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The Big Freeze, Here, Now. And there, then. « The Polar Museum: news blog

The Polar Museum: news blog

The Big Freeze, Here, Now. And there, then.

Zsuzsanna Ardó, visual artist/curator and writer, reflects on the creative processes behind her international arts project she curated for the Scott Polar Museum’s Big Freeze Art Festival.

Polar self Portraits, the film, featured in The Big Freeze Art Festival at the Polar Museum, sets out on two creative expeditions.


It explores the changing dynamics between the (perceived) centrality of the self and the (perceived) peripheries of the planet, the polar region.  At the same time, it investigates the dynamics between two iconic art genres: the landscape of the face – the self-portrait – and the face of the land – aka the landscape.


How can we re-imagine the boundaries of these classical visual art genres in the context of climate emergency? Come and join us on this exciting virtual journey.


In the spirit of the project, I reached out far and wide to curate Polar self Portraits: artists from six continents imagined their polar self.


Would you like to create your polar self? To celebrate creativity and curiosity during The Big Freeze Art Festival, let us hear from some of the participating artists and the composer for the second edition of the film, Polar self-Portraits_2. I asked them how they got their idea, how they went from inspiration to incubation and creation, and about the creative process behind their polar self-portrait.


Clarice Zdanski, artist

The creative process is like swimming. I just jump in and swim through the marvellous chaos of ideas and stimuli, just like a polar bear does in her icy, watery home.


In the image, I became a polar bear: Clarice the bear loves her icy home. She loves to swim, to gaze at the aurora borealis in the cold winter sky, and the return of light during the seemingly endless days of summer. Will this wonderful world last? Where will she go when the ice runs out?


In becoming a polar bear, I started by collecting a whole series of material on polar bears, and started drawing.


The drawings started with gestural, textural work pigments and lots of water as I clawed at paper like a bear might claw the ice, or rapid swirls to capture the sense of a dancing bear, then a series of drawings showing this little bear against different backgrounds, or flooded with water color as if underwater. I tried freezing passport-sized photos in water.


But then in the end envisioned myself as a swimming bear. I did drypoints of both the little bear and of myself swimming with the bears. In this gallery, you can see the creative process.


Zsuzsanna Ardó, artist and curator of Polar self Portraits

by Zsuzsanna Ardó, visual artist and writer, curator of the Polar self Portrait project


My face becomes the polar landscape itself.

Polar bears set forth from inside my body.

From the pupils of my eyes.


How did these polar bears get into my eyes?


Deep in the woods. That is where this metamorphosis started.


In the woods of Hampstead Heath.


These woods, my ‘peripatetic office,’ are sitting on the highest point of the London basin, carved out by slow but persistent movement of ice. In my mind’s eye, ice sheets of The Big Freeze wrap around me as I walk.


I sense the glacier under my sole, under the soil. The journey deep into the woods, to gear up for or wind down from the day, takes me to the imaginary ridge.


The creative energy of imagining the glacier so close in space but so far in time, on the retina of my eye, drives me in search of glaciers… albeit far away in space but close in time. When if not now? Where if not in the Arctic?


On a tall ship, I work to sail to the High Arctic. Here and now, I lay my eyes on real glaciers in real time. I connect the here and now with the there and then. Here and now, I observe icebergs float, here I listen to glaciers calve*; here I meet the polar bears.


These bears are now staring right at you from the pupils of my eyes, in my polar self-portrait.


The Big Freeze, back there and then. Here and now.

Polar bears, looking back at us.

In the pupils of our eyes.


Read more about how a calving glacier teaches me lessons in the Arctic at


Chen Li, artist 

The idea of polar self-portrait came to me thanks to artist and curator Zsuzsanna Ardó, whom I met during an art symposium in Germany. Thanks to her, I realized how our  environment is changing, and heard about the pollution in the Arctic.


 I was interested to join the art project, because for me the most important part of doing art is relationships between people.


My artwork for Polar self Portrait is inspired by and based on the landscape: the structure of the beautiful natural architecture of Arctic itself.


I researched the web, and took a photograph of what I found on the net. Nature is also ice and its code. I joined the lines of my face together with the lines of nature.


The result is a cold enigmatic character in my image.


We have to learn more about the language of nature, starting from being nature and identifying ourselves with it.


Ikbale Kalaja, artist

A major problem has hit our Earth. And with it, us too.


Global warming has brought climate change, and it is destroying all life balances.

Ice is melting and flooding the Earth.


Arctic icebergs are having their own metamorphosis.


What will be our metamorphosis?


Michelle Dawson, artist

I think one of the most evocative images of the repercussions of climate change for me has been photographs of the lone polar bear marooned on an iceberg, caught out by the warming sea temperatures and therefore cut adrift in the middle of the ocean on an ever diminishing iceberg. My intention was to convey that I would, if I could, afford them sanctuary.


I didn’t realise until I had completed the work, that this piece is also about the bereavement I have experienced, the sense of loss, aloneness and being emotionally frozen that has occurred as a result.


So unexpectedly and unbidden it is almost as if the bear is concerned for my well being in the resulting image.


I do not know what to make of this, except that it is the nature of art to show us inexplicable things.


Polar self Portraits, the film

Polar self Portraits, the film, has two editions. If you compare the first edition and the second edition, Polar self Portraits_2, you’ll hear that the two sound tracks are somewhat different. In the second edition of the film, music interacts with the sounds of the polar landscape and self-portraits.


What changes in the impact of the film, depending on which edition you listen to? Both tell a story without a single word, but one with silence and sounds of nature, whereas the other with music composed to interact with the sounds and rhythms of silence and ice. Watching and comparing the two different editions of Polar self Portraits can be an experience of discovery learning about the power of immersive story-telling and potential for creative, meditative interactions between nature, art, music and silence.


As with artists, l asked the composer to share his thoughts about some questions about his inspiration and creative process. How did the polar soundscape and polar self-portraits influence the creative process? How did the composition process develop the narrative of the film and the very different characters of the portraits musically? In what way, if at all, the music for the film is the composer’s polar self-portrait?


John Bostock, composer:

At first I was mainly interested in the recorded sounds of the ice on the original soundtrack.

I listened to them and began to hear various pitches, which I incorporated into the background material. Slowly a narrative developed based on my musical reactions to the portraits depicted, whilst attempting to hold the music together with a narrow thematic basis.


An actual theme only became evident with the arrival of a polar bear adrift on the ice.


The climax of the original soundtrack comes only as the credits unfold. I attempted to build my material towards the same juncture, where the sounds of the breaking ice come to dominate the music and eventually turn it into a free jazz-like improvisation.


I used the music software, Logic, to sample the sounds of the ice sounds, producing the random elements of the composition. All the sounds of natural instruments are those available with the software.


I think that I was aware of a process happening as I composed the music that consisted of a reaction to the editing of the portraits in the original film – I changed the rhythm so that there is more of a flow through the film. That means that there is an awareness of the background as well as a reaction to the changing foreground.


The film is a self-portrait in that everything I compose has certain aspects in common to my personality and experience as a musician and composer. I didn’t notice this while I was writing the work, only after it was finished did I notice many areas in common with previous things I have done.


Both editions of Polar self Portraits premiered, where else, in the polar landscape of Greenland, at the Ilulissat Art Museum. Audiences have seen the film in a wide variety of venues, from research stations in Antarctica, contemporary concerts in NY, universities in Albania, to a philosophers’ salon and ideas festival in England, an art festivals in France and Italy, and an art gallery in Morocco.


The British premier is during The Big Freeze Art Festival in March 2021 at The Polar Museum in Cambridge UK. Read about the fascinating story of the Polar self Portraits climate emergency art project here:


©Zsuzsanna Ardó

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