Journey to Svalbard

I think for many readers, when they hear Svalbard, they think of Philip Pullman’s seminal His Dark Materials trilogy. In the first book, the heroine Lyra Belacqua journeys to the arctic to rescue her friend and the other children that have been stolen by the gobblers. Pullman’s fictional version of Svalbard is particularly notable as this is where the panserbjørne kingdom is located.

In our real world version of Svalbard, there are no panserbjørne, but there are polar bears of the non-armoured variety, and thus humans must stay within city limits unless they are armed. Despite having never seen a polar bear, this makes the stark, alien landscape of Longyearbyen feel more homey to me, as curious bears can regularly be found trotting down northern ontario streets as well, particularly on garbage day.

Today I leave on an arctic sailing expedition where I will be gathering assets and beginning the creation of two projects: one, an augmented reality app that depicts the intimate, digitally-mediated relationship between the reader and a traveller in a near future where technology is constantly disrupted by climate change. This project investigates some of the burgeoning grammars of AR, particularly those that use temporality and communication disruption for emotional impact. The second project is a lyrical virtual reality project exploring elemental winter and the multimodal elements used to depict and define ‘cold’.

I am so pleased to have been selected for this residency, and to be travelling with a phenomenal group of artists, researchers, arctic guides and sailors. I will be incommunicado for the next few weeks, but will return to civilization in late October with steady sea legs and hard drives full of digital materials.