artists with a passion for the Arctic

Ex umbra in solem

My name is Timon. I am a young man that decided to move to the Arctic. More specifically, to one of the northernmost cities, Longyearbyen. From my home to the North Pole it is only about 1200km of wind, snow and ice. Many extremes influence our daily life up here, but one is about to change from one to the other extreme right now.

If you were asked to name the most important thing your life is based on, what would you come up with? Inevitably the sun must be one of the most important things for our human existence. It is a source of power for our planet, for our bodies: the source of the light we need every day.

Here in Longyearbyen, we have to endure 3 months of total darkness. It is pitch dark, like in deep night. Only the moon, stars and sometimes northern lights shed some light, being reflected by the snow if the skies are clear.

But that changes in these weeks. The daylight has returned and the citizens of Longyearbyen celebrate this one week long with of concerts, cabaret and other cultural happenings. On the last day of that week, we gather at some old stairs. These stairs belonged to the old hospital and are the last remains of it. It is tradition to say that the sun has officially returned to our hometown when the first beams reach the said stairs, as happened two days ago on 8. March.

From now on, the days get longer and soon the sun will not set for four months. I personally like that a lot because it gives you so many more moments every day to enjoy the vast landscape. Your activities are no longer limited by lack of daylight. If you feel like having a hike at 3 a.m. you can just go out and do it like at 3 p.m.

However, interestingly, you will find at least as many people struggling with the midnight sun as such struggling with the lack of light. Some of my friends prefer the polar night, as we call it, because during the polar day they feel stressed and restless. It is hard to go to sleep when the sun shines bright outside, it is easy to loose the rhythm.

Even though there is no celebration in the spirit of explicitly welcoming the dark in autumn, we have an annual festival called “Dark Season Blues” to herald the beginning of total darkness in late October. It is the beginning of a time of quietness and coming together. After that time, people spend more time together: in clubs and organisations, for making food, playing music or simply to chat during a quiz in the pub.

Living with these extremes has made me aware of the importance, the impact of daylight and the sun itself in our lifes. It almost sounds silly to point this out, but I am learning that I did not have a comprehension of what it actually means. A written explanation or a spoken experience will always lack something of the personal experience. And I still feel just at the very beginning of comprehending the matter.

Many people travel here to this harsh environment, just for experiencing the daylight extremes. A record number of people will visit our small town on 20. March for experiencing another extreme of the sun: a total solar eclipse.

The only places in the world (on land) where this total solar eclipse can be viewed are the Faroe Islands and the archipelago of Spitsbergen: an exclusive experience. This provides reason enough for people to travel far and pay extraordinary prices. But do they do it because it shows their wealth to be able to join such an exclusive event? Is it only so precious because it is a naturally rare experience such as gold is a naturally rare material? Or is there a spiritual value in a total solar eclipse?

I think one can agree, that even without fully understanding the importance of the sun in our lives, we all have more than just a physical dependence on it. It will be interesting to find out, if this is a motivation for people to make the great effort and travel to such a remote place, just to see a total solar eclipse lasting 2 minutes and 27 seconds, given the right weather conditions.

I hope I will find time to interview some of the solar eclipse travellers and share the results in my next post on ArtArctica.

Ex umbra in solem. From the shadow into the sun.

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