Amphibious Trilogies

Scenarios, satire and survival

The Northern Sea Route (NSR) is one of key concerns as a passage in Amphibious Trilogies. It spans an enormous part of the globe, only recently thawing and becoming more accessible to large scale, international and commercial shipping.

The NSR is amphibious in character and composition: its is undergoing massive environmental and climatic change while becoming an increasing pathway for the passage of goods and trade while simultaneously a key element in the Russian Federation’s geo-political short- and long-term strategies. Yet it has long been part of Russian arctic mobility, whether in terms of trade, politics or geo-strategy.

In her doctoral thesis Satya Savitsky (2016: 50 ) examines ‘the ways geopolitics, geoeconomics and geophysical processes collide in the ‘Anthropocene Arctic’.  In her concluding chapter Savitzky discusses what she calls ‘Anthropocene mobilities’, observing that:

The ways the Arctic is linked via circuits and traffic of all sorts – heat, air, water, ships, pollutants, capital, marine organisms, resources, people – calls into question customary understandings regarding the ‘the Arctic’s’ ‘location’, as global loops conjoin spaces in ways that go beyond the logic of territorial proximity or spatial contiguity. (Savitsky, 2016: 250).

Following some years of inquiry into the NSR’s histories, current status and projected value, and as an arena of considerable change connected to climate, militarisation, fossil fuel extraction and distribution, we found it increasingly difficult to find creative, artistic ways to convey and communicate its complexities. Understanding that it is a highly contested route, and highly monitored and managed, we had to abandon attempts to sail its expanses from west to east.

At first this was disappointing, having landed a berth on a container ship to be called back by a key commerical figure in the industry the very next day to say he had not been correct. Highs and lows. Waves of expectation, aspriations floated and planning 6 weeks of time and work sunk. Then we found passage on one of the few commercial vessesl, hoping we migh tbe abel to contribute to its lecture series, and provide some different media views for its profile, only to learn it would be so luxurious, including the daily replacement if fruit juice in the cabin’s min-bar, that it’d drain a shipload of money from our budget, never mind the ethics of luxury problem to see ice melt. This could not be justified as artistic research fieldwork

Were we simply being too literal? Was this part of the project just plainly too vast? We continued to gather news items and follow developments in Russian plans and announcements for the route. Increasingly the NSR appeared as a volume of data, gleaned from ships navigation systems, from GPS, satellitles and of course the screens of various military powers that were invisible to us while climate data and shipping news were available.

We planned a project seminar event with international and local participants, landing the Maritime Museum in Oslo as the venue. Amanda Steggell (as project leader) and I visited the venue on a wonderfully sunny day and examined the performative potential of the room. We re-activated our earlier sketches of an installation work. Conceived as a ‘futurist moment’ riff on Russian constructivism (e.g. Perloff, 2003), on the eerily challenging and physical and graphical innovation of ‘futurists’ and non-mimetic scenography, we had envisaged a kinetic set, an installation of moving parts, a theatrical revue of movement, allusion, action and irony knitted and knotted together.

As we stood and looked out of the large sliding doors in the seminar room on the upper story of the Maritime Museum, the fiord appears at eye level and the windows offer transparency, surfaces to stick and to project, aided by the curtains that can be used to hide the installation, or at least perhaps the annotationed parts of it. We began scheming – sketching, planning, plotting – as to how the seminar might have a performative installation work on the NSR for participants to engage with, non-linearly, and linearly. And then a small virus interrupted the flow of planning and assembly ….

This thinking was not all in vain, however. We continued to discuss ways we could work with OCTOPA as a narrative and discursive critical device to read and critique the NSR. This led us back into close discussion with Bastien Kerspern from Design Friction in Nantes (France). We debated ways we might transfer her paper based toolkit designed for face-to-face workshops to a digitally accesible platform in Covid-19 times.

This brought the project into an interesting set of aesthetic and compositional and constructionist potentials, turned to our times. It forced us to rethink materials for articulating motion, for accentuating some aspects of a kinetics of the Anthropocene in dialogue between design, media, art and choreography.

……………………….

Perloff, M. (2003). The Futurist Moment. Avant-garde, avant-guerre, and the language of rupture. 2nd Edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Savitzky, S.. (2016). Icy Futures: Carving the Northern Sea Route. Unpublished PhD thesis. Lancaster: Lancaster University.

Photo credit: Popova, L. (1922). Stage set design for the play The Magnanimous Cuckold, by F. Crommelynck, Meyerhold Theatre, Moscow. Oil on canvas, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. PBS LearningMedia.

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