High Arctic, the inaugural exhibition in the newly opened Sammy Ofer wing at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (until 13 January), brings a thoroughly 21st-century, technology-driven museum experience to this historic site. It’s an exhibition, Jim, but not as we know it.
In 2010 Matt Clark, creative director of the art and design practice UVA, joined an expedition of artists and scientists to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. High Arctic, which he describes as ‘a monument to an Arctic past set 100 years into the future’, is a response to this trip; an attempt to address, in a non-preachy way, the issue of man’s impact on the environment.
Housed in a chilly 820 sq metre subterranean gallery space, the exhibition is an immersive, multi-sensory experience that uses a mix of sound, light and sculptural forms to summon up an abstracted Arctic landscape. As the visitor navigates, in semi-darkness, the clusters of white, Rachel Whiteread-esque columns, an ultra-violet torch (provided on entry) opens up an eerie hidden world; while shifting patterns of graphics and text react to approaching footsteps. Poetry is interwoven with the stories of Arctic explorers to provide a spooky soundscape.
In this age of information overload, High Arctic is a bold enterprise. Refreshingly free of oppressive, explanation-laden wall plaques, it challenges the visitor to slow down and give free rein to the imagination. As one of the disembodied voices says, ‘I think of me as a story you have to tell yourself.’