Art VAPO – True North

The Art VAPO project is an art-based investigation into «What North is». Using the term Nordicity (nothernness) we will explore the concept of Nordicity in artistic expressions in and through music and performance. The project will question and embody different dimensions of the degree of Nordicity in performing arts in circumpolar regions.

Nordicity is a concept used by geographer L.-E. Hamelin. It was developed in Canada in the 1960s and refers to the perceived, real or imagined conditions of circumpolar areas. Seen from the North Pole, the geographic boundaries for what North is, seems obvious, but Hamelin points out that circumpolar territories cannot be identified based on one single criterion, but a number of natural and human factors. He developed an index called Valeurs polaires (VAPO), where the North Pole had a VAPO of 1000. The Nordicity index has ten natural and human components: Latitude, Summer heat, Annual cold, Types of ice, Precipitation, Vegetation, Accessibility, Air service, Population, and Economic activity. The Canadian government uses the index to measure Nordicity and to regulate the economical and human interactions in its territory.

The Art VAPO project aims to experiment with an art equivalent to the Nordicity index. The goal is to artistically investigate the concept of North using music and performance art as tools for commenting and challenging power relations and perceptions in and of the North. Through different forms of concerts and concert rallies we want to involve the citizens of the North in this exploration, acknowledging that there may be many Norths within the North. Thus, The North is at stake!

The understanding of what North is, have been established through stories and myths from both the people of the North, visitors, and people that have never been here. The director of Festspillene i Nord-Norge, Maria Utsi, asks «Who defines North»? Through the arts, she wants to challenge the power relations in political discussions about the northern part of the world: «The arts help us illuminate similarities and understand differences. It is an eternal wave that pushes us to rethink our self. Again, and again» (Utsi 2016). In the Art VAPO project we will confront the stereotypies and established opinions of the North through concerts and performance-rallies, and by engaging different audiences to actively take part. A variety of participants will experiment and explore Art Nordicity using humour, sincerity, and satire combined with love and respect for Northern spaces.

The North is an elusive object, also politically, and the definition of North is more important than ever. Global warming explicitly changes the North in some of Hamelins indexed components, such as where there is ice left. The Norwegian government for instance wants to move the Ice-perimeter (Iskanten) further north in order to be able to search for more oil, which makes the discussion of what North is, increasingly important. The objective of this project is therefor also to be a part of the socio-political discussion in and of the North.

The Art VAPO project will be led by:
Geir Davidsen, Associate professor in music performance at the Music Conservatory, UiT – The arctic university of Norway, in collaboration with
Hilde Synnøve Blix, Professor in music pedagogy and ear training at the Music Conservatory, UiT – The arctic university of Norway, and
Amund Sjølie Sveen, freelance performance artist, Tromsø/Oslo.

The artistic aim of the project is threefold: Firstly, we will investigate the question of what North is in music and performance through concerts, seminars, performances, rallies, lectures, workshops (sandboxes), musical experiments, and commissioned works. Secondly, we will explore the potential for musical expressions and formats to address the socio-political issues of the North. What is the future of the North, and how can we affect its development? Thirdly, we will research new formats of communicating the processes of artistic reflexive work, including video-article-formats and audience-oriented assemblies and rallies.

We will artistically and critically develop and play with different dimensions of Nordicity in music and performance in circumpolar regions, analysing it by measuring both artistic factors, such as materiality, artistic means, places, embodiment, ethnicity, and socio-political factors, such as power relations and cultural self-perception.

Suggestion of possible artistic Nordicity index variables to be tested:
– Timbre/sound
– Bodily movement
– Ethnicity
– Places/locations
– Audience
– Types of humour
– Gender

An important background for the artistic investigations of the project is an acknowledgement that an assigned status, such as The North, is a result of discourse-producing repetitions and citations, which creates unspoken traits that defines us. We both perform The North and is assigned northernness. We will use resent theories of performativity which incorporate the concerted actions of the body, including the performance of political assemblies and public protests (Butler 2015). In the Art VAPO project this means that the artists will not just be investigating, but also doing, The North. In a larger context, the project is potentially a socio-political ice-breaker for questions regarding how people defines and are defined by the ways we do and talk about North. By challenging myths, language, and perceptions of the North through art, Art VAPO will potentially contribute to changing the discourse of the North.

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