The voids are grouped in a wide square, in some way forming an open room, through which the winds and the elements can pass at will. It is something of nature, for nature, yet not intruding against but blending with nature. Portals through which giants of another time could have passed. The strength needed to cut and form the blocks and make certain they wouldn’t collapse in on themselves seems almost to have been superhuman.
Andy had toiled from the moment he had arrived and with the perpetual daylight had gone with very little sleep to finish the voids in time for our arrival. We look, we touch, we embrace them. Strength, simplicity, flowing and free. I can walk through, climb through each circle and stand in the centre of this Arctic square, this cosmopolitan piazza, this international plaza. Simple but so effective and majestic, quiet almost beyond understanding. In Zen, ‘Knock on the sky and listen to the sound.’
Map Of The Arctic Region Photo Gallery
Although the whole project is called Touching North, these four glorious objects, forming one whole, are the cornerstones and therefore this ultimate sculpture is also named Touching North. They will last such a short time, perhaps days but probably much less. The sun will melt them, the wind will tear into them and they will implode as the structures weaken. That is part of their great beauty and uniqueness; the fact that they are so impermanent. They were built as a symbol of art, an emotional statement, a grand gesture and the intense memory is just ours alone, the eight of us standing here. We take our photographs of the sculptures, of each other, of this vast, incredible landscape, but nothing can compete with the actuality. There are no flags, no markers, and no poles at the North Pole. Nothing to indicate that man has been here before. There are no signs to say that daring, brave, extraordinary men and women of the twentieth century have somehow, often by the proverbial skin of their teeth, managed to get here. In every direction stretches absolute solitude.
Just for a few moments in time there are sculptures at the North Pole and we have witnessed them and feel part of them. Briefly the North Pole ceases to look like every other point in the Arctic and is marked by the magnificent ice edifice created by Andy Goldsworthy. But not for long. Within hours possibly, certainly less than even a nanosecond in Arctic history, the sculptures will be reclaimed back into the ice. No one will see that they and we were here. But we know and are aware; imprinted images that can be instantly recalled exist within our memories. White blueprints.
The pilot, Henry Perke, is anxious we should all depart. We have been here just a few hours and we are greedy for more. But he is careful to explain how dangerous it is to stay any longer. It is the end of the season, this is the last flight in, after this it would probably be too unstable to fly here and to land. The ice would be softer and more unstable and anything could occur. The ice is actually imperceptibly softening as we speak. He has actually left the engine running the whole time, as he couldn’t know if it would restart if he switched it off. The temperature can drop dramatically in a very short space of time and it is too big a risk to take. He tells us that on one previous occasion the pilot had left his aircraft along with his passengers and as they started to walk away they suddenly heard a rumbling sound. They all turned around to see the whole plane, as if in slow motion, sinking gradually under the ice. It had proved too heavy for that particular section and its sinking momentum had then quickly gathered pace so the plane had very shortly vanished into the Arctic depths forever. They had managed to radio for help and it took several, nail-biting hours before another plane had been able to come and rescue them. Of course they hadn’t then waited for more than a few moments before scrambling on board and for the rescue plane to take-off and fly them back to safety. Possibly it is an apocryphal story, told to convince everyone to leave when the pilot decides it is necessary. But out here, in these frozen wastes, far removed from direct contact with the outside world, it is all too easy to imagine it happening.
Sadly, it is time to go. We load all the equipment and spare supplies on to the plane. The sculptures will be the only signs that man was here. They will disappear and then there will be nothing here to show we have visited. But we will always know. We carry with us the poetry and thoughts of this extraordinary setting, in which a determined Englishman lived his dreams for a moment in time and sculpted four voids in this vast ice landscape; Touching North.
The plane has only just enough fuel on board to get us back to Camp Hazen. But first we must take one final set of photographs, some by camera and others by imprinting the images deep within our minds. The plane makes one slow, lingering, almost loving sweep of the area. We look down at those four mystical, circular, ice shapes, truly squaring the circle. As the plane pulls away they stand out starkly, remotely, full of beauty. A sight to remember for all our days.
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