Cape Farewell's Disko Bay expedition sails to the west coast of Greenland
Cape Farewell completed its seventh expedition on 6 October 2008, taking artists and scientists on a 10-day journey to the west coast of Greenland, from Nuugaatsraq, 71.5 degrees north, to Disko Bay, passing the Sermeg Avangnardieq and Jakobshavn glaciers.
boarding the Grigory Mikheen
The crew of artists and musicians were joined by onboard science teams from the British Geological Survey, Scottish Association for Marine Science and National Oceanography Centre.
On this expedition, art projects were made, plays were written and performed, music gigs were played in local villages, scientific research was done, and everyone blogged - thoughtful, introspective, descriptive blogs.
Here are excerpts from those blogs, starting with Cape Farewell director David Buckland's wrap-up of this year's journey.
My Expedition Summary
10 days of constant curiosity both from the scientists and artists have run me/us ragged. Western Greenland/Arctic has worked its magic, the debate has been constant and fledgling art processes have engaged and been executed.
• Jude Kelly directed onboard the 32 ‘scenes’ of Milton's Paradise Lost with our crew of players, filmed by Peter Gilbert.
• New songs were written by Robyn Hitchcock, KT Tunstall, Martha Wainwright, Vanessa Carlton and Feist.
• Geological surveys were made in five different locations, as well as ocean current measurements and sea ice sampling.
• Recordings were made by Ryuichi Sakamoto and he is working with the geologists on a sound work based on their electronic data.
• Laurie Anderson read her stories both live and to camera.
Jude Kelly directs Paradise Lost
• Michèle Noach found the Papaver Radicatum, Arctic poppies for her artwork with the Eden Project.
• Sophie Calle completed an artwork in the Arctic.
• and much more.
Intellectual climate input was achieved with a series of daily talks:
• two given by the onboard scientists, three by the two Inuit guides and Dr Ko de Korte
• Sunand Prasad tackled contraction and convergence
• Joe Smith on Carbon Trading and market response
• Ryuichi Sakamoto, KT Tunstall, Chris Wainwright and Francesca Galeazzi led a lively discussion on the artists response/creativity
• and a final talk led by Marcus Brigstocke and Joe Smith addressed just how important it is to feel ‘up’ and empowered by things climate rather than crawl into a hole of despair.
This rigorous discussion and activity has firmed up my thoughts that two major shifts are needed if we are going to mediate the threat of climate change - a shift in the political will and a cultural shift.
Ryuichi Sakamoto recording sound
at Sermeg Avangnardleq Glacier
I do believe the cultural shift is the most effective way to reduce 80% of our carbon footprint.
At any point of cultural shift you will always find artists working, it’s sort of our job description. All the artists are struggling to find a voice that doesn’t preach, doesn’t illustrate and we don’t do social engineering.
As artists, if we take on climate as a frontal charge, it never works. There always has to be some footwork that shifts the process to a parallel path, a deviant tangent that clears the territory, the terrain that makes the process personal.
from the journey's start:
Plane landing at Kangerlussuaq
5 hours sailing down the gargantuan straight of Sondre Stromfjord, the light starts to get soaked up by the time. Like a waking dream. Milky green sea that looks alive. A beautifully perfected valley scraped out of the landscape as our guide, singing us out of its mouth. The weirdness. The spook. That half-light that makes you feel like the whites of your eyes are glowing.
26 September 2008
There’s forty six passengers, nineteen Russian crew, three international expedition staff and three international hotel and catering staff. It was stormy last night. The Gregory Mikheev, all two hundred and ten feet of her, tilted and bobbed like a jack-in-a-box. At twelve and an half knots she crashed through the night sky, a shadow cutting through a shadow, lighthouse spills midnight truths from the ragged coast. Morning breaks through and there’s no sea sickness, only wonder.
Mojisola Adebayo arriving in Greenland
27 September 2008
After an eventful trip out here including radar problems at London delaying our flight by 4 hours leaving us with 2 minutes to spare before Heathrow stopped all outgoing flights for the night (bit of a close shave that one), and luggage chaos as 43 people and 1500kgs of kit descended on 3 airports in 24 hours, we’ve made it!
The fantastic aerial views of the glaciers feeding down from the icecap provoked a multitude of questions about glacier behaviour, stress and strain distributions and icecap thickness and age. A quiet discussion with a few people about the above questions soon resulted in filming and recording by both the American film crew and Quentin Cooper from Radio 4!
28 September 2008
Lying in my cosily-lit bunk last night off the coast from Kangerlussuaq, as the sea slowly rolled us around, it felt like being in a giant cradle, rocked by a patient, powerful hand. Our ship is a steady big ole affair with dashing (both senses) Russians.
We’ve had a day of lectures, visuals and conversations about climate change: the science, the apocalypse and the good news.
This ship seems full of fast-breeder, original minds and cross-pollination is already in full, filthy congress. A sprawling, ideas-kicking friendly match. A kind of weather condition of thinking.
In some ways the more ridiculous the ideas the better they seem, but that could be the lack of sleep. Extreme left-field thinking and trying to keep one’s pecker up in the face of colourfully illustrated catastrophe seems the ticket.
I keep thinking of the saying: The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.
Dogs and icebergs
What a day! We sailed during the night to reach the island of Disko, where we arrived around 9am and visited the village of Qeqertarsuaq (Godhavn in Danish).
It is Sunday so all shops and activities are closed and there are only a few people around. The first visit is to the church were some of us stay for the 10am mass. Although we didn’t understand a word, being in this little warm timber church was somehow reassuring.
The small timber houses are painted in bright primary colours, forming rainbow-like streets and turning the otherwise grey and dull landscape into a lively and somehow amusing scene. The village looks like a merge between Scandinavian and Caribbean architecture, what a combination!
The beach is the most incredible thing I have ever seen: set against the dark volcanic sand, a remarkable group of icebergs is floating and breaking, at close distance from our cameras, emitting loud bangs and flipping over.
Smaller pieces of icebergs that came off the bigger ones are stranded at the beach and melt slowly.
The black beach is so punctured by white bits of ice and yellow algae, that it might be taken for a piece of abstract expressionism!
Karen, our Inuit guide, tells us that until a few years ago the whole Disko Bay would freeze over in the winter and one could even drive a car across the ice.
Now, if they are lucky, they get to see the Bay to freeze with a thin layer of ice. For a few winters in a row they didn’t get any ice at all on the Bay.
'Never again… I’m never going back… Not even if hell freezes over'. Words I repeated so many times last year. The boat this year is huge, not at all like the Noorderlight last year. So far, even in rough seas it’s altogether more pleasant.
The Icebergs (scientists Carol Cotterill & Emily
Venables) & KT Tunstall at Murphy's Bar, Ilulissat
Hell has not frozen over as far as I know, nor for that matter has much of the Arctic this year, and yet here I am again. The odd thing is despite having come to the Arctic last year, written and performed loads of material on climate change, talked to countless school children about the environment, done battle with on-line sceptics (flat earthers), met my MP to demand the government reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, greened up our house and cycled my son to school… harmful climate change continues and CO2 emissions are going up!
It’s baffling. I fail to see what more I can do… Still, I thought I’d give it one more serious push this year - then if it’s still getting worse by 2009 I’ll give up and buy a Humvee, wrapped in a plastic bag, flown over from New Zealand, out of season, with a glove box full of delicious oil toffees and George Monbiot’s severed head.
I started to make work yesterday, which was and continues to be REALLY exciting. I hatched the idea for it before coming on the expedition and am happy to report that it is working far better than I expected.
I'm making drawings with coloured felt tips on paper. These works respond directly to the sea, working with the impact the movement of the waves have on the ship and then using the arctic sea water to impregnate the drawings, causing the images to bleed and fade. I have also rigged up an automatic drawing system to made drawings from the motion of the boat (see photo).
This system has created drawings, that explore movement, time, place and permanence.
I'm trying to grapple, engage and digest the landscape we are in, which is immensely beautiful and awesome! I want to make sense of what I'm looking at. The process of learning and the time it will take for me to understand the enormity of the current state of climate change worries me, I hope my creative response to it won't be too late!!
I should really go now, as it is long past my bedtime and I am pooped beyond the point of being pooped!
Justifying Bad Behaviour
This morning I walked across the fresh snow with a gas cylinder in my arms, containing 6kg of CO2. I took it across the unspoiled snow field of the Jakobshavns fiord until I found what, to my eyes, was a wonderful place.
From a little hill I could see massive icebergs impassably floating by, some of them breaking up from time to time with a loud bang. The sea below was deep grey, which made the icebergs stand up in all their beauty and fragility. The sky was a merge of pale grey and cerulean with a yellow glow just behind the skyline. Lichen and small berry plants could be felt under the powdery snow as I walked by.
I walked to the top of the small hill, I put the cylinder down, got on my knees and opened the valve. The CO2 came out violently, freezing the air around the nozzle and producing an unpleasant whistle. When I lowered the cylinder towards the ground, the snow blew off all around me under the pressure of the air jet, almost to signify the melting of the Arctic ice shelf because of the carbon emissions generated somewhere else.
Reading this you might think I am an evil horrible woman. I would like to reassure you, I am not! I haven’t done anything bad. because I have offset the carbon emissions generated by the CO2 cylinder, through an online Gold Standard Carbon Offsetting scheme! Cool no? This is great stuff. One can go about consciously polluting the world, wasting energy, producing tonnes of waste and abusing natural resources without feeling guilty at all!! One can simply pay somebody to compensate for his/her ‘bad’ actions somewhere else, and become Carbon Neutral!
Don’t you think this is great?
Personally I think it is appalling.
My eyes opened this morning to a seascape of icebergs barely outside my cabin. We had moved much further north overnight, toward the Disko Bay area. The area is littered with icebergs that originate from the Ilulissat glacier, move through the Ilulissat ice fiord and dump into the ocean in Disko Bay.
The glacier is sick. It has climate change. As a result, the glacier is retreating at a lightning pace. Right now, it is retreating by 38 metres per day; over the last 10 years, it retreated by more than 16 kilometres.
Even I Have Not Seen What I Have Seen
Our Second Mate has a fondness for the phrase: 'You have not seen what I have seen'. This delivered ominously in a rich Russian voice. I think he’s probably right and am keen to keep things that way.
But on Monday, after a walk through snow-wrought hills, we topped a level and before us swept miles of glacier debris in graded chunks, with the larger ones leading to the glacier itself, some 30 km upfjord. The sky was doing its usual 'I can do this, and have you seen me do this, and then there’s this' routine. Words were a bit redundant so we stood looking out and talking about really unrelated things to keep calm. The record industry, Battenberg cakes, Sarah Palin, Michael Palin.
Perdlerfiup Sermia Glacier
What are we doing here?
I think we’re investigating the environment through our ridiculous human selves. I think we need to keep looking out, stand on deck, be where we are. We need to think colossally silly and lateral thoughts in order to address the equally monumental change that we all have to make.
Regardless of climate change, the wasteful squandering of fossil fuels is plain stoopid. Even back in the 70’s I remember school campaigns to save electricity, water, coal, everything. Waste was selfish and pointless. Somewhere after that time it became OK to be wasteful: part of an affluence that was our right, our proud fingerprint. And then our footprint.
Search for the Meaning of Life
Today we went ashore and I directed a performance of my 365s: A Search For The Meaning of Life. It was beautiful and energizing to work with so many members of the expedition on a theatre piece. Laurie A was played the part of the “finder” which gave me a special joy.
During the voyage I am working on two projects. The first is to put up in a suitable and sheltered spot further north, four balloons such that a volume of 540 m3 is delineated between their tether lines: the volume of one tonne of CO2; the average emission per person per month in the UK. Within a few years we must make that same amount last 6 month.
Sunand Prasad's project
We don’t need an outpouring of climate change related songs and artworks; it could be embarrassing. The experience of this voyage is such a visual and sensory feast that its impressions will certainly influence people’s work, though not necessarily as climate change. What many in this crew have is access to a huge global audience that they are able to inspire.
We sail into Uummannaq Fjord. there is a visit organised to a children’s home and a gig for the musicians in the evening in a hotel - sort of a Glastonbury in Uummannaq with this line-up. It happens to be special day and there are visitors from the town to listen to Greenlandic songs from both the kids and a brilliant local choir. Cakes and delicacies like raw seal liver and dried whale meat are laid out for us to sample.
Nature, were she you.
An Arctic Poem (still in progress)
I have sailed the farthest seas
from South to North
pole to pole.
I have seen the wild extremes of the world
Would that the snow were as soft as your skin,
the icicles as clear as your eyes.
But that the rocks were as brave as your heart,
the glaciers as sharp as your mind,
Would that nature were you.
I would say 'don’t ever change'
I would sing 'don’t let a thing rearrange you, stay…'
remain sustain that which makes you what you are,
would that you were nature.
I would watch I would catch every tear that melts from your face
and when you’re in floods I would be a barrier to the pain.
I would make you wet when your lakes run dry,
I would keep you cool and calm when your tides rise.
I would take the heat out of all the pressure,
meet your needs, find out your wants, what gives you pleasure.
I would dig deep to know what makes you grow.
Nourish you, cherish you, plant goodness inside you.
Stay close, give you space, give you space, stay close, not too hot, nor too cold.
I would boldy defend you, they wouldn’t dare trespass you.
I would never let anyone mess you up or around.
I would stop any man from cutting you down.
I would put my body between you and danger.
I would scream your name in righteous anger.
Worship you with my feet, my moves, my fingers, my mouth.
Protect you from all those who sew doubt.
I would consider how each of my actions affects you.
I would put aside destructive desires, for you.
I would be passionate, inventive, spontaneous, creative
and I would never ever take you for granted.
I would make the effort when I was tired
and when inevitably I fail - try to make it right,
take responsibility for what is mine,
and with tenderness, apologise.
Make up, make love, wake up, go to bed, feed you naked and fertile do it all over again.
I would refuse to let you die, there would be no end,
All this and more I would do,
if I loved nature
as I love you.
UUMMANASUAQ / Big Heart Shape / Cape Farewell
Today I went ashore and we performed a play I wrote three days ago. It’s called UUMMANASUAQ/BIG HEART SHAPE/CAPE FAREWELL. It’s a forever play, meaning while we only see a few minutes of it, it takes forever to perform. Lemn and David N were in it. They were awesome and very brave working in the cold. Then Peter wanted me to play some slide blues guitar while hanging out on the glacier so on I played Robert Johnson’s 'If I had Possession Over Judgement Day'.' Magical. It means a lot to me to bring the blues this far north. Maybe everything I’ve done so far is a warm up for this.
Search for the Perfect Iceberg
Yesterday for me was a roller-coaster of emotions: determination and failure, hope and fear, anticipation and disappointment.
One of my projects on board consisted of an artistic response to the melting and retreat of glaciers as result of climate change. My response was to place a park bench on a newly formed iceberg or floating ice-shelf off the fast-moving coast of West Greenland. A bench which, in its fragility and remoteness, becomes a silent witness of the dramatic changes that are occurring in the Arctic. A bench with nobody to sit on.
The brass plaque on the bench reads:
Searching for the iceberg
Considerate la vostra semenza:
fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza
Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Inferno: Canto XXVI, v.118-120
(Consider the seed from which you were generated; you were not made to live like brutes, but for pursuit of virtue and of knowledge.) says Ulysses, narrating his thirst for discovery that took him out of the known seas of his times.
'Disko-very Bob' has made it into the West Greenland Current with everything running smoothly - at last! The water column sampling didn’t start well last week (hence lack of my blog) with the failure of the CTD, designed to measure profiles of temperature and salinity to 200m. However what we did see in a test run was that the waters in this part of the ocean show strong inputs of fresh water from the melting glaciers that border the coast.
A few days ago we used our back up device - only capable of measuring to 10m depth - to observe at close quarters the melt water coming off the glacier in Perdlerfiup Kangerdlua. There was little evidence of liquid water entering the sea at the glacier front with the minimum salinities occurred further into the fjord. This indicates that all of the fresh water flow here is as ice, only diluting the sea water as the ice melts on its journey out to the open sea. The sea temperatures were 2°C, 4°C above the freezing point of sea water, and more than sufficient to slowly melt the freshwater of these glacial icebergs.
Simon Boxall and Emily Venables launch
The omens have been good over the past day with good geo-results, sunny skies and good Northern Lights. Last night as Emily and I prepared the Argo float for deployment today the light show of the sky was joined by a show from the sea with phosphorescent plankton trailing in our wake. The oceans were at last proving to match the other stars of the Cape Farewell show.
The GreenLand's Prayer
An Arctic Poem (still in progress)
Give us this day our daily seal
And forgive us our footprints
As we forgive those who tread against us
And lead us not into pollution
But deliver us from petrol
For ours is the past, the present and the future
For ever and ever
Paradise Lost in the restaurant
We’ve spent the morning popping in and out of the restaurant for a read through of Paradise Lost – everyone read a few lines. Not looked at the text for more than a decade but feels the natural thing to do here and now as we sail south back to port.
Leslie Feist, Lemn Sissay and Ruth Little
perform Paradise Lost
A couple of my posts have referred to people’s anxieties about the Baffin Boot sized carbon footprint that coming on this trip entails. Sin and redemption are so woven into western culture that we shouldn’t be surprised that we frame these questions about individual responsibility in terms of sin and the pursuit of redemption.
A few years ago Patriarch Bartholemew (leader of the Orthodox Church) announced that environmental harm was a sin (the Pope followed suit soon after). Of course they have a natural advantage over science and policy people when it comes to finding a language that seems to have the right kind of scale: they’ve been phrasemaking on the big questions for centuries.
After dinner, Laurie read 4 or 5 stories she’d written. Much like the Greenlandic choir we heard in Uummannaq, though in completely different ways into completely different doors of my mind, something really entered from both of these performances. Both were so honestly casual and so uncluttered by pretense, and so potently good to listen to.
Sunand offered to draw me a building if I’d sing him a song.
Suzan-Lori had us on hands and knees on a glacier crawling like lemmings.
Vanessa marinated apples in vodka for a week.
Simon and I did a phoner with CBC on a satellite phone the size of a brick in 10 layers of wool and gortex.
Sophie gets us wine for every meal and outlasts me every night.
Everyone wants to know how the debates have been going and if the terrifying novelty of Palin has worn off.
Jarvis and I tracked the schnauzer tracks to a small ice cave on a frozen river.
Every day or 2 the website notes from family and friends are posted on the bar door and people hover around to collect shreds of affection or news from the outside world.
Martha is just plain heavy.
Michelle lost her mitten.
Today the argo float was dropped in the sea and will still be there pondering salinity and currents four years from now.
Jude let us wrap our mouths around poetry.
Quentin needs to turn this trip into prose.
The British outnumber the rest of us and I keep finding myself adopting a lame cockney accent.
Peter is looking for the story.
Sunand is the president of a society numbering almost the population of Greenland.
I read a letter on yellow stationary under the northern lights.
Shlomo gave Laurie a beatboxing lesson.
The boy in the children’s home played a casio keyboard with preset drum rolls and they said it was traditional Greenlandic music.
icebergs at Ilulissat Kangia
Graham’s name is Harold.
Someone was describing in detail how to make ice cream.
I dropped some of the tiny beads from my broken necklace into the cold waves and felt cruel for one second.
One more day left in this miniature microcosm.
I’ve been hiding out in the open over here. Trying to look Out but being looked At by the unblinking eyes of the cameras has been the only string attached to this gift of a trip. Distracting the clean horizon like the flash of a ghost in the corner of your eye ... the phantom presence making you slightly uneasy but expanding the scope of imagination to include the invisible.
Which I suppose, in this case, is you.
Our Last Day
You know that Apple Mac screen saver with the cosmic tracer thing swirling around?
About 10 of us were stood on deck late night and looked up at the same time that it escaped out of someone’s laptop, gained gargantuan proportions and launched itself out of the sky above our heads in neon green; spinning, speeding, an incredible Catherine Wheel firework that made us all scream.
I stayed out there for an hour and a half in minus ten, making myself laugh as my frozen face was about 5 seconds behind any words I tried to say.
The best light show in the world.
My lasting memory was the tide line back on land.
In the virgin dawn light I saw that the only flotsam left by the sea on the beach was a thin line of ice; pure white, in the shape of a wave.
Ryuichi had told us when he played his recording of an underground glacial stream that it was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.
The sound of water that was frozen solid before human beings even existed, heard for the first time, unspoilt, no particles of plastic.
Baby water. Old as the earth.
As we waited to board our plane, a Greenlandic choir sat at a table in the golden morning sun, absent-mindedly eating sandwiches and practising one of the same songs we had heard at the children’s home.
Beautiful, mournful, comforting, ancient, innocent.
Photographs are by Nathan Gallagher unless otherwise credited
published in 2008
The Disko Bay crew included
dramaturg and writer, Literary Manager of the Royal Court Theatre
artist, director, artistic director at the South Bank Centre and Chair of the Olympic Culture and Education Committee for London 2012
journalist, The Natural World
Dr Simon Boxall
artist and designer
Dr Carol Cotterill
marine and coastal geoscientist
British Geological Survey
expedition leader and artist
A full list of the crew is here.
Blogs from Cape Farewell's Youth Expedition here.