Barents Stories: How do we see the sea?

Anybody passing by in Rovaniemi is welcome to the opening or later to watching an exhibition by Anna Stammler-Gossmann.

Welcome to the exhibition in the Arktikum library, Rovaniemi
Welcome to the exhibition in the Arktikum library, Rovaniemi

Here you find the official press release and further details:

The Arctic Centre library presents a new special exhibition on February 20, 2014.
‘Barents Stories – How Do We See the Sea?’ is based on materials collected during expeditions in the High Arctic by Anna Stammler-Gossmann.
What does the outside world know about the Barents region? Someone may identify it with the word ‘Arctic’ as if it were the counterpart of the ‘Ant-arctic’, where polar bears hunt penguins.  For someone else it may be associated with the climate change and sea ice melting. Different vague types of knowledge about this vast Arctic region may meet in an image of its unique nature, harsh cold climate and the amazing wealth of natural resources.
However, the Barents region as a political construction (formally Barents Euro-Arctic Region, 1993) is inhabited by approximately 6 million people living on a huge territory totaling around 1,75 million km2. The ‘gargantuan creature’ as some may define it is Europe’s largest region for interregional cooperation and includes the northernmost parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Northwest Russia.
In its political dimension, the region draws attention first and foremost to its natural resources. Climate change issue is another reason that contributes to the ‘global hot spot’ image of the Arctic in general and the Barents region specifically. Nonetheless, the region is after all named after the Barents Sea, bordered by the archipelagos of Spitsbergen, Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya, and by the northern coasts of mainland Norway and Russia.
While the possible exploration of fossil fuels and sea ice melting are the main political challenges, local societies live their ‘Barents’ reality every day. For them sea water is not only a mere environmental factor, but a substance that connects many realms of social life – economic, institutional, religious and recreational. It may be a part of everyday practices, a social construction or a field of economic or political competition. Seascape also represents multiple and often conflicting knowledge. Water may be associated with risks or well-being. It may be valued as a sacred substance or an imaginary space.
The exhibition gives insights into the experience of living in the coastal areas, with examples from the international community of Svalbard (Longyearbyen, Barentsburg), fishermen in the village of Gamvik (Norway), which is the northernmost on the European mainland, from small towns around Varanger fjord (Northern Norway), Nenets reindeer herders in the Malozemelskaya tundra (Russia) and residents of the biggest Arctic city of Murmansk (Russia).

Their (hi)stories may be not so much related to the regional ‘Barentsness’,  but what people have in common is the richness of their history and culture and their ways of knowing. They all are Northerners, which may be an identity-marker because a North-South division still persists in the different national societies of the region. Latitude may be a uniting factor as far as “the further north you go the better East-West relations get” (Norwegian Barents Secretariat report 2010)

Moreover, the cold water of the Barents Sea naturally links rather than divides the lands around them.  Voyages by the Dutch (Frisian) explorer William Barents in his search for a northeast passage highlighted the importance of the sea for connecting the East with the West on our planet.  For the constructed political Barents space, the connecting nature of the sea may redirect our attention more towards people living in the region, their creativity and knowledge, societal dynamics and concerns.

Anna Stammler-Gossmann, (PhD, Senior Researcher) is a social anthropologist at the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland (Finland). Her main interests are northern community adaptation to social and environmental changes; human-nature, human-animal relations; indigenous and non-indigenous identities; the concept of the North in politics, economics, and culture. One of her current projects (EU FP7 ACCESS Arctic Climate Change Economy and Society) focuses on the fishery and multiple meaning of sea water for the coastal communities in Northern Norway and Northwest Russia.
Project implementation:
Layout design – Reetta Ojala, Faculty of Art and Design, University of Lapland
Installation design – Julia Allemann Julia Stammler
Literature selection, montage – Arto Kiurujoki, Arctic Centre
Maps, montage – Kari Viertola, Arctic Centre

Join us on Thursday, February 20th, 2014, at 16:15 for the opening reception in the Arctic Centre library, Rovaniemi.