Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ship's Log: Day Five

Walrus and Noorderlicht
October 10th

We left Sallyhamna at 3am and headed farther north to Moffin Island which is at 80 north! Walrus came to meet us shortly after we arrived. The walrus may be responding to small boats as competition or reacting to human invasion of territory and past encounters with things like boat propellers. They have a strong history of aggression with both kayaks and zodiacs. They have been known to rear up out of the water and come crashing down with tusks and full body weight on small boats. Kayaking was cancelled for the day, but the Captain felt that we could use the zodiac safely to get to shore.

Katja Algert
My roommate Katja and I joined a couple other artists who were heading to shore in the zodiac to work on projects. Katja's project was developing in a really interesting way and I was enjoying my role as her assistant. I had met Katja, who lives in Stockholm, during her Lower Manhattan Cultural Council residency in NYC few months before we left for the Arctic. Our program director, Aaron, had brought some of the participants together socially when time and location allowed. Katja and I hit it off immediately at one of these get togethers.

While she was in NYC I helped her film a segment for one of her ongoing projects that looks at light pollution's effects on the night sky. Unlike many participants, Katja and I had had the opportunity to become friends before the trip started and knew that we worked well together. What we didn't know was how quickly we would refer to ourselves as and act like an old married couple. She put up with my nightly freak out and hysteria when I couldn't find a certain cable and became sure that I wouldn't be able to film for the rest of the trip. She also graciously ignored the fact that I was usually holding the "lost" cable in my hand during my freak out. In our cramped quarters we moved seamlessly and usually ended up on deck with the life jacket that the other one had forgotten. I really value our conversations about our specific projects and look forward to continuing them after our return to the real world.

Katja photographing
So, Katja and I headed off to Moffen Island to film another of her Fluxus instruction performances. Moffen is a completely flat island. It is protected breeding ground for walrus and eider ducks. For most of the year humans are not allowed to visit the island. Our timing was perfect since all breeding was over for the season and we were able to land. As we approached the island we saw large brownish shapes scattered on the beach. There were 25 walrus lying about. We had to take a long, indirect route, employing evasive maneuvers to avoid the walrus that were out swimming.

Moffin Island
We hit the beach and I started filming Katja's performance. Four walrus swam along the shore and stopped just off the beach where we were filming. There were three adult males and one calf. They lined up four abreast and bobbed up and down, snorting and blowing. Svalbard tourist rules state that people are supposed to stay at least 30 meters from any walrus. We were less than 10 feet away! Both Audun and Jan came up behind us with guns ready, but they didn't ask us to move back and we all enjoyed the up close interactions.

WalrusWe went back to the ship for lunch and then a larger group set out for the island in the afternoon. We took a hike across the island and saw a ton (literally) of walrus ... actually a few tons (one adult male weights two tons)! The snow was just below our knees for much of the hike, but it felt good to get some exercise.

Noorderlicht at Seat
Back on board we had yet another amazing meal. We traveled to Woodfjordan/ Mushamna in the evening, but it's was too dark outside to see what the area looks like.... have to wait till the morning.

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