Introduction

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In 2013, the Anchorage Museum brought Seattle artist John Grade to Alaska and to Iceland as part of Polar Lab.

In 2014, Grade returned to Alaska and drove the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Deadhorse, flew deep into Gates of the Arctic National Park, and paddled 80 miles down the Noatak River to draw, photograph and make casts of trees in the tundra. The casts are transported back to Grade’s studio where he painstakingly covers them with wood and other materials to return them to a “natural” state.

Through his Arctic experience, Grade explored ideas around northern climate by studying pingos, mounds of earth-covered ice found in the Arctic and subarctic that form under specific conditions. Pingo is an Inuit word for “small hill.” Arctic botanist A. E. Porsild borrowed the word to describe a particular formation of earth-covered ice mounds that dot the Arctic and sub-Arctic landscapes. New research suggests that the recent increase in pingos is due to the decomposing methane gas hydrates, as a result of climate change. As warmer waters have “transgressed” upon regions of the long-submerged permafrost, the hydrate structures may, essentially, be melting. And as the gas pushes upward, pingo-like features are forming on the land and on the seabed. Methane is an especially virulent greenhouse gas.

“Experiencing this Arctic landscape and its nuances and gradual changes was amazing,” says Grade. “I don’t think I have ever been so profoundly moved by a landscape before.”

His resulting work will appear in a Polar Lab exhibition in 2016, which will include an actual-scale construction of an interior of a pingo.

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In 2013, the Anchorage Museum brought John Grade to Alaska and to Iceland as part of Polar Lab.

In 2014, Grade returned to Alaska and drove the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Deadhorse, flew deep into Gates of the Arctic National Park, and paddled 80 miles down the Noatak River to draw, photograph and make casts of trees in the tundra. The casts were transported back to Grade’s studio where he painstakingly covers them with wood and other materials to return them to a “natural” state.

Through his Arctic experience, Grade explored ideas around northern climate by studying pingos. Pingo is an Inuit word for “small hill.” Arctic botanist A. E. Porsild borrowed the word to describe a particular formation of earth-covered ice mounds that dot the Arctic and sub-Arctic landscapes. New research suggests that the recent increase in pingos is due to the decomposing methane gas hydrates, as a result of climate change. As warmer waters have “transgressed” upon regions of the long-submerged permafrost, the hydrate structures may, essentially, be melting. And as the gas pushes upward, pingo-like features are forming on the land and on the seabed. Methane is an especially virulent greenhouse gas.

“Experiencing this Arctic landscape and its nuances and gradual changes was amazing,” says Grade. “I don’t think I have ever been so profoundly moved by a landscape before.”

Grade continues to work with the museum on the pingos project for an upcoming installation.

John Grade field work in Alaska.  Video by Tim Remick and Mike Conti

Alaska Field Work

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