnant woman she had made to leave behind. Instead of just leaving it under a rock, Chris decided to encapsulate the statue into an iceberg. By drilling a hole into the iceberg, inserting the sculpture, and then filling the hole with water the statue was entombed and then nature was left to take its course. It was last seen floating out to sea, possibly to become part of the winter pack ice or to drift with the currents until it eventually melts away and drops to the sea bed.
A photography exhibition of Chris’s work will be on display at National Glass Centre in 2014 following his Arctic Circle experience, and he is currently working on a series of glass works inspired by the trip. He is hoping to collaborate with scientists or research institutions, looking at the effects of climate change, for future projects. A selection of Chris’s work can be seen at www.chrisblade.com
National Glass Centre
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University of Sunderland
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0191 515 2099 / 07748334768
My practice is interdisciplinary combining drawing, sculpture and film.
Head of Enterprise, Commissioning & the Studio
I am Head of Enterprise, Commissioning and the Studio at National Glass Centre at the University of Sunderland, England and am a member of the Senior Management Team.
I am an Israeli artist based in the UK working primarily in kiln cast glass.
Glass Maker and Artist
I have worked at National Glass Centre since finishing my degree in 2005.
Marketing and Communications Coordinator
Sara Jo Harrison joined National Glass Centre in 2012 to support the Centre's marketing and Communications strategy.
My work uses a range of media which acknowledges the interface between both traditional practice and new media.
Learning and Engagement Officer
Rachel joined National Glass Centre in 2007 to support the Centre's learning and engagement programme having completed MA Glass the previous year.
Kalki Mansel is one of National Glass Centre's resident glass artists.
Artist in Residence
Glass Sculpture and Design
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