Tromsø– Part 1 of 3
I’m blogging from Tromsø this week, the largest city in northern Norway, and the second largest city above the Arctic Circle after Murmansk in Russia. Tromsø is mostly dark or in twilight at this time of year–during January it receives only a few minutes of direct sunlight during the entire month–and candles burn all day in the restaurants and hotel lobbies. This is one of the world’s most renowned places from which to see the Northern Lights, but the tourists here have been disappointed, as it’s been snowing all week. Each day I walk by a three-meter Sun of Tromsø installed late last year by artists Lisa Pacini and Christine Istad above the front door of the Tromsø Kunstforening. It’s due to come down as soon as the real sun returns to the city.
Many of the city’s 70,000 residents are students attending the University of Tromsø, where I’ve come at the invitation of Janike Larsen and her colleagues to the newly-formed Tromsø Academy of Landscape Studies. The Academy is designed to train people to understand and influence the future of urban planning, ecosystems, infrastructure and more in what is one of the fastest changing regions in the world. The melting out of the Northeast Passage above Siberia, the discovery of enormous natural gas fields, and China’s endless appetite for iron and other raw materials have every city in the circumpolar north scrambling to become an industrial hub. The intense resource extraction coupled with climate change is erasing old landscapes and memories even as it creates new ones, which is always fertile ground for landscape studies.
Each year Tromsø hosts the Arctic Frontiers Conference. The title is a dead giveaway to the tilt of the conversations, which are both about marine ecology and the geopolitics of the developing north. The Academy puts together a side conference to discuss the “lost ecologies” created by the regional changes. The speakers range from artists and filmmakers, to geographers and historians such as Michael Bravo from the Scott Polar Research Institute, to representatives from the Saami, the native rein-herders of northern Scandinavia and northwestern Russia.
The Academy will move into a newly refurbished brewery built in downtown Tromsø in 1870. It will join interdisiciplinary field programs such as the Land Arts of the American West, John Reid’s Art & Ecology operation at the Australia National University, and Liam Young’s Unknown Fields Division at the Architecture Association School of Architecture in London. Increasingly, the demand for quick and intelligent responses to the challenges of global change require the collaboration of artists, architects, and designers–which, in turn, breaks down traditional barriers between those disciplines. All these organizations are partners of the Center for Art + Environment precisely for that reason.