The Swedish Polar Research Secretariat has since 1988 offered artists to participate in research expeditions to the polar regions. Ever since people began travelling to the polar regions artists have been involved as members of expeditions. In the early days, their job was to illustrate and document expeditions so that the experiences could be shared with the people back home.
The Swedish Polar Research Secretariat is upholding the tradition by allocating space for artists on Swedish research expeditions, as do several other nations. “The arts” is interpreted in the broad sense and is not limited to the visual arts. Over the years that the Secretariat has offered artist’s places, they have been filled by people working in most artistic domains.
Cross-fertilisation is a key concept in the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat’s Artists Programme. That is what happens when scientists and artists are fellow travellers on expeditions, where they meet and converse on utterly different terms than they would in their home environments. Their different worlds of experience, perception and culture contrast and intersect. Perhaps the cross-fertilisation has impact on the scientific and artistic projects carried out during the expedition, perhaps not. But we do know that the impressions on everyone involved are deep and lasting.
Sometimes projects cannot be realised as planned; sometimes the work returns dividends other than those expected or results other than those precisely intended. Quite often, things happen during the expedition that lead people down new paths, whether close to or far from the original plan.
The selection of artists and projects
The selection of artists and projects to the programme is made to ensure diversity of artistic disciplines. When people travel to the polar regions, they must clearly understand what they want to accomplish with their projects – and that applies to both researchers and scientists. Knowing how to reach out to a public with their experiences is also significant. Researchers must publish their results in papers and inform their teaching with matters of importance and interest. The point is essentially the same for artists, but the means of expression differ. They may report their perceptions and experiences in the form of an exhibition, a film, a concert, a book or a consummate experience of some other kind.