Amongst the thousands of books and albums held by the V&A, I have discovered that there is one in particular that I have been searching for. “The True and Perfect Description of Three Voyages, so Strange and Wonderful That the Like Hath Never Been Heard of Before,” was written at the end of the 16th century and relates three attempts by Dutch explorers to reach China via the North East Passage. On the third attempt the author, who had accompanied the voyage, tells of how a temporary refuge was built on a small island in the Russian Arctic – the men struggled to survive for nine months, the first attempt to overwinter in the Arctic by Europeans.
What the writer was not to know was that in the years to follow, the refuge was gradually to fill with ice, encasing all the objects inside for three hundred years. Renaissance Prints intended for the Far Eastern market, clothes, candlesticks, navigational instruments, carpenters’ tools were to be discovered in the late 1800’s as the ice began to melt again. I have been particularly intrigued to learn about the prints through discussions whilst working in the V&A’s Paper Conservation Studio – stacks of them which had turned to papier mache blocks and then were held frozen beneath the ice for all those years.
The writer also tells of how the windows, the door, and the chimney, were gradually blocked up – a dark space with no connection to the frozen wilderness outside was created. The 18th century Japanese paper teahouse that I mentioned in a previous entry, was designed to create an intimate space in the vast, dark interior of Nishi Honganji Temple, Kyoto. This led to my large-scale installation of drawings, “Shift.” I keep thinking about this other temporary refuge which once existed in the Arctic -and the fragile objects which still remain.
Click on thumbnails for larger versions.