Andy Kahne, West Beaver. Jasper Wyman, Jasper Wyman Collection; Anchorage Museum, B1989.024.136

In the North, prolonged cold and darkness drive us into our homes, and often into ourselves.

Some people use the term “cabin fever” as a synonym for “bored” or “stir crazy.” But for Northerners, cabin fever is much more complex and extreme. It can be a catalyst for bursts of creativity, and it can also trigger deep despair.

Cabin Fever, curated by the Anchorage Museum, examined this claustrophobic state of mind, which manifests after long hours of isolation in cramped and dark quarters. The exhibition featured contemporary photographs and short films by artists from regions that ring the North Pole, including Alaska, Iceland and Finland. The exhibition also included historical images hearkening back to the early 20th century when the term “cabin fever” was coined, a time of trans-Atlantic boat travel, the Klondike gold rush and polar exploration.

Cabin fever is a shared experience across Northern latitudes. In Iceland, it’s skamdegistunglindi. Norwegians say mørketiden, meaning “murky days,” and Athabascans call winter solstice idzaanh ledo, or “day of sitting.”

Although these days of darkness surrounding the winter solstice are blamed for a wide range of ailments, ills and mysterious moods, they also inspire ingenious adaptions and humorous ways to cope. The Cabin Fever exhibition outlined the impacts of this environmental phenomenon, and celebrated the wintery place we call home.

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