Shelter/Refuge Landforms is part of the SEED Lab project Shelter/Refuge that examines ideas of shelter and refuge and our future condition through a series of temporary installations. We consider ideas of refuge within and from nature and as ways to connect to each other. Within pandemics, climate crises and a changing world, we explore the notions of permanence and mobility as we consider possible futures.

This series of shelters is viewable at various locations around Anchorage, including the Anchorage Museum lawn, SEED Lab and city parks. The structures serve as meeting places, as COVID-19-ready isolation huts, and as places from which to huddle and watch movies screened on the museum façade. They pose questions about the natural world, climate change and concepts of nature —as shelter, as threatened and as threat. Each shelter features images by artists examining the natural world. The framework of the structures was designed by artist Marek Ranis and suggest natural landforms, like mountains or ice formations. They are built from logs provided by the city's parks department - some of which are charred by forest fires.

Participating artists:

Installation Locations

Brian Adams

About the Artist

Brian Adams is an editorial and commercial photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska, specializing in environmental portraiture. His work has been featured in both national and international publications, and his work documenting Alaska Native villages has been showcased in galleries across the United States and Europe.

About the Work

For Shelter/Refuge Landforms, featured images are from Adams’ visits to forests that were burned by the Swan Lake forest fire of the summer of 2019 along the Kenai Peninsula. The remnants of that fire created prime habitat for morel mushrooms and attracted many to the burn areas of the forests to forage in 2020, including Adams. Mushrooms and fungi help break down tough debris and plant material and support tree growth. Morels have adapted to fire. The Swan Lake fire burned with a variety of intensities over the four months it was active on the Kenai Peninsula, burning hot through black spruce stands while dancing lightly around wetlands. Wildfire in Alaska’s forests creates a mosaic of different landscapes. Animals in this fire-adapted ecosystem react to smoke just as humans do, moving away and seeking shelter in safe zones like wetlands and lakes. Though some individual animals may not avoid harm, their species’ population benefits as a whole from the forest’s rebirth after fire. Regrowth of new plants has begun within the Swan Lake Fire scar. The boreal forest restarts through a process called succession.


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Katie Basile

About the Artist

Katie Basile is a photographer and multimedia storyteller from Bethel, Alaska. After graduating with a photojournalism degree from the University of Montana, Katie lived in Prague and interned with Spectrum Pictures. Eventually she settled in Brooklyn, New York, where she lived and worked for six-years. Katie recently returned home to Bethel, Alaska, where she continues to focus on documentary work and explores multimedia storytelling with rural Alaska youth.

About the Work

Basile’s Shelter/Refuge Landforms images are from Newtok/Mertarvik and reflect the impacts of climate change on Western Alaska.


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John Hagen

About the Artist

John Hagen is a photographer and digital artist and calls Haines, Alaska, his home. Hagen earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts and in new media arts from the Institute of American Indian Arts and studied photojournalism at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Hagen was awarded a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award for his photography in 2015. Hagen is both Aleut and Iñupiaq

About the Work

I am an Unungan (Aleut) and Iñupiaq photographer based in Haines, Alaska, a town 1,000 miles from the lands of my ancestors. Though my father’s family was from Northwest Alaska, he was born in Fairbanks and adopted by a family in Haines. My mother grew up in Ugashik on the Aleutians but was relocated to Haines for boarding school when she was young. I know precious little of my diverse cultural background but cherish the parts I do know.

As I have grown as an artist, I realize this question mark that is my cultural background is actually a gift. I do not know much about my Alaska Native ancestors or about the lands they lived on, but I am still shaped by them regardless of these unknowns. I am more keenly sensitive to place, since I don’t feel an original tie to my birthplace the same way many Alaska Natives do. As a result, I am always searching for connections to the land in the place I am at any moment. Through art, I have slowly been able to change my bitterness and cultural confusion into a healthy curiosity.

People, place and the interaction between the two are the inspirations for my art. Through my work I explore how people connect with the land and how they respond to the world around them. Sometimes my photographs capture the natural world independent from human imprint; sometimes they reveal how individuals interact with the environment.

Landscape work from Alaska often showcases the grand, nearly mythical beauty of the place. I seek to create a counter narrative to this postcard-perfect Alaska. In order to subvert this archetypal depiction of the land, I highlight abstract elements of the landscape, the elements that stand out to me and capture my attention.

It might be difficult to specifically place where my photographs were made, but the spirit of the place is conveyed, nonetheless. I photograph the land to help people experience the wonder I sense in a place and the connections I seek.

Finally, as a contemporary Alaska Native artist, I can’t only look to the past but have to strive toward creating a visual heritage for future generations and other Alaska Natives who struggle with identity and place. In researching my own culture, I have searched for images of Unungan people living in the Bristol Bay region. My searches rarely turn up recent images or stories. It’s as if they no longer exist. But we do exist. Since I cannot find those images, I need to make them — not just for myself, but also for my ancestors and for future generations.


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Acacia Johnson

About the Artist

Acacia Johnson is a photographer, artist, and writer from Alaska, focused on human relationships to wilderness. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Johnson received a Fulbright grant to Canada in 2014, to overwinter on Baffin Island. Since then, she has been increasingly interested in anthropological themes in the Arctic and Antarctica. Her work is housed in collections including the Anchorage Museum and the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and has been featured by numerous publications, including National Geographic, TIME, and NPR. Johnson also works as a seasonal expedition guide and lecturer in Greenland, Svalbard, the Canadian Arctic and Antarctica, where she lectures on photography and visual representations of the Polar Regions. She has made over 55 expeditions to the Polar Regions for work and personal projects and is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Virginia.

About the Work (Artist Statement)

Across the circumpolar Arctic, sea ice forms the basis of the marine ecosystem that has sustained Indigenous cultures for millennia. In the Canadian territory of Nunavut, the Inuit people have subsisted off the land and sea for nearly 5,000 years. Today, communities navigate cultural shifts between the values of elders raised in a nomadic hunting lifestyle and younger generations growing up in modern villages. The sea ice, where it persists, remains an ever-changing landscape on which families travel together, hunt for food, and pass on traditional knowledge.

In 2014, on a Fulbright grant, I spent a winter photographing in the northern community of Ikpiarjuk, Nunavut. What began as a landscape project grew into a deep interest in Inuit culture and lasting friendships in this remote settlement. In the spring of 2018, I returned to reconnect with friends and photograph how sea ice is essential for community traditions—and for the preservation of indigenous knowledge, a critical component in global dialogues about climate change. 

In the past three decades, multiyear sea ice—the thickest type that supports the marine ecosystem—has declined globally by 95 percent. Elders can no longer predict safe travel routes on thinning ice, and animal migration patterns are changing. Yet every spring, when animals migrate north and the sun never sets, Inuit children in Ikpiarjuk join their families on camping trips to ancestral hunting grounds, where they learn the hunting skills and cultural values passed down since time immemorial. Although the future of the ice is uncertain, the families I traveled with explained that maintaining a deep understanding of the land is an essential part of adapting to change.

Even in some of the harshest conditions on earth, a healthy landscape can serve as a shelter by sustaining its people, traditions, and stories. Sea Ice Stories is an effort to portray this. I am deeply grateful to the families who welcomed me into their lives, and look forward to the day when I may return.  


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Rebeca Méndez

About the Artist

Rebeca Méndez is an artist, designer and tenured professor at UCLA, Design Media Arts, where she is founder and director of the CounterForce Lab, a research and fieldwork studio for art, design and environment. Her research and practice investigate design and media art in public space, critical approaches to public identities and landscape, and artistic projects based on field investigation methods. Méndez’s diverse works include immersive installations, sound, video, photography, book arts and drawing, with focus on post-humanism, eco-feminism and environmental justice. Since 1996, she’s led the Rebeca Méndez Studio in Los Angeles. Méndez is known for her career-long commitment to ‘design and art as a social force,’ and was awarded the ‘2016 Vision Over Violence Humanitarian Award,’ by Peace Over Violence, Los Angeles. Her interests and initiatives are a bridge between art, design and science, and demonstrate a commitment to the environment and a sustainable future.

About the Work

Her images for Shelter/Refuge reflect her research in the Arctic, from Norway to Iceland to Alaska, studying the migration of the Arctic tern and the migration of people.


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Ryota Kajita

Ice Formation

I began photographing the Ice Formation series in 2010 and have continued to seek ice patterns that appear on the swamps, ponds, lakes and rivers of Interior Alaska. The patterns are mysterious and wondrous, delicate and ephemeral. They form quietly, change quickly and disappear while I find only a few. Each geometric pattern is unique, and every season of ice formations is different. Many of the formations are frozen bubbles of gases such as methane and carbon dioxide trapped under ice. When water freezes, it turns into ice slowly from the surface and traps the gases. The diameter of the ice formations in these photos ranges from 10 to 50 inches. Because methane gas is considered one of the fundamental causes of greenhouse effects, scientists in Alaska are researching these frozen bubbles in relation to global climate change. Personally, it is very interesting that the beautiful ice patterns are not intended for humans or other creatures to appreciate. They happen in nature. This makes me reflect on the wonders of nature and respect the environment. The beauty and wonder of everyday life is subtle, ephemeral and often too small to be noticed. I hope that the dynamic changes of water captured in the Ice Formation series will guide viewers to feel connected to nature, inspire their curiosity of natural phenomena, and invite them to explore the geometric beauty in the details of the organic patterns. The dialogue between a person and their surroundings can develop their vital thoughts on how they live in the place, perhaps allowing them to face bigger issues like global climate change. Everything - even if it appears to be insignificant – connects to larger aspects of our Earth.


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Additional Installations and Exhibitions


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