The Arctic Circle Artist Residency –

The experience of a lifetime.


I applied to the Arctic Circle Artist and Science Residency in January of 2019 in my never ending quest to push and challenge myself beyond my preconceived boundaries and as an environmental activist – a must to be able to concretely express by art the ongoing  arctic trauma which unsettles the pleasure we derive from beauty, yet having a more lasting and disturbing resonance. I was accepted for the 2020 fall expedition but unfortunately  it was delayed because of Covid until October 2022. I went north into the unknown because I felt that I absolutely had to. I had no idea what to expect but upon landing in the Northernmost “city” of Longyearbyen and for the next 23 days, I saw and experienced the unimaginable, a land of unspeakable beauty where sublime became a verb and where every day, overwhelmed by beauty and an overpowering sense of responsibility – I openly and uninhibitedly cried.

I decided to name my project Ice Breaking as a play on words and by the relevance of its several meanings:

A sturdy ship built for breaking a passage through icebound waters, something done or said to relax an unduly formal atmosphere or situation, A beginning; a start, and what is literally happening in our arctic regions; the ice is breaking.

The Ice Breaking Project is my attempt to renarrativize the arctic experience through the incorporation of different artistic disciplines both individual ( full length documentary , soundtrack and images ) and collaborative ( Arctic Visions: Poetry and Images from a Changing Landscape with my ICM photographer colleague Roberto Polillo), all through a different perspective.

No longer following the trails of the Heroic Arctic Exploration Age that started in the mid 19th century or the men who came north for fame and conquest but from the perspective of the new heroes , mostly women, who have traveled to the arctic regions in large numbers since the 1990s’ not to conquer and plant flags but to nurture and be part of the solution, and whose footprints are not left on the land itself but on the work created and the stories told.

Twenty seven artists, scholars and scientists sailed together the Svalbard archipelago along with twelve crew and an elderly and utterly sweet Husky named Hildago.

We sailed north and reached the farthest most northern point of the archipelago at almost 81 latitude . We anchored in a new inlet or fjord every night and every day we woke to a new mind-blowing landscape. Every morning we outfitted ourselves with the proper three or four layered panoply of garments and equipment and set out on the zodiacs alongside our polar bear protectors to produce our individual projects and explore.

We saw and followed from the ship a lonely polar bear for about 30 minutes, we were very close to seals, walruses, arctic reindeer and arctic foxes. We stood on the ground where the Salomon Andre’s failed balloon expedition took flight in 1897 , our names now follow the long list of arctic explorers like Robert Peary, Sir John Franklin and Ronald Amundsen.

We saw the northern lights on the horizon and discovered that they are not only made up of green hues but also red and blue which were only visible through our technological devices yet not our eyes.

The light was indescribable. Our days were a mixture of sunrises and sunsets, the likes of nothing I have ever seen before. A constant transforming stream of pinks, oranges, gold and glacier blues followed by beautifully interchanging shades of gray and black illuminated but an iridescent eternal moon and plethora of stars.

The Glaciers, each one their own unique self and personality, growled and caved like live walls of disintegrating blues .Their names Holmiabreen, Erikbreen, Dalhbreen, Smeerenburbreen just to name a few of the ones we were fortunate enough to experience out of the 21,000 glaciers in Spitsbergen.

The Ice – sloshing, bobbing, constantly crackling pieces of all sizes – frozen diamonds dancing on the teal pristine waters.

Sailing north towards the north pole through unchartered waters and unfathomable icescapes on a three mast wooden vessel where time stood still and the space continuum was palpable made me feel more alive than ever. We had no cell reception, no internet, no contact with the world beneath us, and nothing to interfere with our magnificent present. It was truly incredible.

Most of us returned altered, stunned and speechless.

I returned forever changed by what I saw and experienced and bewildered by the enormous responsibility to tell the arctic story . For about a month I stayed inside myself and silent, for I could not turn what I saw into ordinary language, for what we shared together as a group of artists was too sacred for speech.

It is my hope and ardent wish to return to the arctic again, I believe I have caught a permanent ailment called arctic fever.

It is also my hope that our work and words, will inspire a new generation of explorers and activists in their commitment to art, exploration and ultimately the preservation and safeguarding our awe inspiring home.

Leonor Anthony