The North has long worn the romanticized mantle of a sparsely populated frontier. To outsiders, it can seem unchanging and marginally inhabitable - vast, cold, white, empty. Seen from the inside, however, the North is magnetic and multidimensional. Even as the frontier ideal fades into history, the North clings to its identity as a pristine place where people are independent in mind and spirit.
The Anchorage Museum’s new exhibition, True North: Contemporary Art of the Circumpolar North, portrays a North that is complex and in transition. The exhibition features nearly 80 photographs, films and multi-media installations by 39 artists from Iceland, Scandinavia, Canada and the United States, including many Alaskans.
In the previous century, the art of the North was based primarily on the awe-inspiring landscape: The result was observational, calm and detached. Today’s Northern artists depict a new landscape, one that is altered by man, at risk, in transition, and in question.
Sarah Anne Johnson’s photographs feature Arctic landscapes with fantastical alterations where buildings grace the tops of glaciers and the trans-Alaska oil pipeline overflows with confetti. The Canadian artist celebrates the Arctic’s beauty while reminding us of its precarious future.
Donald Weber’s images of the bleak built environment in Siberia and northern Russia indicate that man’s modern ideas for inhabiting the North are flawed, ensuring isolation rather than combatting it.
Many contemporary Northern artists eschew landscapes altogether, focusing instead on how life in the North shapes and affects its inhabitants. Lisa Gray re-casts Mrs. Claus as a powerful female figure. Indigenous artists Ken Lisbourne and Annie Pootoogook offer an insider perspective into daily village life — a world remote and beautiful, yet tainted by alcohol and violence. Brian Adams’ photographs document the effects of climate change on his friends and relatives in Kivalina, one of several Alaska seaside villages eroding into the sea.
True North offers a compelling narrative for the increased relevancy of the North, particularly Northerners’ unique perspective on man’s evolving relationship with the environment, said Anchorage Museum Chief Curator Julie Decker.
"These artists are attempting to define place - not the romantic North of earlier generations but the next North, one that is connected, pivotal and conflicted."