Cape Farewell Expeditions from the Arctic and the Andes

“Since its conception, Cape Farewell has worked in partnership with scientists and artists to create a cultural response to climate change. Scientists have worked tirelessly to identify climate change as a global problem but the causes are rooted in the way our societies have evolved and are magnified by the way we live now. Human activity is causing our planet to overheat. We need a cultural shift that addresses the problem and a creative shift to evolve and map new solutions.”
—David Buckland, Founder and Director of Cape Farewell

Uummannaq, in northwestern Greenland.

Cape Farewell brings together leading artists, writers, scientists, educators and media practitioners through expeditions to the frontlines of climate change, so that they can see firsthand its effects. Together they have mapped, measured and been inspired to bring home stories and make art that communicates the urgency and the impact of climate change, in order to inspire creative and visionary responses for the 21st century.

Cape Farewell has led seven expeditions to the High Arctic, and in 2009, our first expedition outside of it: the glaciers and rainforests of Peru in 2009. We have engaged over 50 artists, including musicians K. T. Tunstall and Jarvis Cocker, visual artists Antony Gormley and Rachel Whiteread, choreographer Siobhan Davies, writers Ian McEwan and Vikram Seth, comedian Marcus Brigstocke, poet Lemn Sissay, and playwright Suzan-Lori Parks.

The invitation to join the expeditions is simple: come, explore, be inspired. Through witnessing the environment, taking part in stimulating discussion, and observing and participating in scientific field research, we enable our voyagers to gain a real connection to the subject matter. Our invitation to artists is to help encourage this conversation and through creative enterprise extend the knowledge, understanding and will for our audiences to change their response to the climate challenge. Central to each expedition is the open dialogue between the artists and scientists—before, during and after—with active promotion of discussion and understanding between the groups of voyagers. This isn’t just about how climate understanding can influence creativity but also about how an artist’s creativity can affect scientific thinking. By exposing artists to the world’s climate tipping points, Cape Farewell hopes to spread the philosophy of exploration and personal journey, but more importantly, to contribute to the development and shared understanding of new scientific data on climate change. Find out more at www.capefarewell.com.

During their voyage, the crew members of the 2008 Disko Bay expedition blogged from the Arctic; and in 2009, they twittered—all they could do due to bad internet connection—from the Andes expedition.


Here is a selection from the 2008 Disko Bay expedition:

David Buckland on Thursday, 25 Sep—

Almost Ready to Go

Tonight we head north after 9 months of very detailed planning with the Cape Farewell team. We are collectively relieved, excited and somewhat proud. Vicky, Hannah, Kathy, Nina, Lisa and I have lived and breathed this reality and now we voyage north with what I believe is a quite outstanding group of highly creative artists, musicians, comics, poets, architects, craft based artists, film makers, writers… I’ve been speculating about whether such a powerful creative group has ever been assembled before to address what is a culture- and life-threatening future truth. We will spend ten days together in the High Arctic working with the scientists and crafting our own response. As Vanessa Carlton has put it, ‘to challenge a stubborn world’.

(…)

Many of the artists have projects planned and as you can see from my frantic last minute packing, I too am planning video projections – a physical theatre. Bolted to the front of the ship is a container with all the science equipment, projectors, lighting and a piano [electric]. The ship has passed through two storms getting to the West coast of Greenland so I hope all this stuff is OK.

Tomorrow morning [very early] the US and the European groups get together for the first time in Reykjavik before we complete the final leg of our journey to the ship. This is an outstanding effort with people coming from faraway places, LA, New York, Canada, France, Scotland, Holland, Italy, England… I can’t wait until we can all join the boat and voyage north. The weather promises a bit of a blow for Saturday, which should bring the first winter snow and a whitening of the landscape and next week looks to be very clear and cold, -7C. We are declaring a Cape Farewell independent time zone on the ship to make the most of the daylight hours and to give Peter Gilbert and his film crew the best chance to work. Roll on the northern lights.


Robyn Hitchcock on Monday, 29 Sep—

Iceberg Television

Two standard responses to the problem of global warming are that either it’s not really happening or, if it is, there’s nothing we can do about it now so why not leave all the lights on? Well, it is happening, and the sooner we tame our energy emissions, the sooner the earth can return to being habitable for the citizens and other creatures of the 22nd century. Time is unlikely to stop when we die, it just seems that way sometimes. It’s true that we on this Cape Farewell expedition used aviation fuel and diesel to get here, but we will take the story back with us and spread it like butter on the toast of our item-rich society. As the scientists aboard research the effects of ice-melt on the ocean bed and trace the possible mutation of the Gulf-stream through salination tests, we artists are being exposed to a landscape that cannot fail to affect our work.

(…)

Earlier in the day, I was lucky enough to see Marcus Brigstocke half way up a snowy crag, doing a stand-up routine in his corduroy suit. As this was for the cameras, we were told not to laugh, which made his show even funnier. As his fingers froze, Marcus ranted on the malevolent spirit of Londoners in traffic, cursing into mobiles about other cell-phone users at the wheel. In the distance behind him stretched miles of slowly crumbling blue icebergs, a terrain most of us had never seen before and, if we leave it more than 10 years, will never see again.

Just prior to that, as we reached the summit, we discussed The Edgar Broughton Band and the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival: the more majestic the ice-scape around us, the more we sheathed ourselves in pop culture. We are stardust, we are golden, and we make one hell of a mess. Greenland has been assaulted by alcohol (‘mad water’) and Christianity; now it has the chance to make some money selling its oil. This would be like giving a terminal lung-cancer patient a consignment of duty-free cigarettes.

(…)


Lemn Sissay on Monday, 29 Sep—

Things Disappear

Listening to radio, an interviewer asks their interviewee: “describe the experience for the listener”. Description is all the listener needs, imagination does the rest. “well…” comes the reply “its just too beautiful for words”. The answer makes me want to rip out the interviewee’s tongue and slap them with it. The pursuit of description engages and overcomes the possibility of failure (to describe). If something is worth pursuing it means it matters. Ergo “it’s just too beautiful for words” causes things to disappear. You think I am taking this too far. Good. Then we are on the same page.

If a tree falls in the forest and if nobody saw it or heard it fall then did it? We have an obligation: to share what we see. It did. The act of sharing is as important as the information it carries: the action of description and acknowledgement is the greatest gift of language. The first words of a child are often the description and realisation of some body. Imagine it did not speak because the world was too beautiful for words. But the child does speak and therein its power. And in the relatively recent story of colonisation, language was the first to be taken from the children of indigenous peoples. The languages of the Inuit, here in Greenland taken by the Danes, the language of the Australian aborigines taken by the English, the language of the Kenyan peoples, in east Africa taken by the English. This is why I blog. I never had family. I blog because it gives me a point of record or reference that I was alive at any given time. In acknowledging the disappearance of the ice from our earth, in blogging, a simple act of description, we are acknowledging that they were there. Did the tree fall in the forest though nobody saw it or heard it? It did, ‘cause I did, I saw it. And if I don’t say it now there’ll be none left to fall. And what was the first word of the child? And why did it matter?


K. T. Tunstall on Thursday, October 2nd—

Perdlerfiup Sermia Glacier

Woke up with a belly-full of metaphorical tequila. Still feel the shape of the balloon-dog heart in there, but feel altogether better about that. I know it’s good to feel this.

Snap, snap, walking in a Baltic alien landscape and still the grass grows through the snow, all that life that waits patiently beneath for endless sun. Dark red berries fresh under foot stain the powder like blood and trigger thoughts of the hunting that goes on here.

Blood on snow is a disturbing picture, and one that says much about our situation as humans on a planet straining to meet our needs and greeds. But the Greenlandic skill of using every last scrap of animal and knowing what to use it for is undoubtedly impressive.


Suzan-Lori Parks on Thursday, 2 Oct—

Around 3:30 am

As we leave Uummannaq I wake up, get bundled in most of my layers and head up to the top deck alone in the dark morning to have another look at the Northern Lights. We’d seen them earlier from shore but away from the lights of the town they’re more spectacular. Depending on who you ask it’s God’s curtains or wafts of electrical current or spirits playing football. Watching them I feel a great joy, an expansiveness and then, moments later, as we pass an iceberg and the ship’s light blazes on it, like a dutiful hand keeping the danger at arms length, I feel my phantom tail curl under. Deep fear. Afraid of something so much bigger than me.

Do I travel to get away from myself or to find myself? Is the far-awayness of the place in direct proportion to my need to escape from my little me? They say you can find yourself in a foreign landscape. Is there an equation that can show the relationship between desire for self-discovery and distance? I seem to bring along little chunks of myself stuffed in my overfull suitcase. Will I get seasick? Will I be cold? Will I lose a mitten? It only took two days for my concern about the cold weather to turn into love. That surprises me. Maybe this trip gets me far enough away to lose myself, find myself and, god willing, make a difference.

You can make wishes on the Northern Lights, and so, standing up there alone in the cold, I make wishes. Many wishes. Even though a science book would assert there’s nothing magical about them, but I say they’re science and magic and we’re lost and found; small and enormous; possible and hopeless.

(…)


Marcus Brigstocke on Sunday, 5 Oct—

Sunny Days

I’m going home in the morning. It’s been wonderful and exhilarating and beautiful but I’m ready to get back to my family now who are all of those things only much much louder.

The good news is that we’ve solved that whole pesky climate change fiasco. It turns out it was the sun. It’s heat from the sun that is causing global warming. The sunshine did it. It’s not surprising, I mean when you look at the sun you have admit it does look hot doesn’t it. In scientific terms what’s happened is that the sun has sent a lot of heat energy down to earth for many hundreds of thousands of years making what scientists refer to as ‘sunny days’ (forgive the jargon but it’s important to be accurate I think). Now plants and little creatures have absorbed these ‘sunny days’ and then, sadly but with some degree of inevitability, died with the ‘sunny day’ literally trapped within them. then they have sunk down into the earth in the form of ‘sunny day’ rich fossil fuels. These ‘sunny days’ have later been released as people have needed the ‘sunny day’ energy in the fuel in order to power all the stuff we like – hair-dryers, Toyota Land Cruisers, Nintendo Wii’s, fridges, life support machines, jet boats, angle poise lamps, vibrators, DVD players, aeroplanes and whirlybirds, air-conditioning units to cool the effects of a ‘sunny day’, mobile phones, electric toothbrushes, motorised carving knifes, remote controlled cars, actual cars, car museums, Top Gear, cars and machines which can exactly replicate the browning effect of a ‘sunny day’.

I like a ‘sunny day’ as much as the next man, but it strikes me that if we force several ‘sunny days’ into one 24-hour period things are going to get… well warmer. We can’t control the actual sun – bad news! – but we can easily and without too much discomfort control the amount of stored ‘sunny day’ energy we choose to release – good news. Obviously there are some people for whom it will be agony, but they are mostly old and stubborn and ridiculous and in any case they’ve had their turn, wrecked it, whinged, bellowed and accused, so now it’s up to us. Step aside you flat earth twats.

(…)

Similarly, Ryuichi Sakamoto played one of his compositions on the piano and the hush that gripped the room as everyone realised how much gentle, passionate control he has of his craft was incredibly uplifting. I’ve learned a fair bit about climate change since I’ve been here and exchanged some fascinating and empowering ideas and inevitably talked in alarming terms about how far we have to come but I’d be lying if I said we have not been truly spoilt by many of the people aboard who have given freely of their talent with grace and generosity. Put bluntly I like hanging out with my musical heroes.

(…)

In a moment I am hosting a session, which I have called ‘How to stay positive despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary’. I’m quite nervous, there are some clever people on this boat and I don’t wish to insult anyone. On top of which anyone who is familiar with my work or has shared accommodation with me for any length of time will know that of all adjectives to describe me – positive would not make the list. Hairy, grumpy, troubled, funny, cantankerous, pompous, opinionated, mouthy, malodorous, speccy and sarcastic would all be there but positive would rank down at the bottom end alongside perky and shy (and you should hear what people who don’t like me have to say about me!).

Positivity has become increasingly important for me since Cape Farewell last year. From when I finally stopped the three-week carnival of vomit and disembarked the Noorderlicht – October 2007 until well into the beginning of 2008 I was deeply, worryingly depressed. I had an itch that I was trying to scratch and no matter how loud I shouted, or how many shows I performed, interviews I did, things I wrote, people I spoke to, or personal changes I enacted I could not satisfy the itch. I had accidentally let the threat posed by climate change become something I was trying to solve alone and unrealistically fast. I cannot do it alone. No one of us is capable of saving or destroying the planet and thoughts that lead us to believe we can are as accurate as Fox News and as much use as a chocolate teapot. They are worthless delusions of grandeur on a scale with the ones that so trouble the annoying gitwizard David Blaine. That is not to say that we are not responsible or that we should not care, but letting yourself get depressed is worthless. It doesn’t help the cause either, how can you convince anyone of the pleasures the greener life can afford us if you sound like Morrissey having just stubbed his toe on his way back from burying a favourite pet in the rain, near Hull on a Tuesday in February? You can’t, and so positivity is the theme.

Now I must track down and then pack my things and head back to reality. For anyone who has followed this blog or any others on the Cape Farewell website – thank you. The Arctic’s still really cold, warmer than before but still really bloody cold. Oh and we saw some Whales this afternoon – life’s good and every positive action is worthwhile.


Tweets from the 2009 Andes expedition:

Day 1–3 (23–25/06/2009)
The expedition launched from Cusco on 23 June, and the first three days saw us hike around the Salcantay and Humantay Glaciers, camping overnight at 4800m and at -10 degrees. We had blankets and tents to keep us warm and a spectacular view of the glaciers to wake us up.

Hannah Bird — 26/06/2009, 2:20pm
“Learning about 2 glaciers, Salcantay and Humantay. Hiked nearby this morning but with time tight we couldn’t get too close. Glaciers are what water most of Peru. All glaciers below 5000m are in danger of disappearing by 2015…”

Day 4–7 (26–29/06/2009)
After returning from the glaciers via Cusco we started our descent through the forests. Beginning in the Puna (which is both the top of the Andes and grasslands) at Tres Cruces and watching the sunrise over the rainforest below, whilst scientist Kathryn Clark completed a study of new landslides in the area.

Yadvinder Malhi — 26/06/2009, 7:36pm
“In Iquitos on my way to join the expedition. Looking at the Amazon River, already over 3km wide but 3000km from the sea.”

Day 8–11 (30/06–03/07/2009)
We arrived at Wayquecha field station, a science station in the Cloud Forests. Cloud Forests account for 0.1% of the world’s forests. They are a unique environment that we were privileged to work in and experience. At the field station the crew participated in some of the science research undertaken there, including measurements of temperature, humidity and carbon levels in the soil in plots both in Wayquecha and other plots across the Andes, so that direct comparisons about the way in which the soils and vegetation are behaving and responding can be monitored. We also collected Bromeliad samples and water samples from the river, helping the Environmental Change Institute gain a better understanding of the carbon dynamics of the systems we were interacting with.

Brenndan McGuire — 30/06/2009, 1:37pm
“Walter walks us through his antiquated yet fascinating measuring equipment.”

Daro Montag 29/06/2009, 6:48pm
“Just saw posters drawn by children requesting an end to the burning of the planet. A global perspective from an isolated community.”

Day 12–14 (04–06/07/2009)
The Trocha Union is an area of elfin forest and over a period of two days we descended approximately 2,000m through the woodlands. The landscape was incredible; camping on the edge of trees, of moss, of tree roots and a complete immersion into forest life. During the trek Kathryn Clark led the team in collecting leaf samples at each 100m descent for research being undertaken by the University of Durham and University of Oxford.

Yann Martel — 30/06/2009
“Greenery so dense we walk through tunnels of it, roots falling like rain”

Marije De Haas — 03/06/2009, 10:12am
“Feeling like the bug in the rug – unable to see the pattern”

Day 15–18 (07–10/07/2009)
After descending the Trocha Union we headed into the rainforests for 10 days, first traveling along the Madres de Dios river on the outskirts of Manu National Park, visiting amongst other places Manu Learning Centre and Los Amigos Science Station before traveling along the river through Laberinto and Puerto Maldonado into the Tambopata reserve. The area of rainforest the crew were fortunate to experience has one of the highest rates of biodiversity in the world. For example, there are more species of trees in 100m2 of some Amazonian forests than in the whole of Europe.

Charlie Kronick — 09/07/2009
“Failure to express is, fortunately, not a failure to experience. The challenge is to make sense of all the fertility/decay.”

Yann Martel — 05/07/2009
“For science stumbling
and slogging in the jungle,
nature mocking us

In a boat
down an amazon river –
like a blood cell in a vein?

A jungle trail,
We go along, burdened,
while cutter ants laugh”


There is more to read at www.capefarewell.com, where you can also digitally accompany the next Art & Science Voyage that will set out to the Russian Arctic this September. During our previous seven expeditions to the Arctic, the Cape Farewell scientists and cultural team have engaged with both the Atlantic and Canadian Arctic and we have a huge track record of exhibitions, events, films and education materials developed as a result of these expeditions. However, nearly 40 per cent of this cold northern place is contained above Russia and there is a void in our knowledge of this icy landscape.

Summer ice at the North Pole decreased by a staggering 25% in 2008; in 2009, a major survey dated most of this as new ice. Cape Farewell has invested in plans to navigate from Spitsburgen to the Franz Joseph Islands with a crew that includes a team of international oceanographers from Russia, UK and France to verify evidence of climate change, attempt atmospheric measurements of CO2 levels and other pollutants and investigate the consequences of the ice melt, rising sea temperatures and the release of DMS gases. This epic 22-day sea exploration will also include 15 artists and writers, making individual artwork inspired by the environment and experience.

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