Thursday, May 18, 2023

244. The North Was Here } Ellie Ga Talk.

Ga writes,

“Ten people are put into an unknown room for one minute, maybe a little less, not more. They are asked to describe what they have seen. … Nobody sees the world in the same way. … We must see only what we can see.”

unknown room = wherever we are
one minute = for however long
ten people = w/ whom

What we see is limited by how much ice surrounds us. Is limited by where we are aboard the Tara, what year we’re aboard the Tara, & w/ whom we’re aboard the Tara. “In 2007, Ga was artist-in-residence aboard the sailboat Tara on an expedition to collect scientific data on climate change at the North Pole. She joined the boat after the Tara had been frozen into the polar cap for 13 months and stayed for the final five months before it floated free. Trapped in the ice in the Arctic darkness, the ten-person crew had no idea for how long the boat would drift” (from interview w/ Anna Della Subin for Tank). North Was Here is an artist’s book which is? $25. 1,000+ covers were letterpressed at Ugly Duckling Press. White card stock, the outline of the Tara, ice-coated rigging, snowfall represented by black dots. Pressed barcode: I can scan it with my fingertip. Four pts., each divided by a photograph, each exactly the same gray-blue. Between pts. 1 & 2: “shovels” (five shovels, blades in the snow—w/out the shovels, no sense of depth.); between pts. 2 & 3: “ladders” (three men board the Tara. Two hold a tether, the third stands with arms at his sides. Is he patient? Reckless? Ga writes, “A questions mark? Does that represent the big idea?”); and between pts. 3 & 4: “tractor” (a horizon line is detectable. Equipment on a tripod, its operator sits with his back to it). North Was Here is three chapbooks + “North Was Here.”


“I asked the crew to draw a map of our ‘world’; this project eventually became ‘Ten Till Two (10:10).’ For example,” Ga tells Lauren O’Neill-Butler (Artforum, March 13, 2010), “the mechanic was also a diver. He and the chief would dive under the boat to check the propellers. He drew an ice floe in the shape of a mushroom…. No one had seen it but him.” From ‘Ten Till Two (10:10)’: I’ll put the boat in the middle because it’s our house. Here’s the fire for burning the rubbish and here’s the toilet. Here’s the piece of ice, like a mushroom, under the boat. When we dive we wake the little fish up. I saw a lot of beer cans down there.” W/out context, the reader naturally assumes the text of “Ten Till Two (10:10)” comes from Ga’s direct experience—she dove beneath the Tara. W/out context, we draw false conclusions about Ga. “Ten Till Two (10:10)” is about the perception of time (“This is a map of the future. With a little bit of the past”) & about perception of place. Perceived, primarily, w/ sight (“…the visibility changes and when the boat disappears, it is as if our star disappears.”). When is artificial—just ask the Julian calendar. What we see, too—" Nobody sees the world in the same way.” “Drift Drawings” are squiggly lines that represent—yup, you guessed it—. “Log of Limits (Snow Walks)” look like sewing patterns. Charcoal on paper, 30” x 44” (not noted in the book but on Ga’s website Drawings that represent walks crew members (Ga?) took off the Tara; the captions are concise & wonderfully telling. For example: Dec 17: No movement possible off Tara, walk dogs on bridge … Jan 10: Possible to walk around Tara (but not advisable) Jan 12: Possible to walk around Tara Jan 16: Possible to play rugby around Tara “North Was Here” is video stills from “At the Beginning North Was Here.” In the video, images are interspersed with text (from the same source “Ten Till Two (10:10)” is derived). At the end of “North Was Here” is a note—the notes throughout the book offer some context, but not quite enough not to draw false conclusions. The note at the end of “North Was Here” does not appear at the end of the video “At the Beginning North Was Here.” The note concludes—& thus concludes North Was Here—"…the doctor turned to me and said, ‘You know, I have a feeling you only get to do this once in your life and, well, I have failed.’” This sentiment applies to everything in life.

North Was Here the artist’s book is a piece of The Fortunetellers, Ga’s response to her stint onboard the Tara. On its own, North Was Here frustrates sensical interpretation. Sure, we could say that frustration is a metaphor—being aboard the Tara was disorienting, therefore… but that’s pretentious. North Was Here the artist’s book is a piece of The Fortunetellers. That’s better.

From the Tara Ocean Foundation website (

“To explore and share, each mission of the schooner Tara is intended to be a crossover between artists, scientists, and sailors. Do you want to be kept informed of calls for projects when the next Tara Ocean Foundation mission is defined? Would you like to present your work and your creations to us?” There’s a form to fill out. It’s not a specific call for a residency aboard the Tara, but a pool—I presume—for artists who are interested. I’m interested. I yearn to go to the Arctic aboard the Tara & write. But I’m allergic to dogs.