arctic expeditionThe Expedition

On May 13th 2009, Mark Coreth set off from the UK for the remote Baffin Island community of Pond Inlet with fellow travellers Ollie Parker (cameraman) and Jack Wills (Atelier Fine Arts bronze foundry). Their mission was to head across the spring sea-ice in search of Arctic wildlife with expert guide Dave Reid and the team from his company, Polar Sea Adventures.

Mark's Diary

There is no better way to study towards an exhibition than to live and experience the subject that you are hoping to depict in sculptural form. To sink yourself into the environment with a wide-open mind, all senses on receive, gives the sculptor a feeling of belonging. It is important however to act not just as a sponge but as a humble and utterly respectful sponge. No expectations, no preconceptions, no demands, just open eyes, travel, look and learn, go with the flow!

arctic expedition

12 May

We boarded Air Canada flight 889 to Ottawa. I am travelling with Jack Wills who runs my bronze foundry Atelier Fine Art Castings Ltd. Jack would not let me travel without him!!! I am also travelling with Oliver Parker who is to film the trip, the highs, lows, warts and all!

Although I travel with no preconceived ideas I do so hope to find the iconic Polar Bear, its habitat, its prey, and the bears' competition, rival and partner in the Arctic, the Inuit people. I do however have no clear idea of what lies ahead. I have a cold long flight north tomorrow to Pond Inlet. I will meet Dave Reid, a resident of Pond but also a Scotsman, who is he and what draws him so far north?! I know that we will be travelling by skidoo qamatiq (sled) but I do not know quite to where, what the landscape will be like or the temperature, the sea ice, it is all one big question mark! I wonder how long I would have to live in the Arctic to gain the trust of the Inuit people. Will I get to see my bear? What other wild life might I encounter above, on and below the ice? Will my fingers freeze? Will my mind go blank? I am very sure that I shall come home much richer in experience, but the fear is that I could get back with my tail between my legs and much poorer in pocket!

My aim is to depict the Arctic in 3D in whatever way the spirits of the north may inspire me. I want to show the beauty and harshness of all that I see but also the realities and dangers, the fear of what might befall the frozen north as the planet warms. How this exhibition takes shape will be seen in the days to come.

arctic expedition

13 May

We stayed the night in the Lord Elgin Hotel; Ollie does snore but politely. Even politer he did not comment on me! At 09.30 Jack and Ollie set forth on First Air into a beautiful sunny sky. I am aboard Canadian North and headed for Iqaluit. The excitement of adventure and uncertainty grows. Lakes and tundra turn to ice, snow, frozen sea, leads, islands and staggering beauty. What is down there? What is ahead!? I arrive at Iqaluit and transfer to the Pond flight via Igloolik.

17.30 I arrive and am met by the team including Dave Reid… what a smashing and welcoming man he is! Pond Inlet is cold and prefab chaos with a view across the ice to Bylet Island with its fiords and glaciers, what appears to be 4 miles distance is nearer 20 miles over the ice, or the LAND as the Inuit calls the frozen sea… and that is where we go tomorrow!

Dave Reid is a man that I know I can, and will, work well with. He left Glasgow in 1990 to work for the Hudson's Bay Company before creating Polar Sea Adventures, an outfitting and guiding company.

We will have a setting up and preparation morning tomorrow before we set forth onto the ice.

arctic expedition

14 May

05.30 and a good nights sleep behind me. My mind is buzzing with ideas and hopes. Let the game begin! We set off on a qamatiq … what unutterable beauty. We stopped by an iceberg where nature revealed the most staggering colours… deep blues and outstanding abstract shapes… sculpted by nature in a way that no man can better. I set forth to prove my point with my ice chisel. The berg would explode beneath the chisel but in time I revealed my first Ice Bear! To think that I had cut into a berg of so many years of age. It will have started on the Greenland ice sheet and slipped down to the sea as a glacier before being born as a berg… heading north with the current and then south down the Baffin Sound before being lodged here and hacked by me!

We set up camp on the sea ice… Arctic char for supper and a trip to a rock with a view that removes your breath threatening never to return it! Bergs, distance, flatness, cut by leads and then areas of confused and crumpled pack ice… and light, 24 hours' day light … what time is it? Colour beautiful colour. NO bears but we are in bear country… dear God what beauty.

arctic expedition

15 May

We wake to an overcast day of snow flurries and Arctic winter! I also woke with my hip giving me hell… thank you Jack for a goodly supply of Ibrufin! The hip could well cause a bit of a prob!

We set forth towards the flow edge and pass unrealised beauty. The bergs are already exploding in my sculptural balloon, shapes and types, colours and sounds as they speak, rifle shots of breaking ice… No bears. I am beginning to realise that the bear is not granted on a plate. The plasticine that I have in my pocket is so hard that I do not quite know how I will turn it into a bear when or if I see it! I think I will make my first sculpture… a self portrait of a sculptor dreaming of a Polar Bear!

We went to the flow edge, broken roughness and black sea beyond. We rode over 400 fathoms of water on a raft of 5ft of ice. Ringed seals were abundant with their blow holes but still no sign of Nanook.

We met up with some Inuit hunters… hunting for seal and POLAR BEAR… they just missed one that dived into the sea from the flow edge and escaped… bears do not like men! I have got to find a bear before the hunter does. I spoke to Abraham and Patrick (our guides) about the traditions of bear hunting and about the respects between bear and man. I spoke also to them about the frustrations that they feel with the southerners views of the Arctic and its wild life, about the bears and the uses of all body parts. Kabloona (Southerners) have to respect the Inuit traditions.

The afternoon was spent travelling up towards the Lancaster Sound… BEAR tracks how unutterably exciting! We also saw bird cliffs… the migration of birds yet to arrive.

arctic expedition

16 May

We hoped to set forth early to follow up the bear trails from last night… think again!!! The Arctic winter has returned with vengeance, rotten visibility but what beautiful harshness!!! I love this Arctic… life here is so uncertain and yet we are not in the depths of the winter!

I have decided to sculpt the bear from the tracks that we witnessed, we have after all learnt so much about movement from the evidence around us … open your eyes and live the environment!

I have also been trying to carve the bear from some stone… oh boy how talented some people are… not me!

arctic expedition

17 May

More DEEP winter and drama… powder snow several inches deep and visibility is appalling … what time is it??? I asked Ollie who said it was 10.30 but neither of us could decide which 10.30 …!!! So the magic of the Arctic summer has set in, we do not care what time it is, we are living for the moment and our minds are opening to the wider experience. The focus is pulling away from the Polar Bear and on to its world… now that IS very exciting for me as a sculptor… the very reason that we travel.

I have now sculpted my unseen bear from the evidence about… WHAT a cold but dreamy studio I had in the lea of an ice berg … Heaven.

I could not help but hack away at my ice berg studio and found a relief of graffiti ready to float away as the sea ice melts… oh what fun.

arctic expedition

18 May

The day looks promising, clear skies and it is 4.30 am and so what let's go!!! Abraham is determined to catch a ring seal… in the traditional harpooning way… he failed but gave me wonderful sculptural material. He hunts as the bear hunts… tactics are the same.

We found a berg to climb and use as an observation post and by golly there in the distance was a bear ! The bear was still hunting a seal… we watched and studied and enjoyed! After some time we decided to try to get a bit closer… but to my horror we ended by chasing the bear somewhat unwittingly. Study of movement was brilliant and very close… speed, fear and buzz… This was normal bear v Inuit sparring …

After such an encounter I have so much to work on… we set course for the camp … and on the way stopped off at the Thule village site… a link with history.

Sculpting into the night… or was it day … so what …

Slept badly … bloody hip !!!

arctic expedition
19 May

We have travelled back to the flow edge and to our delight found the beginning of the migration of birds… eider duck, gulls, even an elephant seal. Themn Fulmers and Big Billed Muirs...

Abraham bagged 2 ringed seals for supper!

We set forth to camp to dry out boots et al and plan to set forth in a few hours again…

What a day!!!

Then came supper… and the weather clamped down into whiteout snow and blizzards!!! OH WELL!

I do hope we get another chance to film a bear… but frankly I do not mind what comes our way… My understanding of the Arctic is now so much firmer… For Ollie a bear please… as he has a cracking camera… but for the sculptor I have a deep love of this environment and growing ideas to create a sculpture to portray the Arctic and its trials ahead… The Ice Bear is born… a bronze skeleton hidden in a block of ice… sculpt the bear and let it melt… a powerful environmental message…

I feel that I have learnt so much about the relationship of man and wild life… and about the LAND ie the ICE. Ice controls every thing in the Arctic… it opens a window for life and as quickly closes it… the loss of the ice with the warming planet is going to change all that we see up here… not only will the bear suffer but the world as a whole.

arctic expedition
20 May

Much sculpting and study done… Weather has improved well and so off to the berg again. To my utter delight I saw another bear and a big one too… but far off in the pack ice…

We returned via the cliffs to find that the migratory birds had arrived in force… UNBELIEVABLE sight of the Arctic waking up to life, love and birth … noise and tears of excitement in our eyes… Kittywake and Muirs by the 10s of 1000s and again the radiating blue of the ice about…

I am a very happy sculptor… the last day has come upon us but in my book the aim is well achieved… although the focus is no longer on the bear but on its world I have in my mind an increasingly rich exhibition of the beauty and harshness of the Arctic… I must take the Arctic to the world.

arctic expedition
21 May

We returned having packed up camp to Pond Inlet… What a trip over serenely wonderful and flat ice… Pond has changed in the time that we have been out… oh yes the spring is here… the temperature is higher and the snow melting… what a remarkable time to visit, the cusp of the changing season.

I had no idea that I would learn so much in such a short time… I have learnt about people, wild life and ICE… ICE is the big message… now I want to return and pull the focus back to the bear maybe I should go to Churchill Manitoba… The Ice Bear Project is so exciting I must achieve it come hell or high water… and COLOUR, the colour of the Arctic is blue, a blue that I shall never forget… Nature is the best sculptor… the bergs are mind blowing.

arctic expedition
22 May

Jack departs to Ottawa and Ollie and I are to spend a happy time in Iqaluit sculpting the Inuktuk the messenger of the north… We also went and filmed in the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit museum… learning about the traditions of Inuit sculpture, styles and myths…

I am now ready to head for home to consolidate… but the itch to revisit is already evident.

arctic expedition
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