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nanoq: flat out and bluesome

The images on the ELIA promotion material are from the art project nanoq: flat out and bluesome (2004-2006) the work of the collaborative artists team Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson.
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nanoq: flat out and bluesome is a visual art project that explores the meanings embedded in taxidermic polar bears, the scope of their historical functions and what they symbolize in the contemporary western world.

Fram museet, Oslo

The nanoq: flat out and bluesome project explores the cultural constitution of nature. Through this work, the polar bear, as a ‘hollow’ animal body, has been examined in the context of a historical relationship between taxidermy and photography, an oscillation between life and death and the camera’s capacity to transform and implant ‘memory’ and construct identity. 

Manchester transit

The project, which was developed through the artists’ survey of taxidermic polar bears in the UK, raises an array of questions and issues. It set out to unearth a series of narratives, anecdotes and fragments arising directly from the provenances of individual bears and to connect the audience to a new knowledge that the specimens could be seen to embody. The project also aimed to provide insight into and a reappraisal of a rich and celebrated epoch of exploration, learning and discovery that a ‘confrontation’ with these specimens might unlock. Begun in 2001 the project took five years to complete and was structured around three anticipated ‘outcomes’ and their attendant processes.

These were:
• The survey itself and the subsequent loaning of ten specimens for an installation in a contemporary art space, Spike Island in Bristol.
The installation was also the site for a one-day conference, White Out organised by the artists.

• The photographing of the specimens in situ and the gathering of information relating to their history. This comprised any data available from the moment of the first encounter with man in their indigenous environment to their current location in the United Kingdom as taxidermic specimens on display (or in storage). This was followed by numerous showings of the work, that is the combined images-with- provenances, among them; the Oxford Natural History Museum, Bristol Museums and Art Galleries, Horniman Museum in London, Askja House of Natural Sciences at the University of Iceland, Bryggen North Atlantic House Copenhagen, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge and the Polar Fram Museum in Oslo.

• A publication, nanoq: flat out and bluesome, A Cultural Life of Polar Bears, documenting the entire project from beginning to end. The 192 page book published by Black Dog Publishing in London in 2006, contains all the photographs and provenances from the archive. It has extended as correspondence, with essays by the artists and the project information on each specimen as gathered from their collectors as well co-ordinator Lucy Byatt and by respected academics and critics, Dr. Steve Baker, Dr. Garry Marvin, Michelle Henning and Patti Ellis.  

Newcastle transit

The artists

Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir is a PhD student at The University of Gothenburg and this project is one of three art projects that are the subject of her PhD research.

Mark Wilson
is Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at The University of Cumbria.

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