The geographical extent of the high north is difficult to describe with certainty. The region's scale and diversity create an ambiguity when trying to explain or classify its boundaries. Much like the Australian ideal of outback, the high north is a phrase that can be shaped depending on its intended use. The more formal classifications that do exist generally tie the region to lands above the Arctic Circle, the extent of the Barents Sea and the Euro-Arctic countries of Russia, Norway, Sweden and Finland.
For me it is the remoteness that gives the north its allure. The arctic landscape seems expansive and overwhelming at times and it is often difficult to find a sense of scale amongst the endless plateaus and distressed rock outcrops, which drop dramatically into open sea and intricate fjords. There is a feeling of inadequacy when trying to come to terms with this space - the brutal terror of bleak expanse is hard to reconcile but the sublime and wrenching beauty forces an affection that is difficult to escape. Like all remote and isolated places, the high north instils a romantic notion of wilderness that is far removed from the contrived, cultivated and sometimes genteel landscapes of more inhabited temperate regions.
I arrived in the north during the autumn, at a time when the lichen, heath and short brushy trees turn from green to brilliant orange and red and then, finally, to tones of muted grey. The arctic climate intensely punctuates this landscape - it is grand and dramatic and forces everything that exists here to adapt. As an outsider it is hard to understand these adaptations or to understand the scale of an arctic winter before it arrives. The expectations of extreme cold and days with no sunlight are an abstraction, and bear little resemblance to reality. An arctic winter is humbling. It creates a sense of a tenuous existence that, for me, seemed to be a constant condition of living in the north. The images that I created are a response to this, and explore the impact of a difficult climate on people and their built environment, through the evidence of habitation and adaptation in the arctic landscape.
Much of the work I created in the north is set in the small town of Kirkenes. Flanked on its southern, eastern and western approaches by rolling granite hills, the town is located at the northeastern most tip of Norway, at the edge of a series of small fjords which link to the large Varanger Fjord and then ultimately the Barents Sea to the north. Not far to the east, following the contour of the Pasvik Valley, lies the heavily patrolled and constantly monitored border with Russia. The wooded banks of the small river, which forms a natural border marker, are under constant surveillance and there is a strange sense of being watched even in this wilderness.
Despite the magnitude of divide that the border represents, the town of Kirkenes identifies itself closely with its eastern neighbour, united by the intensity of their existence in the arctic north there are important signs of cross border cooperation. Elements of the Russian Barents Sea fishing fleet are a constant presence in the town and their heavy, hulking and dilapidated forms dot the shoreline. The Russian sailors club, which overlooks the utilitarian concrete piers, is a small weatherboard affair decked with all the comforts of a Russian home. The sensibility of Scandinavian design has no place here: the kitchen and communal spaces are lavishly Russian with nostalgic and visually complicated motifs adorning the eggshell-white walls.
Heavy industry has historically driven this community's economy and identity, and the mine that sits on the ridge overlooking the town centre is conspicuous and dominating within the landscape. Its presence has shaped the town, and evidence of this is overtly visible almost everywhere. In places this town appears to be intimately intermingled with its industrial activity, giving the impression that they are inextricably linked and perpetually reliant on each other's presence. In some areas surrounding the mine little definition exists between residential and industrial zones, and often architecture provides little visual demarcation between civil and industrial purpose.