Amphibious Trilogies

Welcome

Welcome to the world of Amphibious Trilogies, an artistic research project centered on islands, ponds and passages. In times of rapid climate change, what may happen if we think, move and do amphibiously?

This site is designed kinetically, a little planet that contains project posts and media, a terrella of sorts, quirky, glitchy, ever moving and evolving.

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Bon voyage!

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Lecture on NSR

Day 18 on the Arctic Floating University
Tuesday 9 July 2019

I am so privileged to share my room with Barbara Schennerlein, an historian dedicated to uncover the early pioneers of the otherwise unknown Arctic regions. Her camera is her main tool. Her mind is always working. She starts her lecture like this.

Barbara has accompanied the Russian government program. Beginning in 2012, it was a large-scale cleaning of abandoned polar stations. The intention was to glean and capture artefacts of polar research and the traces of human activities therein, before they were erased. Collaborating with Antje Kakuschke, this work resulted in a photographic exhibition “Phantasma Arktika”. Her intention on this expedition is to document and expand her knowledge of the Northern Sea Route administration, historically, and a part of the North East Passage, from the Arctic to Asia.

Many explores have failed, again and again. The knowledge of failure is essential for future explorations. Conditions of The Arctic are not well suited to people. They often become land and ice bounded. Many have lost their lives. Thus Baraba’s first lecture poses an alternative, The Exploration  Of The Arctic From The Air, leading up to the Arctic journey of the “Graf Zeppelin” in 1931. Here, the burden of of life in camps, sledges and boats are eradicated. Likewise, an airship does not intrude on Arctic landscapes. That is, if an airship does not blow up and/or crashes into the landscape.

In 1926 the airship Norge, Amundsen-Ellsworth Transpolar Flight failed. Shortly after in 1928 was the Airship Italy, a disaster.

The Graf Zeppelin Arctic expedition carried a team of scientists from Germany, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Sweden on an exploration of the Arctic, making meteorological observations, measuring variations in the earth’s magnetic field in the latitudes near the North Pole. They also made a photographic survey of unmapped regions using a panoramic camera that automatically took several pictures per minute.  The journey was the first possibility to really explore the Arctic regions from the air, says Barbara. I think; seabirds do it, satellite imaginary does it too.

If I remember rightly, Barbara (her pace is rapid) has told us about Henrich von Stephan, a German statesman. Born in Stolp, Pomerania in 1831, he became an Postmaster General. He was an advocate of the Universal Postal System. But that’s not all. He envisaged a universal postal system that could fly in the sky, like Zeppelins (not to be mentioned is Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin). 

Svalbard is a hub for international scientific research on The Arctic. All countries have one or more agendas. Ny Ålesund is one of these. It hosts the airship mast, built in 1926 during Amundsen-Ellsworth north pole expedition with the airship Norge, serving also the “Graf Zeppelin” in 1931.

A disappointment for me is when we were on Ny Ålesund. No time to take to see the airship mast some metres away from the landing site. If only I were on the ball I might had registered my interest of this mast. I thought it as a given thing. Concerning Barabra, I think she had similar thoughts. The dilemma, a curling curve, is about encountering versus pre-programmed activities. But also is an issue of communication, whether scientific or artistic research, between the organisers and other participants.

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What are amphibians?

Home in the water and home at land. Lives part of the life in water and part on land. Animals of humidity – some of them able to adapt to long periods on land and long periods in water. Still some of them climb in trees and bushes and some stay close to ground. Some can leap, some climb, and some can crawl and all can swim. None of them has wings and none has feathers and fur. Egg laying creatures and most of them lay eggs in jelly like substance in stagnant water.

Salamandra salamandra is a black salamander with orange yellow patterns, Triturus alpestris lighter, smaller with an orange underneath and a magnificent tail, Triturus vulgaris is more brownish, spotted and partly bluish at the bottom part of the tail, Triturus montandoni is more brownish, but still with a orange underneath and Triturus helveticus is fairly similar. Salamanders come in different sizes and colours. They are dragons of the past and love water. In fact, they depend on water for their eggs. The hatched eggs and tadpoles belong in water.

Toads and frogs look similar, but in fact, they live different lives. Toads can survive dry areas and some of them stay places frogs will never survive.  It exist a great variety Bombina bombina is red and black underneath and dark on top. If you look close, you will see spots like a leopard on top. Bombina variegate is rather similar but far more brown on top – nearly like chocolate and chocking yellow with black patterns underneath. Pelobates fuscus is light brown and Bufo bufo, the toad of the north is very darkish brown. Further south Bufo viridis is light greeyish with green patterns, Bufo calmatia sticks to the brownish, but the throat can blow up like a balloon and turn blue when it sounds. Hyla arborea is green and climbs in reed, bushes and trees.  It is also capable of blowing up the throat like a yellowish balloon when it makes sound. Rana temporaria is quitebrownish, Rana arvalis have a male that is blue, Rana dalamtia is a slimmer version of temporaria, Rana ridibunda has a yellowish stripe on top, Rana lessonae has a green male and darker female and Rana esculenta – the edible frog is more greenish.

All frogs and toads can be kissed, but be aware that toads can be slightly poisonous. If you take the risk and kiss a sufficient number, you will find a prince or a princess. Such is the tradition and according to history and folk tales, it is true.

Storks, and big birds, fish and foxes are enemies of amphibians and love to eat them. Amphibians eat others and such is life. But only humans dare to kiss them and only humans are bewitched to be frogs and toads.

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Ny Ålesund

DAY 10 on the Arctic Floating University Expedition
2 July 2019
A pond, a train, science, topped up with a dose of Tai chi

The purpose of this excursion is to attend a presentation Norwegian Polar Institute on Spitsbergen. However, students from Korea hope to gather micro organisms in the sedimentary layers close to the sea. Likewise, the Chinese entourage intends to collect samples for oil research. They also visit their colleagues in the Chinese enclave.

A glacier slithers into the sea as we prepare to land on Ny-Ålesund.

Onboard the ship I watch the iceberg melting.

In the distance the NASA Satellite Basecamp, two towers making a gateway, a passage of sorts.

It’s 11.40: Two hours late, waiting for a calm gap in the weather, (Norwegian time) we land Ny-Ålesund. Here is Brynjar with Prof. M in the background, and to the left, the iceberg clones the colour of the ship’s hull. We are met by a poster instructing us to keep Radio Silence when in the settlement.

Yesterday, one of the RIBs got an engine failure. With one RIB out of drift it’s taking a long time to get all the participants onto the land. Before this happens we are prohibited to go beyond the harbour area. It’s really frustrating. Only the scientists collecting samples and the organisers are allowed to wander at will, on the beaches and along the road. I break the embargo to get a shot of geese being chased by an arctic fox alongside a brackish pond.

There’s a little train close by. It once took coal down to the shore from the coal mines and onto cargo boats.

Such a strange sight to see. When I was a child living on the coast of Kent, UK, I used to take the little steam train, just like this one, from Dymchurch across the Romney Marsh to the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station.

Still waiting, I take the chance to talk to two friendly Swedish voyagers moored on the pontoon. They have been sailing for almost two years between the Arctic and Antarctic regions, mostly powered by the wind. They cheer me up.

13.16: Why is Ny Ålesund so important? This is the question that meets us in the presentation of the Norwegian Polar Institute on Spitsbergen. It focuses on environmental research and management. Due to delays, instead of the intended programme we are served a general presentation. I am disappointed. Even in this situation I would think that we can establish a middle ground, a conversation that discusses and moves debates. I must admit that I would rather spend the short time in Ny-Ålesund doing things outdoors.

14.30: Heading down to the harbour we meet a scientist taking a gaggle of Svalbard barnacle goslings for walk. They find their feeding ground close to two water tanks. The scientist tells me that her research involves analysing the growth rate of the geese as affected by climate change. The goslings seem so happy, grazing frenziedly on arctic flora. Their surrogate mother packs them up into a small cloth bag and takes them (home?) to the lab. These are migrating birds. I wonder if they will survive in the wild.

Waiting for the RIB to come Brynjar initiates a collective Tai chi session alongside the sea. The wind has picked up and rain starts to come. Tomorrow, if the sea wills, we will hopefully land on Pyramiden.

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Reverse worlds

Day 8 on the Floating Arctic University Expedition
Friday 29 June 2019
reflections, islands, ponds, poles, passages

NASA says that ‘the primary difference between the Arctic and Antarctica is geographical. The Arctic is an ocean, covered by a thin layer of perennial sea ice and surrounded by land. Antarctica, on the other hand, is a continent, covered by a very thick ice cap and surrounded by a rim of sea ice and the Southern Ocean’.

During the summer melt season the Arctic sea ice’s edge retreats toward the North Pole, only to re-grow during the Arctic winter. Antarctic sea ice expands during the winter, only to melt back largely to the continent’s edge in summer.

Listening to lectures on the ship, we hear of the affect of climate change in both of theses polar regions. As the Arctic and the Antarctic are regions that hold a lot of ice, together they act as circumpolar air conditioners for the Earth’s system. In short, the Arctic is experiencing high temperatures, leading to significant sea ice loss. The Antarctic is experiencing a colder climate, leading to significant sea ice expansion.

Today, we expect to see the first glimpse of Svalbard on the horizon. In anticipation Brynjar scouts around.

He tells me this; when viewing a landscape photography, the sea will always be perceived or imagined as always pointing to the north.

Octopa whispers: Do not be hoodwinked by this photograph. Remember, we are on a ship floating on waves and winds. It took Amanda some time to capture the image as one would expect from a horizon; a transitional moment between the motion of the ship, up down, side to side.

What happens is that I really get a strong sense of the polar Arctic. I perceive it as a set of scattered islands surrounded by sea. I have witnessed melting icebergs and sea ice floating further south, yet here, close to Svalbard, I now see snow capped mountains and glaciers, engulfed and bounded by the gulf sea.

Thoughts fly to the Antarctic. Once again, I imagine the continent as a large water basin that holds about 70% of freshwater on planet Earth, a frozen pond lying on the crust of the earth.

So now I have it. In Amphibious Trilogies Arctic is island, Antarctic is pond. The Earth is an island cosmically aligned. The pond is about the world, ontologically placed. Hmmm.

But that’s not all. Let’s recap.

You might have seen this imagery before; the Lecture on the North Sea Route by Barbara Schennerlein. This image has captivated me. I suppose that the cone represents the Magnetic North Pole.

For many centuries people have relied on this field using compasses as a navigational tool pointing to the North. While the geographic North Pole sits on the top of the globe, the Magnetic North Pole has been always changing. In recent years scientists have found a substantial shift near the Magnetic North, which now is heading rapidly into Siberia. The roaming of the pole is a problem for boats, aeroplanes and migrating birds depend on compasses rather than GPS navigation.

That the pole is not static is due to movement and turbulence that moves around Earth’s liquid outer core made up of iron and nickel. This molten ocean generates an electric field. It changes, sometimes unpredictably, much like the weather.

Today, the magnetic south pole is moving much more slowly that the north. Earth’s magnetic field is getting weaker prompting scientists to suggest that the north and south poles will eventually swap polarity. It has happened before, many times in the past, the last some 780,000 years ago. The question is when this reversal will happen.

In Amphibious Trilogies we have our own amphibious planet. If you are reading this, then you’re in this topsy turvy tiny world, a terrella of sorts. Whether being submerged or emerged there is no real up nor down, no real north or south, nor east and west, for that matter. The surface of the water is the horizon, the interface is for becoming amphibious.

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What are ponds?

A pond is a body of water, but it is not a sea and neither a lake.  It is a body of stagnant water, but not a puddle. Ponds can come in different sizes and always surrounded by land. Still, water might drain into a pond and it might drain out of a pond. Water is never completely without movement.  Evaporation and drainage will empty a pond. Streams, rain and groundwater will fill a pond.

For some creatures as well as other living beings, the pond is the world. For others it is a place of temporary stay and for some it is a necessity in a stage of life. Amphibious life needs the pond. The pond is part of the life cycle for frogs, toads and salamanders. Water is life for all of us. Plants, animals and humans all need water. The acknowledgment of water as part of life is an acknowledgement of what we share with other living beings.

Waterlilies, dragonflies and tadpoles belongs to the summer. Still, there are life even in an ice-covered pond. The pond is the future and place of new life. It is a sacred place since ancient times for humans as well as other life. In the morning mist elves are dancing on the surface, in warm summers dragonflies dance and in the night bats will hunt for dancing moths.

As a metaphor, the pond can represent change and life, possibilities and the stagnant, the isolated and different, surrounded by another world, the sacred and bewitched and numerous other images.

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The Pond in the forest

All snow and ice covered . The fish swims underneath the ice – the elk moves across and I follow the tracks skiing – the grouse is going to have their dance in April – on stage participating in the pond ballet, meanwhile we have to wait for the light to return a little bit more – as soon as the ice is gone the frogs will come – making love along the shore

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The snow in march and the never-ending winter

At the beginning of March, 70 cm of new snow – small birds return to the birdfeeder, the roe-deers to carrots and apples – we have to clear roofs yet another time and we live like on an isolated island isolated by snow. In a way it is like being in a pond – inside we stay and make short incursions into the snow covered terrain – skiing and trying to clear roads to get access to settlements around.

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Enacting and dancing on amphibiousness

Science couldn’t explain it, but there it was, in the deep deep waters of the Amazon, a throwback to a creature that had existed a hundred billion year ago.

Artistic Research Week, Oslo National Academy of the Arts
Physical workshop 24 Jan 2019
Amanda Steggell, Brynjar Bandlien, Hans-Jørgen Wallin Weihe

Part 1: Creature from The Black Lagoon
Part 2: The dance of evolution

This two-part workshop emerges from the of Amphibious Trilogies project and lands somewhere between design fictioning, choreography and dance. Together, we enact a short sequence from the movie “Creature from The Black Lagoon” (1954) and learn to do ‘’The dance of evolution’’, from the big bang to crawling out of the sea and onto dry land.

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Field Reports from Choreographies of Landscape Workshop