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September 16, 2008
Named after the headlands of Greenland's southernmost point, Cape Farewell is a long-running, wide-ranging, pan-disciplinary project attempting to educate the public about, and foster creative discussion of, the most pressing problem facing the world today: climate change. Founded in 2001 after British artist David Buckland read an article in which a NASA climate scientist detailed the alarming and under-reported scope of global warming, the organization aims to bridge the disconnect between the scientific analysis of climate change and the social and economic systems which feed it.

While operating out of his home office (the organization only moved to a formal headquarters last year), Buckland initially connected with oceanographers and climatologists through the Hadley Centre, a British agency that had developed a mathematical model to extrapolate the planet's atmospheric and oceanic trends decades into the future. At the time there remained stiff opposition in political and social arenas to the implications of global warming and it was clear to Buckland that there existed a pressing need to foster a public understanding of what researchers had known for some time; that the opportunity to reverse the effects of global warming was quickly passing and would be gone in as little as a decade.

In an attempt to create a "cultural response" to the issues of climate change, which he immediately recognized as a predicament so large and complicated as to have long since eclipsed the scope of governments alone, Buckland, an artist and sailor, began organizing sea voyages to "the heart of the problem" in the cold expanse of the Arctic. Cape Farewell's first trip was in 2003, at a time when the world was still far from today's consensus on global warming, and was the start of a series of expeditions that Buckland hoped would "stimulate the production of art founded in scientific research" and, in turn, help give a broader voice to the concerns of the scientific community, which was to a large extent still being ignored.

The Noorderlicht in Knighton Fjord on the 2007 expedition.


A testament to Buckland's vision of a comprehensive effort, the Cape Farewell project has not been a one-off publicity stunt, and in fact has entailed five expeditions, each comprised of scientific and artistic elements, into the gradually warming waters of the Arctic. Early expeditions corralled diverse groups of artists, scientists, and other potential problem solvers into the hold and onto the decks of the 100-year old Dutch schooner Noorderlicht, from where they carried out surveying and measuring research in conjunction with organizations such as the British Geological Survey, Scottish Association of Marine Science, and National Oceanography Centre, while at the same time developing large-scale arts and education projects in partnership with the United Nations, the Barbican Art Gallery, Arts Council England, the Eden Project and others.

On each Cape Farewell voyage scientists assemble data on the conditions encountered in the extreme Northern latitudes, which serve to further refine their mathematical models and establish climate trends, while artists absorb the experience for creative projects realized on the spot or down the road. In 2004 the artist Alex Hartley found a small, newly visible island unveiled in the ocean by the retreat of glacial ice, and developed an art project from the ensuing process of documenting, naming, and registering the tiny piece of terra firma. A year later artist Rachel Whiteread translated her Cape Farewe4ll experience into the "Embankment" installation at the Tate Modern in London. Buckland transformed the object into the canvas with his series of "Ice Texts" projected onto glacial walls. In recent years the pace of artistic output has substantially increased, and to date the group has been responsible for: the book Burning Ice; the performance piece Dancing on Thin Ice; Max Eastley's 10-track ARCTIC album; the film Art from the Arctic; the ARCTIC outdoor art installation in Chicago's Millennium Park; the international touring exhibition Cape Farewell Art & Climate Change; and a Natural World Museum exhibition.

David Buckland's "Ice Texts" from the 2004-2005 Art & Climate Change expedition.


In March of 2004 Cape Farewell developed a testing module, "The High Arctic," as part of the GCSE geography program for British schools. Three years later they developed another module, "Life in the Water," for the GCSE science curriculum. But Buckland wanted to further expand Cape Farewell's educational impact, and so he recruited two former educators with both artistic and classroom experience: Suba Subramaniam is a former science teacher as well as an expert in traditional Indian dance, and Colin Izod's stint as an English teacher was followed as the head of Big Heart Media. Cape Farewell began leading student trips last year.

The 2007 Youth Expedition, consisting of a dozen students from the UK, Germany and Canada, traveled to Svalbard, a remote Arctic archipelago north of Norway. During the trip each student conducted an individual science experiment and also communicated, through live video feeds and blogs, with their home school. The 2008 Youth Expedition, which began earlier this month and runs until September 20th, has more than doubled in size over the inaugural event; 28 students from Canada, the UK, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Brazil, and India are sailing around the horn of Greenland - from Iceland to Baffin Island - aboard the Russian research ship Academik Shokalskiy, which is outfitted with a lecture hall and library as well as a lounge and sauna.

Students at night on the 2007 Youth Expedition.


"Using creativity to innovate, we engage artists for their ability to evolve and amplify a creative language, communicating on a human scale the urgency of the global climate challenge," says Buckland of Cape Farewell's artistic experiments. If he sounds motivated, it is because he is. Buckland and his crews have been to the theater of climate change and witnessed a dramatic, firsthand display of nature's reaction to a warming planet. Last year the Northern Ice Cap, the sheet of sea ice surrounding the North Pole, saw a record loss of surface area, its outer edge retreating to within 700 miles of the North Pole. Scientists expect the Arctic Ocean to be ice-free in summer months before the end of the decade. One of the hallmarks of climate change has been the continuous melting of ancient glaciers, from which massive chunks of ice are cleaving off and dropping into the sea at an alarming rate. In keeping with its tactic of "physically sailing to the heart of the debate," later this month Cape Farewell will direct its second 2008 trip, the Disko Bay Expedition, past the Jakobshavn Glacier, which is estimated to be losing as much as 20 million tons of ice every day.

A polar bear mother and her two cubs out for a swim. [Images courtesy of Cape Farewell]


"It is important for me to listen to what's going on there with my own ears, because the Arctic sea is the front-line of climate change," says musician Ryuichi Sakamoto of his participation in the Disko Bay Expedition, which like the Youth Expedition has far outgrown the capacity of the Noorderlicht. Joining Sakamoto aboard the oceanic research vessel Grigory Mikheev will be an assorted cast of several dozen people, including fellow musicians (from Jarvis Cocker and Feist to Robyn Hitchcock and human beatbox Shlomo), a comedian, several artists, a few architects, a poet, some photographers, and the director Peter Gilbert, who will be filming a documentary for the Sundance Channel.

Sailing along the west coast of Greenland from Kangerlussuaq to Disko Bay, an inlet located above the Arctic Circle and first encountered by the legendary Erik the Red in the year 985, Buckland's crew of 40 will be asked to "respond to and inspire a sustainable cultural vision to this potentially devastating climate reality." Let us hope it is a fruitful trip - as the journey unfolds, from September 25th to October 6th, there will be daily updates from the crew via blog posts, including photographs and video uploads.

SEE ALSO: www.capefarewell.com
SEE ALSO: www.capefarewellcanada.ca
SEE ALSO: www.bucklandart.com

--
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.

See other articles by Eric J Herboth.

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