Hong Kong Artist’s Bold Exploration of the Arctic Circle
- 17 days Polar Experience Changed her Values
The whole world is relaxing social lockdown, we all start to chart our travel plans. Have you ever thought of the Arctic? Last October, Hong Kong artist Michelle Fung joined the “Arctic Circle Residency Program” alongside with 30 artists from all over the world to experience Arctic life on the ground; and carried out artwork during the 17-day voyage on board a boat sailing the polar waters. Being a total stranger to the Arctic, Michelle felt it an immense impact.
The “Arctic Circle Residency” is sustainability-themed research programme. Artists from various parts of the world are invited to the Arctic to have real life experiences. The program is the 17-day event from 17 October to 2 November 2022. The boat sailed around the Svalbard Islands in the Arctic.
In the past she used different media like books, paintings, animations, and art installations on issues such as pollution, climate change, etc. She joined this Arctic program with the same objective.
Michelle explained, “ I was formulating a 10-year project to describe Northlandia, the future world in 2084. Northlandia is based on the arctic. When I learnt of the polar program, I submitted my proposal in 2019. I should have joined the trip in 2020; but alas because of the pandemic, the trip was repeatedly postponed to last October.”
Set Off from the World's Northernmost Town
Michelle flew for 40 hours from Hong Kong to the Norwegian territory of
Longyearbyen, the world's northernmost town. From there the group sailed off for the voyage.
Even though Michelle is a frequent traveller, she confessed she hardly contemplated to set foot on the Arctic. Prior preparation must be
thorough. “The temperature there is often below -20 degrees, so warm clothing withstanding freezing cold is essential. Months ahead, I
approached Canada Goose to sponsor my clothing and footwear for the Arctic. Sharing similar values, they promptly agreed to support my trip.”
The weather and environment there were beyond Michelle’s imagination. “The whole voyage was spent on board a boat. For safety
reasons, the boat cannot berth to land; one must travel in small inflatable raft to land. Often we wetted our feet in our endeavour.
Besides we stood on frozen soil for hours in our observation or art creative process. Thus I was thankful for the clothing and footwear.”
The Weather Differed Wildly from the Forecast
The weather could be a complete surprise to Michelle from the temperate latitude. “In Hong Kong, when you hike, you just watch the
weather forecast the day before. But in the Arctic, the weather could be changing by the minute and by the second. You can never foretell the weather tomorrow, not even 2 hours later. So itinerary planned could be called off in the last 5 minutes due to poor weather; once we waited in the inflatable zodiac for half a day without achieving anything.”
Another memorable incident is the close encounter with a polar bear. “We had 4 tour guides and all warned us to follow strictly their
instructions when seeing a polar bear. One day, we went to search for the seals; before we landed we sighted a polar bear. The guide
immediately herded us back to the boat and observed on the deck at a distance. Upon further observation, the guide permitted us to take turn to watch the bear closer in a raft.
The planned work afternoon became polar bear observation.” Michelle finds the polar bear strolled on the ice-field leisurely and relaxed, inspiring new perspectives on artic life.
The Trip Transformed my Perspective
Reflecting on the trip, Michelle exclaimed passionately as an artist, “I may say that the Arctic experience is a watershed in my life. It greatly influenced my personality, my artistic enrichment, and my umbilical to Mother Nature.”
She related, “On the last day, we shared our experiences during breakfast. A poet from Alaska recited his poems composed during the
trip and broke into tears. We exchanged in great depth our compassion and artistic creation; this will permeate throughout my years to come.”
Michelle had been to several artist-in-residency programs, each imprinting some traits on her development. After this Arctic experience,
she felt that the whole person is changed. “ I told my husband that after returning from the Arctic, I am more connected to myself and more courageous. It opens another door for me to explore greener pastures.”