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Fine Art Student Researches Life and Work in the Arctic Circle

First-year Contemporary Art Practice Public Sphere student Cicilia Östholm is making a month-long voyage to the Arctic. She will be in residence on a tall-masted barquentine for two-and-a-half weeks, then at Galleri Svalbard, for a further 11 days.

During the Arctic voyage Cicilia will be attempting a durational performance. On the 21 June, she will sit for 24 hours on the deck of the ship in temperatures potentially as low as –10 degrees, while making a time-lapse of the summer solstice midnight sun. The performance, and its recording will act as an observational study of the natural surroundings at this latitude, and help Cicilia better understand the context for her research.

Studying Contemporary Art Practice at the RCA has enabled Cicilia to spend two years working alongside peers, tutors and professionals in the same field. ‘Being mobile offered the chance for random and interesting connections to occur,’ Cicilia explained. ‘But outside the art world and art academia, it can be difficult to find a space to work and think. Coming to the RCA I’ve found amazing people to have discussions with who provide other references and additional theoretical input to my ideas and projects.’

The Arctic Circle expeditions have been running since 2009 and bring together artists, scientists, architects, designers and educators in a travelling incubator for thought, experimentation and innovation. Cicilia will be using her time aboard the ship to continue a writing and research project that she proposed prior to coming to the RCA, which will form part of her MA dissertation.

Cicilia comes from a dance and choreography background and is interested in the negotiations that take place when sharing space with others. Before coming to the RCA Cicilia spent three years working on a project travelling to 200 locations in 16 countries, exploring location independent practice. On the Arctic Circle expedition, she will develop a theory of how socially interdependent, immaterial resources, such as privacy, mobility and credibility are regulated and valued.

Following her time on the ship, Cicilia will take part in a second residency on the island of Svalbard. The harsh natural surroundings make the island a challenging place to live; residents are not supported by unemployment benefits, so must work, even if this work is not paid and it is illegal to die on the island, because the permafrost does not allow bodies to decompose into the soil.

For the RCA Work-in-progress exhibition earlier this year, Cicilia exhibited a project exploring the role of work in society. Taking a departure from The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement (1971) by Seth Siegelaub and Bob Projansky, the project created an alternative employment structure, based on a non-profit organisation providing work opportunities for non-specific production or even a speculative non-production. Cicilia is interested in what the implications of her project might be on Svalbard.

Cicilia will use the trip to carry out interviews with residents of Svalbard and gain a better understanding of society there, as well as make connections within the art environment on the island. This research will be the foundation for Cicilia’s work during her second year at the RCA.