The North Atlantic region discussed at SASS, Yale 2014

Environmental change and the current political and industrial interests in the resources of the Arctic have resulted in a battle of representations of the peoples and landscapes of the region.

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At this year’s conference of the American Association of Scandinavian studies hosted at Yale University in New Haven 13-15 March Anna Stenport, Lill-Ann Körber and Scott McKenzie hosted the Arctic stream “The Arctic Today” with participants from contemporary literature, political science, art history and Scandinavian studies.

The joint project Denmark and the New North Atlantic was represented in different streams at the conference by Ebbe Volquardsen, Elisabeth Oxfeldt and myself.

At this year’s conference there were plenty of interesting papers and perspectives on everything from Medieval literature to Scandinavian design. This wide range of themes is the advantage as well as the disadvantage of the SASS format. Among the paper presentations that I had the pleasure of listening to were: Jon Helt Haarder and Malene Breunig on intimacy and the rejection of intimacy in modern Danish literature, art and design, Redi Koobak’s paper on the art of Anna-Stina Treumund that questions chrononormativity and the problem of casting non-western artists in a western post-colonial temporality of “being too late”. Another interesting paper was Henning Warp’s discussion of the Arctic pastoral idyll as a way of evoking environmental engagement.

My own paper “Icelandic futures: Arctic dreams and geographies of crisis” was based on two forthcoming articles (2014).

My point of departure is the increased representation of the Arctic as a geography of the future and increased geopolitical influence as presented in the political sphere:

“Increased access to the resources of the North following climate change and technological development has also highlighted the importance of the Arctic in international affairs. Icelanders have a lot to gain since Iceland is the only nation-state that lies entirely within the Arctic (…) Reduction of ice in the Arctic Ocean enables the exploitation of natural resources” (Foreign Office website).
“The government will strive to place Iceland as a leading force in the Arctic (…)”(Governmental Statement 2013: 11)
Artists challenge the narratives of purity
The optimism reflected in the political rhetorics has been dealt with in various works of contemporary artists. In the forthcoming articles I will discuss critical and eco-critical representations of political futures in works by e.g. Ósk Vilhjálmsdóttir, Ólöf Nordal and Hlynur Hallsson. Ólöf Nordal’s aluminumsculpture The great auk (1998) continues to be a constant silent reminder of the price paid when speculation in natural resources goes overboard (such as the killing and sale of the last great auks in Iceland in the 19th century) and a comment onIceland hosting the multinational aluminum industry – which Hallsson’s mural from 2007 is a sarcastic comment to as well.
Ólöf Nordal:”the Great Auk” (1998) & Hlynur Hallsson “Drulla/Scheisse/mud” (2007)
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