The Cool Hand of the Artist

The Cool Hand of the Artist
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Two days after nearly finding ourselves trapped in the sea ice that had blown south from the melting of the Arctic Ice Cap, the Cape Farewell artists are once again settling into a more meditative relationship with the ice. Our presence within this landscape, understanding first-hand the speed at which this vulnerable cap of the earth is changing, is part of the kaleidoscope of the Cape Farewell experience. This landscape of apparent contradiction--of artists and scientists, of vastness and extraordinary microcosmic detail, of wonder and fear--creates a fertile ground for art and climate change to come together under the flag of Cape Farewell.

For artist Iris Häussler, keeping a sketchbook is a primary means of experiencing the expedition as a sculptor, as an observer, and as a traveler. This short film clip is a window onto one aspect of her artistic approach to abstracting and understanding the scale and forces of the landscape, and the broader intangibles of climate change.

A German-born artist who now makes her home in Canada, she creates work rooted in a particularly literary approach to installations, in which she creates characters who in turn produce work, what she calls "novels in three dimensions." Her installations are primal, tactile, deeply considered, cerebral but rooted in storytelling and saturated in intense human histories.

She finds the scale of the Arctic landscape "humbling to the bones." In the mountains she sees alphabets of forms. Her affinity for the glaciers is existential, tinged with the feeling of arriving too late, of coming upon something that died without witnesses.

Here in the Arctic, she practices an austere and disciplined approach to her sketching that engages the landscape itself as a drawing material. Sketching is a way of listening--a way of capturing the dripping of ancient water dripping, or the thunder of breaking ice. In a zero-sum ecology that prefers the experiential over the representational capture of a camera lens, her once-empty books are now filling with ink and with pigment harvested from the hematite sediment in glacial streams. Drawings that flow from a cool hand that has slipped unseen into the crevasse of a glacier to commit the experience to a resonant, two-dimensional image.

For Iris, the tactility and experience of this place is deeply affecting, the entry point into imagining how the larger, inevitable dialogue around changing our lives and lifestyles can be cast in beautiful and inspiring scenarios, rather than the apocalyptic ones we are currently manufacturing.


Video by Matt Wainwright.

Follow Cape Farewell voyage on the 2010 Arctic Expedition blog at

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