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Ice Boat and Antigua in Gravneset, 2015
Ice Boat and Antigua in Gravneset, 2015
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Awesome Ice Boat Sculptures Inspired By The Stunning Norwegian Fjords

Picture of Freire Barnes
Art & Design Editor
Updated: 23 November 2016
Whilst navigating glaciers and sub-zero temperatures in the spectacular Svalbard archipelago as part of an annual artistic residency expedition, American artist Joshua Abarbanel created his Ice Boat sculptures. Here, we discover the inspiration behind the ingenious works that melt back into the Arctic ocean.

For the past seven years, artists, performers, film-makers, writers, architects and scientists have been venturing to the North Pole on a sailing vessel, The Antigua as part of The Arctic Circle residency expedition. Created as an ‘incubator’ to encourage responses to topical issues, the development of new work and cross-disciplinary collaboration, the two-week art programme has initiated a plethora of stimulating projects.

In 2015, Joshua Abarbanel created Ice Boat; a miniature model of a traditional Norwegian rowboat known as an Oselvar, which was cast in ice before being released into the artic water.

Ice Boat with Antigua in Gravneset, 2015
Ice Boat with Antigua in Gravneset, 2015. | © Joshua Abarbanel

Inspired by the stunning landscape and its environmental fragility, Abarbanel decided to use ice as it “invokes the ideas of ephemerality, temporality and impermanence” and ultimately the boats would “melt and become the very element on which they float.”

We spoke to the Santa Monica-based artist about his Arctic experience and how the project is evolving.

Ice Boat, 2015. © Joshua Abarbanel
Ice Boat, 2015. | © Joshua Abarbanel

Why did you want to go on the Arctic Circle expedition?
I’ve always been intrigued by a region that seems to hold so much mystery and drama.

Sveabreen Glacier: 78˚33, 1 N, 014˚20, 2 E, 2015
Sveabreen Glacier: 78˚33, 1 N, 014˚20, 2 E, 2015. | © Joshua Abarbanel

Where did the inspiration for the Norwegian boat design come from?
Since I was spending time in a region so close to Norway, I was thinking about other kinds of boats that had traversed those same waters. As much as the project is about ephemerality it’s also about memory – which is also transitory – and so I wanted the project to have a historical connection to that seascape.

Joshua Abarbanel testing the Ice Boat in the arctic, 2015. Photo © richard painter
Joshua Abarbanel testing the Ice Boat in the arctic, 2015. Photo | © richard painter

How many boats did you make and how long did it take before they melted?
While on the voyage I cast and launched four boats in four different fjords. They lasted 45 minutes to an hour.

Ice Boat at Smeerenburgbreen, 2015
Ice Boat at Smeerenburgbreen, 2015. | © Joshua Abarbanel

What was it like being on the ship for two weeks and with 25 other artists?
It was the longest time I’ve been at sea. In spite of the close quarters, the fact that we were constantly exposed to new and evolving terrain made it an incredibly expansive experience. At night we would share with one another our artwork and our perspectives, and this made for quite lively and interesting conversations.

Ice Boat and Antigua in Gravneset, 2015
Ice Boat and Antigua in Gravneset, 2015. | © Joshua Abarbanel

Is that the most isolated location you have been to?
Yes! I’ve spent a lot of time in the Mojave Desert of Southern California and in other remote areas of the world, but this was by far the most off-the-grid I have been.

What do you want the project to achieve?
This project is a response to the dynamic environment that I witnessed in the Arctic, and the ephemerality of it. As with all of my work, it reflects my general concerns for themes of creation, the passage of time, mortality, and reverence for nature, all of which I hope viewers will contemplate when they see it.

Sled at Trappers Station, Farmhamna: 78˚20, 2 N012˚50, 6 E, 2015
Sled at Trappers Station, Farmhamna: 78˚20, 2 N012˚50, 6 E, 2015. | © Joshua Abarbanel

Abarbanel has collated his documentary photographs and video footage of Ice Boat into an ongoing series. Its first iteration is currently on show in Los Angeles along with new works that use ice and pebbles.

Shipwreck, 2015. © Joshua Abarbanel
Shipwreck, 2015. | © Joshua Abarbanel
Hull, 2015. © Joshua Abarbanel
Hull, 2015. | © Joshua Abarbanel
Icicle study, 2015
Icicle study, 2015. | © Joshua Abarbanel
Short, Short, Long, 2016. © Joshua Abarbanel
Short, Short, Long, 2016. | © Joshua Abarbanel

‘Joshua Abarbanel: Finding North’ is at Los Angeles Harbor College Art Gallery,1111 Figueroa Pl, Wilmington, CA 907444 until December 16, 2016.