Safe houses on enchanted ground

Chris Dorsett

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This essay was written for the substantial publication that accompanied the exhibition 'Sian Bowen and Nova Zembla: Suspending the Ephemeral', held at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (22nd November 2011 - 6th March 2012). Dorsett discusses the artist Sian Bowen's creative engagement with a collection of 16th century artefacts found on the inhospitable Arctic island of Nova Zembla. The objects, now housed in the Rijksmuseum, were discovered in the remains of a cabin built by the Dutch explorer Willem Barents when he and his crew were stranded on the ice-locked island during the winter of 1596. Whilst the essay explores Bowen's intention to work in the gap between creativity and damage (a contradiction suggested in part by the process of recovering and conserving historical objects), Dorsett also examines his own encounters with the long history of writing fables about icy and mysterious places such as Nova Zembla. 'Safe Houses on Enchanted Ground' returns to one of Dorsett's key metaphors for the museum environment, Joseph Addison's unlikely notion of voices freezing in Arctic air. The result is an evocative and affirmative celebration of the poor prospects of recovering the past, one of the best reasons for inviting artists to work with museum collections.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSian Bowen and Nova Zembla: Suspending the Ephemeral
EditorsSiân Bowen, Jan De Hond, Jan-Philipp Fruehsorge
Place of PublicationDerby
PublisherRGAP (Research Group for Artists Publications)
Number of pages150
ISBN (Print)978-0956902405
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012

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