National Maritime Museum Residency – Blog

Today the National Maritime Museum have published the first of my blog posts on my current residency for their RE·THINK: Environment initiative; read the content below and see it on their website: 

Visual artist Tamsin Relly blogs about her plans for her project, Remembering the North, as part of RE·THINK: Environment at the National Maritime Museum. During this time she aims to reflect upon her recent expeditionary residency onboard a ship in Svalbard, Norway, whilst drawing inspiration from the Museum’s polar archives for her work.

I feel exceptionally privileged and grateful; first to have spent two weeks sailing the coast of Svalbard in the Arctic Circle last October, and now to have the opportunity to work with the material gathered from the trip, in the glorious and fascinating surroundings of the National Maritime Museum.

Tamsin Relly onboard the tall ship Antigua in Svalbard 2014. Polaroid by artist Daniel Kukla.

Remembering the North as a project has allowed me the space to recall a journey that blew my mind and which, inevitably, went by far too quickly. If only I could have stayed awake 24 hours a day! I wanted to draw, photograph, film, write and be still – all at once, and all of the time. Impossible of course, I was left overwhelmed by what I had seen and the need to respond to it, and intoxicated with thoughts of how to find my way back there.

Below are a few lines that were salvaged from a disappointingly scant journal of my trip.

‘Yesterday – landed on a beach, even more otherworldly than the last. Crystals of ice lined the shore in an abundance that we hadn’t witnessed before on the trip – they would have arrived from a recent glacier calving. I wished to stay for days, and watch and listen to the ice rolling and rocking up against the pebbles and each other, to the rhythm of the water’s swell. I can still hear the sound of it. My head is spinning from so much quiet beauty.’

Landing at Gravneset, Magdalenafjord. Svalbard, Norway 2014. Photograph Tamsin Relly

Remembering the North is also about a conversation. I long to share a little, or as much as one can, from an adventure like this; and so I welcome visitors to the residency space to hear about it through the work that I’m making. I also hope to offer a moment to hold in mind the wonder of the Arctic, and to acknowledge how the choices we make in our every day lives contribute to the balance of it’s shifting ecology; which in turn is having a great impact on our global ecology.

I wrote a little about this a few weeks following my return:

‘The landscape feels so timeless and infinite when you’re there – but the reality of its vulnerability was with me constantly. We saw glaciers calving – which is what ice and glaciers do…and some seasonal fluctuation in growth and shrink is normal. But studying the maps of the coastline, the acceleration of their overall retreat is staggering. And you feel it, standing on land only exposed in the last ten or twenty years – some not even mapped yet. The impact that we’ve had on our environment in such a brief moment of relative time is beyond comprehension and so disproportionate to the length of our civilizations’ existence.

When a glacier calves the ice that falls is spellbinding; it impressed an image on my mind that I’m not sure I’ll ever really get over. Resting on the water-surface, the fragments looked like giant and ancient crystals. They would stream past our boat for hours, to land on another shoreline and stand like ice or glass sculptures – for days or weeks I guess – slowly shifting shape. Up close, you can see rivers of dust and tiny flecks of rocks caught within the ice for hundreds or thousands of years.’

Svalbard, Norway 2014. Photograph Tamsin Relly

Remembering the North is a bit of a treasure hunt too. In preparation for the project I have started to explore the wealth of the Museums polar archives, and I’m excited to dedicate more time to this whilst I’m here. By remembering and studying the journeys and explorations to the Arctic that have come before, I believe we can reflect on our evolving relationship to the region. I’m interested in how artists and explorers in the past have visually represented the North – through various subject matters, including science, documentation and poetry.

HMS-Pheonix-(1832)-and-HMS-Diligence-(1814)_NMM blog1_web 0-2
HMS Pheonix (1832) and HMS Diligence (1814) at anchor, Godhavn. Photograph by Captain Edward A Inglefield in 1854

As a printmaker, imagine my delight when sifting through the Museums Polar Journey Box, I discovered that a printing press was carried on board some of the early modern Arctic Voyagers in the 1800’s. This was used to produce ship newspapers, printed song lyrics and ironic party posters to alleviate boredom at sea – where a ship may have been trapped in ice for months on end.

I carried etching and monotype plates with me on my trip – to work with on the ship and then bring back to process in my print studio at home. For Remembering the North, I’ve installed a small intaglio printing press, and visitors are invited to make a monotype or a dry point etching.

Party poster produced onboard ship of an HMS expedition to the Artic in the 1800’s.
Source: Polar Journey Box. Caird Library. Personal collection belonging to Edward Newell Harrison, clerk in charge HMS ASSISTANCE.

Taking inspiration from the conservational vulnerability of the polar region, Tamsin will continue her investigation of making work in changeable environments: in the studio, at sea, or in a museum. During her residency she is inviting visitors to drop in for afternoon cake and tea where they can hear about her adventures in the Arctic and try out some of the printing processes she explored whilst at sea and back in the studio. To see more about the event visit our website.