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Janet Biggs’ Arctic Project

Project Description

I have been selected to participate in an artist and scientist led expedition aboard an ice-class sailing vessel that will travel in the High Arctic for three weeks in October 2009 as part of “The Arctic Circle” program (www.thearcticcircle.org).

During this voyage, I will use the awe-inspiring High Arctic as a stage for a new groundbreaking video piece. The work will incorporate images of human exertion and athleticism, incredible landscapes, music, and choreography.

In October 2009, I will set sail on the Noorderlicht, a sailing ship built in 1910, from Longyearbyen on the remote Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. This is the latest voyage for the Noorderlicht, so the captain will decide on our route based on sea ice and weather.

While on the expedition I will create a new artwork that explores the driving desire that compels some individuals to push themselves to their personal limits in remote lands.

My video will begin by focusing on a carefully selected member of the sailing crew as she struggles to maintain balance and forward progress, both physically and psychologically, during the Arctic expedition. It will examine the extremes she encounters in the endless horizons above deck and in the claustrophobic interior of the ship, all set against the background of turbulent seas and ice covered landscapes.

I will also film moments of respite as she leaves the sailing ship and regains a fleeting sense of control by navigating a modern Inuit kayak through iceberg filled lagoons. As she slips between icebergs she will be joined by three other kayak paddlers. The four paddlers will then perform a choreographed kayak ballet - illustrating humanity’s search for successful harmony with nature and the absurd attempts made towards this goal. The Arctic kayak ballet will be videotaped both above and below water, including capturing kayak underwater rolls.

I have enlisted Inuit and Norwegian members of the Svalbard kayak-polo team for the kayak performance. Before leaving for the Arctic, I will work with kayakers in New York to practice the movements, and also to learn to paddle in adverse situations. I will also work with dancers wearing kayak foam boat shapes to create and videotape the choreography on land. The video documentation will be posted on-line so that the Arctic paddlers can learn the pattern prior to my arrival.

My role as witness to global warming’s impact on the Arctic and on the individuals struggling within that environment will help frame this project. By personal participation in extreme Arctic sea travel, I will expand my work both technically and conceptually.


Pre-trip activities

To date I have:

bulletSecured a position aboard the Arctic Circle program’s expedition on the sailing vessel Noorderlicht.
bulletCreated the concept for a new art piece, based on the unique opportunity the High Arctic presents for video and performance.
bulletDeveloped schematics for the choreography and story boards for the video.
bulletReviewed the Noorderlicht crew members and selected a member to be the focus of my video.
bulletContacted Eike Muller at the Svalbard Sailing Club in Longyearbyen to participate as one of the kayak paddlers (he will select the other two needed to form a quadrille). • Made arrangements to rent kayaks, paddles, and dry suits from the Svalbard Sailing Club.
bulletHired a choreographer and dancers to assist in the NYC choreography phase.
bulletContracted the services of an award-winning director for the planning of shots and preparation of equipment.
bulletEngaged a Grammy-award-winning composer to develop music to support this piece.


Exhibition Opportunities

Through the SCOPEfoundation, work by the Arctic Circle participants will be featured in SCOPE’s international exhibition schedule, traveling to major art fairs in North America, Europe, and Asia.

Partial exhibitions schedule:

bulletMiami, Florida: December 2009, Roberto Clemente Park
bulletMadrid, Spain: February 2010
bulletNew York, New York: March 2010, Lincoln Center
bulletBasel, Switzerland: June 2010
bulletThe Hamptons, New York: July 2010, East Hampton Studios
bulletLondon, United Kingdom: October 2010

In addition, Janet Biggs’ Arctic Project will be exhibited at her New York gallery and as part of her mid-career survey at the Tampa Museum of Art. Her works have also typically been shown at major US and international museums and art institutions.


Images (some are artist's mockups)

Location of voyage:


Project mockup

S/V Noorderlicht, two-masted steel hulled schooner, built 1910


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