Under the Arctic Ice

Under the Arctic Ice

Can the medium of glass open up new ways of thinking about the complexities of silence and sound? As a 2012–13Fulbright grant recipient, Mara Streberger MFA 12 GL spent the winter months of her year abroad in Baffin Bay, Greenland, exploring this question as she learned the ways of the Inuit.

Streberger’s original Fulbright proposal was to use glass to interpret the sophisticated language of the narwhal (a small arctic whale species), its ecosystem and the impact of humans on both. But after missing the narwhals on their annual migration, she ended up accompanying her Inuit guides in pursuit of other arctic prey, including beluga whales.

“I spent most of my time in a tiny, traditional settlement in the northwest of Greenland, where it’s much less European,” Streberger explains. “I became so interested in the Inuit culture. I was making underwater recordings of icebergs, the sound of water and seals, and soon began to draw a connection between those sounds and Greenlandic song.”

While traveling to remote hunting grounds with the Inuit, the artist also collected teeth and other remnants of the mammals they hunt and used them to make molds for glass castings. She has now moved on to Bornholm, Denmark, where she’s beginning to process much of what she discovered in Greenland, in part by attempting to create sculptures that merge porcelain and glass.

“I was inspired by the ice and the glaciers – the opacity versus the translucency,” Streberger says. “The tension between the porcelain and the glass helps make sense of what’s happening in Greenland now, with the cultural conflict between the Inuit and the Danish colonizers.”

Streberger’s mentors note that her unique use of glass gives her work a strong and distinct point of view. “Mara has proven herself capable of ingenious work that utilizes the fluidity of glass to capture often overlooked relationships between social, political, economic and ecological concerns,” says Digital + Media CriticSara Wylie. “One of her first projects at RISD captured air samples in finely wrought and fragile glass vessels. It puzzled her classmates but spoke beautifully to the scientific and social dilemma that to study something is in part to destroy it: The moment the vials were un-stoppered the samples would disperse. The same keen and subtle critical commentary informs her Fulbright project.”

Now that her Fulbright studies are coming to a close, Streberger feels like she has only scratched the surface of the arctic ice. So she’s eagerly looking for grant money that will allow her to return to Greenland and continue her work. “I originally planned to be in Greenland for only two months,” she says, “ but things are just starting to formulate. I’ve learned that an artist really needs this incubation period.”

–Simone Solondz

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