UVA’s High Arctic documents disappearing world

UVA’s High Arctic installation at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich invites visitors to explore the disappearing landscape of the frozen north: one of three new digital works at the museum that also include projects from The Light Surgeons and Kin

UVA’s High Arctic installation at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich invites visitors to explore the disappearing landscape of the frozen north: one of three new digital works at the museum that include projects from The Light Surgeons and Kin

The National Maritime Museum opened its new Sammy Ofer Wing last week. The £35 million project creates a new entrance to the museum as well as a large temporary exhibition space in the basement. That space is currently occupied by High Arctic, “a monument to the Arctic past set 100 years in the future,” according to its creators United Visual Artists.

The installation consists of 3000 columns, each bearing the name of a Svalbard glacier which will supposedly disappear due to climate change. Visitors use a UV torch to activate the names and a series of reactive projections in the 820 square metre space. In addition, poems by Nick Drake tell the story of our relationship with the Arctic since the first explorers went there in the 4th century.

It was created in response to a visit to Svalbard by UVA’s Matt Clark in September 2010 with the arts and climate science foundation Cape Farewell. Clark sailed around the region on a 100-year old schooner in the company of various artists, musicians and scientists (for more on Cape Farewell’s work, see here).

High Arctic is on until January 13, 2012.

Elsewhere in the new wing are two permanent digital installations. The Light Surgeons‘ Voyagers: The Wave acts as a kind of title sequence for the museum, displaying 300 metatagged images from its archive along with text that alludes to its key themes across a structure of 26 triangular facets and a ‘Puffersphere‘ display.

The overall effect is akin to something that the Eames or perhaps Will Burtin may have created for some 1960s expo (by no means a bad thing). The project is explained in more detail here.


Also seeking to get visitors interested in the museum archives in the Compass Lounge, created by Kin. Here visitors can use a giant trackball to scroll through themed collections of 4000 images of naval uniforms, paintings, boats, medals, coins and flags (personally I would have liked some captions with these). In the ‘plan-chest’ area, drawers contain touchscreens via which visitors can access the most searched for and most viewed images in the museum’s collections.

There is also the Compass Card, a credit card-sized piece of paper bearing a unique barcode. As visitors move through the museum they can ‘collect’ objects that interest them by inserting the card into a series of special units and stamping it. The visitor will then be sent an e-book containing images of the objects.

All of which gives what was previously one of the less exciting options among London’s competing museums a much-needed digital shot in the arm.

High Arctic photographs: John Adrian



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