Glimpsing the Arctic: A Conversation with Artist Mariele Neudecker

Many people may never see a glacier or an iceberg up close, given issues of cost, inaccessibility and environmental changes. Yet artist Mariele Neudecker is making the experience a bit more accessible, as she transports a vision of the Arctic to galleries and museum floors.

Mariele Neudecker photographing glacier ice in Greenland (Source: Neudecker/Spikeworld).

Born in Düsseldorf, Germany, the 51-year-old lifelong artist now resides in Bristol, where she creates sculptures, photographs, films and paintings.  Over the past 20 years, Neudecker has produced a wide range of landscape and still life artwork, much of which seeks to capture the essence of glaciers and icebergs.

Recently, a selection of Neudecker’s Arctic-focused art was the center of her exhibit, Some Things Happen All At Once, at the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, Germany.  Additionally, four copies of her photographs were featured at Project Pressure’s Outdoor Installation, which GlacierHub recently covered in August.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Neudecker walks us through the journey behind her glacier artwork.  A condensed and edited version of the conversation follows.

 

GH:  I understand the Zeppelin Museum installation is not the first project you have done focusing on glaciers.

MN: I have done a lot of work with [19th century landscape painter] Caspar David Friedrich paintings and converting them into 3D tank pieces.  The first one I did in 1997 was clearly using ice in a reference to his painting “Sea of Ice.”

 

Caspar_David_Friedrich_The_Sea_of_Ice
Caspar David Friedrich’s “The Sea of Ice” (Source: Web Gallery of Art/CC).

GH: What attracted you to ice and glacier themed art back in 1997, when you first incorporated Arctic ice elements into your artwork?

MN: It [my work] was more of an exploration of landscapes. I looked at mountains, forests and the ocean.  However, I always thought the remoteness and difficulty to imagine the Arctic created an interesting perception… It is about the subject of glaciers and the Arctic, but fundamentally it’s about perceptions and how we have longings to be somewhere else.  You can transport people to other places through paintings, films and all sorts of artwork.

The Arctic has always been a metaphor for climate change and human shortcomings, so there are a lot of cliché images of glaciers representing the environment.  That has provoked me to add other layers to that representation.  The challenge is to avoid the clichés.

 

3D tank pieces displayed at the Zeppelin Museum (Source: Neudecker/Thumm/Zeppelin).

GH:  What was the most difficult feeling to capture that you wanted to convey to viewers?

MN: I wanted to hint at the unknown and to highlight that all we see are little fragments of something much bigger.  It’s hard to capture the feeling of standing in massive open spaces where you are trapped in your eye sockets and you must turn your head to take it all in.

It’s similar to deep sea projects I have done, where the camera is in the black depths of the ocean and only with artificial light can you see a fraction of the spaces. You know how massive the space is, but you only see a tiny piece of it.

 

GH: What was the most surprising to you when you were out in the field capturing glaciers?

MN: The sound! That really threw me. I had no idea how loud they were.  Camping on the side of a glacier the silence and then the sounds that interrupted that silence were so powerful.  I’ve seen a million images of glaciers, but no one told me about the sounds.

I tried to record them but I wasn’t able to capture it well.  That would be a future project I would love to do.

 

Mariele Neudecker in Greenland (Source: Neudecker/Spikeworld).

GH: Before you went to Greenland, all of your Arctic work was derived from images and paintings.  What sparked your first trip to Greenland in May of 2012?

MN:  I was lucky to spend a week with the American writer Gretel Ehrlich, who has written beautiful books about Greenland and ice.  Before my experience with her I felt I could do my work with my imagination and images, but after [that week] I wanted to have the experience of being out there in the open space that her books described so amazingly well.

I was in Greenland for a month, but I spent a week with Gretel and two subsistence hunters and two teams of sled dogs.  A major component [of my project] was to experience the history of photography in reverse as I made my way through the trip.  I started with HD digital… all the way back to a pinhole camera at the end.  I had 12 cameras in total.  I spent the following few weeks on my own [not counting the guides], traveling to fjords and far northern reaches of Greenland.  There were these very remote places with villages of only 12 inhabitants.  It was extraordinary seeing how those people lived.

 

GH: What was your favorite camera to shoot with?

MN: I like the Polaroid.  It was slightly unpredictable and it produced tiny pictures.  I liked the absurdity of capturing immense spaces in tiny pictures.

 

Ship in the ice displayed at the Zeppelin Museum (Source: Neudecker).

GH: Could you give me an overview of the Zeppelin Museum exhibit and walk me through some of the main pieces?

MN:  I will start with most recent piece of the exhibition, which is the afterlife piece of the boat in the ice.  The whole thing started with the ship… it struck me as looking like one of those early Arctic explorer ships.  I didn’t want to be too literal in following Casper David’s ship stuck in the ice, so I kept it abstract and cropped the ice around where the ship is set in.  I also decided to add [videos] in the whole exhibition to give an element of space and constant moving and change.  I then added layers with the 3D effects with the blue and red separation, which I had never done before… it took me a while to dare myself to do it but I sprayed one side of the boat red and the other blue to link it to the 3D images that were on the wall.

 

GH:  How did you use the 3D images and the videos to create the moving effect?

MN: When you walk into the space the white ice surface stretches all the way to the sidewalls and the back walls and monitors with the film and moving images are synchronized, so that the images are either pushing towards you or moving away.  There is a constant feeling of washing in and out.

 

Red and blue photo of Qôrqup Glacier, Greenland_Mariele taken with 3D camera (Source: Neudecker).

GH: What was the process behind the 3D and stereoscopic images of the glaciers?

MN: It is disappointingly easy – you just point and shoot.  I have a camera with two lenses, and it creates these double files, so in 3D stills it generates two images.  Then you have the choice of either using the two images for stereoscopic viewings or putting it into Photoshop, which generates these red and blue color images.

 

GH: It seems that you are trying to immerse the viewer in the Arctic world with the swaying room and various 3D pieces.
MN: That is true, but at the same time I aim to make that experience last only so long.  Inevitably, you realize that you are standing on the floor of a museum and the illusion collapses.  The art is interesting when your imagination takes over, but there is no way to simulate actually being on the glacier.

 

 

More photos of Mariele Neudecker’s work:

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