Commissioned artist Rikke Luther reflects upon residency at Artica Svalbard

Rikke Luther is a Danish artist based in Copenhagen. Her current work explores the new interrelations created by environmental crisis as they relate to the Earth System. These relations encompass themes related to landscape, language, politics, financialisation, law, biology, geology and economy, that are expressed in drawn images, photography and film.

Since 2022, Rikke Luther has worked on a research project entitled More Mud which has included residencies at Baltic Art Center (Sweden), Skaftfell Art Center (Iceland), Artica Svalbard (Norway) and research trips to Finland, and Greenland. From these field studies, NAARCA has commissioned a new film to be completed in Spring 2024.

Rikke completed her residency at Artica Svalbard in June 2023 and shared reflections from her residency and recommended readings via Artica’s ‘Residents Recommend’ series.

Mud is everywhere. It’s why I am here. The glaciers are melting – here accelerating like a car with kickdown gearing. A regiment of soggy permafrost troops behind it. A sticky, muddy, floating landscape is all around me. Its bubbles rise from underground, forming a soundtrack that resembles early Japanese electronica. Methane-Carbon Dioxide-Methane-Methane-Carbon dioxide … Scanning the landscape, I no longer see in colour – everything has been filmed in black and white. Coal and snow.

I brought my work with me: Ocean-Lands: Mud Within the Earth System. Day after day here, I take the trip into the fjord, filming the new formations. Blob. Ooze. Brown tears. Up on the mountain, I film the route the muds take – landslides slip, then creep, every downward. A dribble, then suddenly an ocean falls at speed. Form – once reliably solid – becomes movement. On Svalbard, average temperatures are rising six times the global average. Reading the science papers given to me by colleagues … here, we are already in the year 2103.

Recommended readings: I pick my way through a pre-publication chapter by oceanographer Katherine Richardson and geo-biologist Minik Rosing. Time scales in the Biosphere and Geosphere and their interactions: Importance for Establishing Earth System State. It’s as complex as the Earth. To a non-scientist the representation is as difficult as the thing it represents. I re-read. Every time, it forms another story in my mind. First, I understood it from the perspective of Greenland. A series of intersecting cycles. Out of sync. The slow ‘geological transportation of carbon into the Earth’s mantle’ verses ‘the anthropogenic release of carbon into the atmosphere’, which occurs two hundred times faster. Or is Katherine and Minik’s text a topographical grid – an orderly method of some kind – that is going to help me understand other stories? Then, sediments presenting themselves as muds. Could that new drifting, from ice-flows to ocean, help new life-forms to blossom and expand. Could it even capture more CO2?

Christiane Ritter’s A Woman in the Polar Night looks back at me from the desk. Written in 1937 – as old as my father. I found it on Artica’s bookshelf. The kind of book best read on site! Then, literally an overview: Svalbard from Above; then Geoscience Atlas of Svalbard. How little we understand. Solidity, it turns out, is becoming as transitory as knowledge.

Text extract – to read in full, visit Artica’s website.

Featured Image: Moving Landscape, Tidal Flat, Svalbard, 2023 (courtesy Rikke Luther)

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