Crescendo (14”x36”) 2014 Sally Linder
within the Circle
Reflections by Diane Elliott Gayer
The Arctic is that place which we define as being the region that lies between 66.5°N and the northernmost point on the earth’s surface, the North Pole, where all the lines of longitude converge (90°N). It is that place where the earth’s axis reaches through to the South Pole, and around which the earth rotates and time stops still. 1
The Arctic is that place most of us only know through our imagination and stories. It is a place of abundance and emptiness, intertwined and absolute. The abundance of phenomena, of life on the edge of time, of existence mated with wilderness, and of vast horizon in a place where one lives and survives by this emptiness, a place where few visit, and even fewer explore.
So how does one imbibe the immensity of the Arctic and then return from that immersion to tell the story? This is what Sally Linder does in her landscape paintings Grand Design, Crescendo, then there was light, and Traces. She brings the viewer to that edge of beauty and immensity, to the emptiness of sky, water, and mountain. You breathe in the expanse from all direction. There is no room for language, emotion, or human drama. It is a place where your consciousness and life itself are melded into one. Isn’t this what man has always struggled to do using art, religion, or philosophy as the medium?
The Arctic can drop you into darkness and the hidden spirit world that lives in cliff faces and under the ice sheets. The rawness, ghost life, starvation in this formless treeless world is real and palpable. The rip of cosmic sound surrounds your being as you move across frozen tundra. Hearing seals come up for air in their breathing holes is critical to life, so is the thump thump of polar bear heartbeat tracking you.
In Linder’s Guardians of the Circle paintings, she brings us to that realm where the spirits reign—in the rocks, below the ice sheets, flying under water and up into the sky. Linder captures the dream world that co-exists with life on the edge of time. The Guardians revealed in these paintings are usually hidden in geologic time, sequestered under the ice, and only brought to light under special séance to communicate with elders and animal totems. The division of existence is an illusion, in fact a rather dangerous one; it is a modern contrivance for hegemony over the natural world. So what are the consequences when normal winter ice in northwest Greenland is 4-inches thick instead of 3-feet thick?2 When 5,000-year-old Thule sites are exposed from under the ice sheet? And when 10,000-year-old woolly mammoth gravesites are harvested for tusks?3
The Inuit were always conscious of where they travelled and how they ran their dogs; it was a pace that fit with the ice-landscape and the spirit world that surrounds them. But now with the introduction of southern culture, the reliance on oil and gas exploration, the warming of the Arctic Ocean and loss of sea ice, the number of Inuit living traditionally may be as few as 90 hunters. The dangers are huge. The powerful beings that live in the falaise of the North, hiding behind rock and under tundra, trapping your foot, or spirit, when not walking with attention are unknown in their power. We are unleashing that.
Guardians of the Arctic (15”x33”) 2014 Sally Linder
“Suddenly it was as if nature around us became alive,” Rasmussen recalled. “We saw the storm riding across the sky in the speed and thronging of naked spirits. We saw the crowd of fleeing dead ones come sweeping through the billows of the blizzard, and all the visions and sounds centered in the wind-beats of the great birds from which Kigiuna [the shaman] had made us strain our ears.”4
Fred Ritkin, of the International Center for Photography, talks of aesthetics as a transformative element for society. He asks how art (or photography in his case) can be the tool that illuminates who we are and how beautiful images might convey the impact of climate change. He asks how our presence is informed by the sacred.
Sally Linder’s paintings take on the challenge of social contract not only by conveying the mystery of the Guardians, but also by interpreting the destruction of the 110,000-year-old Greenlandic icecap into a filigree of lines, a transmutation of solid mass into thin air. In Ilulissat Glacier, Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier, and Glintbreen Glacier 1 the density of time is being dissolved by our very presence on this planet. Our constant desire for cheaper fuel, even as far back as the whaling industry; our destruction of pristine environments for minerals, gas, and oil to keep the economy going; and our total dependence on something that is not sustainable are held open for us by these paintings. The truth is never obvious. Interpretation does not come easily. You must work to know.
Ilulissat Glacier, August 2014 (20”x31”) 2014 Sally Linder
Finally, as artist, Linder leads us to the brink and asks us to see, whether we want to or not. In Bottom Line the impact of our greed, our blind ambition is revealed—the arctic world, as we know it is fracturing, bleeding, and overtaken by robotic drilling rigs.
1 http://geography.about.com/od/globalproblemsandissues/a/arcticregion.htm; http://geography.about.com/od/learnabouttheearth/a/northpole.htm
4 Gretel Ehrlich, This Cold Heaven (Random House: New York, 2001) p. 248.
Diane Elliott Gayer is a community architect, director of the Vermont Design Institute, adjunct professor at The University of Vermont, and writer. Her articles on the Arctic have appeared in Vermont Woman, Annals of Earth, and 05401.
Bottom Line (15”x30”) 2014 Sally Linder