Due North provides a little slice of Iceland for North Philly

Chip journeys to the Arctic through a recent group exhibition, noting that the 26 artists of Due North have managed to capture the icy terrain's mystery and appeal.

From the frosty expanses of the Arctic, as well as right here at home in Philadelphia, the ambitious Due North exhibition appropriately housed at the Crane Arts Icebox space calls on 13 local artists and 13 Icelandic artists for a collaboration of mystical proportions.

In this extensive show curated by Marianne Bernstein, artists explore themes including storytelling, travel, nature and climate, humor, and the intersections of many different media. The culmination of a three-year exchange of ideas and the journeys of countless individuals, this show barely manages to pull all the loose ends together, but it revels in its tenuousness and has more than enough beauty and ingenuity to go around.

Creating the northern feel

Presented by Philagrafika, much of Due North‘s work maintains an association with printmaking, either obviously or more loosely, although some moving image pieces certainly help to direct the narrative and the flow present throughout the show. David Scott Kessler presents a stirring work of storytelling in his 15-minute video, “Lopapeysa”. Through a mixture of travelog, documentary footage, supernatural invocation, and digital effects, Kessler sets the tone for the show at large.

David Kessler, still from “Lopayesa”.

Icy landscapes with floating, frozen animations drift between scenes of children playing with bones and a lone girl knitting at a loom. At one point, we watch a bundled old man walk a snow-white cat down the street on a leash. With the exception of the phantasmal digital segments, these depictions toe the line between palpably unique and horribly mundane. Oftentimes, fresh places become familiar with time, and we lose the allure of their beginnings. Kessler seems to encourage us to both find the new in that which has waned, and find comfort in that which is familiar. These methods are surely useful not only in our travels, but in relationships, jobs, and creative endeavors as well.

David Kessler, still from "Lopayesa."
David Kessler, still from “Lopayesa.”

Natural influences and global implications

Rebeca Mendez, "CircumSolar, Migration 3."
Rebeca Mendez, “CircumSolar, Migration 3.”

Projecting on the lengthy wall of the Icebox is the multichannel “CircumSolar, Migration 1” by Rebeca Méndez. Four circular projections reveal the activities of the Arctic tern alongside ice floes, a cool blue sun, and wandering humans, protected against the elements in which these birds thrive. These tiny creatures embark every season on one of the longest migrations of any animal and typically do not come into frequent contact with humans–despite all of this, their life cycle is encroached upon by climate change. With such an enigmatic existence, Arctic terns act as a metaphor for travel, for mystery, and for the delicate balance of nature.

Serena Perrone, "Due North."
Serena Perrone, “Due North.”

Serena Perrone includes two prints that tie together her impressions of Iceland with her family’s historical home of Sicily. While the Mediterranean seems like a far cry from the icy north, they share certain characteristics: they are both enormous islands and both are quite volcanic. Perrone’s older print, “Settlements,” bears a remarkable resemblance to a frozen lake in Iceland, although it was created before she ever set foot there. Her second print, which shares its name with the exhibit – “Due North” – explores these and even more synchronicities between the two seemingly unconnected locations.

Rúrí, "Future Cartography III" depicts the United States coastline with New York City and Philadelphia submerged.
Rúrí, “Future Cartography III” depicts the United States coastline with New York City and Philadelphia submerged.

Icelandic artist Rúrí takes the liberty of imagining the soon-to-be climate-changed world in “Future Cartography III”. Part science, part imagination, and part mapmaking, these images of the coastlines in North America and Iceland as they stand today, and as they submerge tomorrow, urge us to consider both our homes and our habits in the face of the slowly encroaching deluge.

Hexagonal, basaltic column replicas by Shawn Bitters with "Lopayesa" behind.
Hexagonal, basaltic column replicas by Shawn Bitters with “Lopayesa” behind.

Furthest from the medium of printmaking is probably the piece “Sun,” by Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir, aka “Shoplifter”. Suspended from the ceiling amid Shawn Bitters’ printed basaltic column replicas, images of distant mountains, and a looping 100-foot video feed, the sun seems lonesome and somewhat distant. This detachment may be partially true to life, as is the piece’s fuzzy exterior–akin to Earth’s star hanging low in the sky, obscured by the atmosphere during a long, arctic sunset. Seemingly much cuddlier than the actual sun, this work imagines how, though potentially warmer than the surrounding snow, this chilly region can calm even a fusion reaction to a dull roar.

Magnus Siguardson's "Contained STORM I" in front, while “Sun” by Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir hangs from above and "Lopayesa" plays on the wall.
Magnus Siguardson’s “Contained STORM I” in front, while “Sun” by Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir hangs from above and “Lopayesa” plays on the wall.

Like Magnus Sigurdarson’s playfully trite “Contained STORM I,” in which hundreds of tiny Styrofoam balls dance and flit within a Plexiglas enclosure, pushed upward by a fan, this show seeks to set parameters for the undefinable; to capture the ineffable. We cannot truly contain a storm, nor can we reduce a place to a work of art or even an entire exhibition, but these 26 souls do their best to translate and communicate their experiences surrounding the enigma that is Iceland. Simultaneously spiritual, humorous, scientific, and documentary, Due North comes to life through the perceptions of both natives and outsiders alike. It may not be a trip to Reykjavik, but it’s the closest we can get in North Philly.


Due North at the Crane Arts Icebox space ran from Jan. 9 – 26, 2014.