Sunday, 23 December 2012

Interview with a glaciologist

With the winter solstice behind us and without doubt some icy days ahead, this seasonal special celebrates the science of the ice core.

This year I began work on a new commission for Tertulia and Spike Island Studios. Dr Freezelove and His Amazing Orchestra of Deep Ice Cores investigates human interventions in the Arctic,  and in particular the ice core, which allows scientists to 'read' history in ice. (There's a great introduction to the subject in this short film from the Natural History Museum.)

I've been researching the work of glaciologists using ice cores and I was delighted when Dr Bob Hawley, from the Glaciology Research Group at the Department of Earth Sciences in Dartmouth College (USA), agreed to take time out between trips to the polar regions to do an interview. [We have another reason to like Dartmouth College - How to Say ‘I Love You’ In Greenlandic: An Arctic Alphabet has a home in the Rauner Special Collections Library there.]

Bob Hawley started working as a glaciologist in 1995 as an undergraduate at the University of Washington. Following the completion of his BS degree he continued in glaciological research by participating in the inaugural winter-over at Summit camp, Greenland, during the 1997-1998 boreal winter. He earned a Ph.D. in geophysics from the University of Washington in 2005. He has worked primarily in East and West Antarctica and Greenland.

Dr Robert Hawley at the Borehole
Photo Credit: Zoe Courville

NC: How did your interest in earth sciences begin? Do you see a connection between your current research interests and your formative experiences?

RH: I knew that I wanted to do science (not necessarily knowing I wanted to be a scientist) in 5th grade when we took a field trip for marine biology in Rockport, Massachusetts, a location where I’d already spent a lot of time playing, and I saw for the first time the incredible detail of what people understood about the natural world.

In college, I cast around for majors in the sciences, taking introductory courses; each major seemed more compelling to me than the last, from Geography, to Atmospheric Sciences, to Oceanography, then finally to Earth Sciences. Earth Sciences seemed like the one for me, but I went beyond to experiment with Forestry to confirm that Earth Sciences was really where I wanted to be.

After studying for a while, I knew I was interested in the surface of the earth, as opposed to its deep interior. I had an opportunity to travel to the Antarctic as part of an expedition there. I could not pass that up. Right then, and through the experience of my work in Antarctica, I determined that glaciology was what I wanted to study. At that time (mid–late 90s), glaciers were not nearly as “sexy” as they are today, and so I didn’t anticipate I would find a job working in glaciology, but I figured that at least I would be able to spend some good years working in it before I had to “find a job” and “enter the real world”.

When I look back even further, as a kid I was always fascinated by the National Geographic magazines that my parents had in stacks. I gravitated to the articles and pictures of cold places – Antarctic crossings, climbing Everest (although underwater exploration also fascinated me at the time). I’d like to be able to say that I knew then that I wanted to work on polar ice sheets, but I didn’t. And the fact is, I never even considered it to be an option – how is it that you get to go to these places?

You open your PhD thesis with a quote from Wallace Broecker, "The climate system is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks." Do you feel science can ever appease the environment?

That’s an interesting question – I guess I feel that any appeasement would have to come from policymakers, not scientists; as scientists, we work to learn about the natural world, and to learn how it works, but to attempt to take action to affect the natural world is not actually science. Certainly science informs what we decide to do, but these decisions and the actions themselves are ultimately policymaking and decision-making, which are human endeavours.

Your research describes vast tracts of time and you often work in remote places. Has your research affected your ideas about the human condition?

I think probably so. One thing I encounter often when discussing the state of the Earth or climate change, is that often people will say something along the lines of “Earth has a way of coming back to equilibrium – it will bounce back”. I can see that this is definitely possible. But if my geological training has taught me anything about humans’ relationship to the Earth, it’s that we haven’t been around for very long, and as far as the Earth is concerned, we needn’t be around very much longer. I often reply to such people with “that may be so, but Earth’s solution may well not involve humans!”

In your dissertation, you explore new borehole technology, with the focus on video-based techniques. Can you tell me more about the different methods you have explored for dating ice?

For many years, researchers have used visual stratigraphy to “see” back in time using ice cores, snow pits, and many other layered deposits. The fundamental premise is that snow deposited in the summer “just looks different” than snow deposited in the winter. Richard Alley crystalized this thought in a paper he wrote in the Journal of Geophysical Research, where he discussed the physical science basis for this kind of dating – the “depth hoar/wind-slab couplet” in which coarse-grained, low density snow from the spring and summer is overlain by a fine-grained, high-density layer – this distinction is easy to see visually. When I started using a video camera in firn boreholes, it was to locate artificial markers that we had placed in the borehole. When moving the camera between markers, I noticed that we could see very subtle variations in the brightness of the borehole wall. This was what led to the development of what eventually became Borehole Optical Stratigraphy, which we’ve used to date some boreholes.

I notice from your blog Cold Climes that one ice core (from 2010) was named Owen, after a collaborator’s newborn baby. Is naming cores a common procedure?

All cores need some kind of name, so that the data from the core can be referenced to a specific core, a specific place and time. Many projects that have large numbers of cores use a derived naming scheme that incorporates abbreviations of locations, projects, and dates – for example, SUFA-06 would be the Summit Firn-Air experiment, drilled in 2006. For the Owen core, it was the only deep (100m) core we planned for the project, and so differentiating it from other cores in the project was unnecessary. We often name cores and boreholes after people involved in the science, for example the boreholes I used for four years at Summit [the Greenland Environmental Observatory] were named Katie, Toby, Meg, and Phillips, after the science technicians who did much of the work for that project. I feel like this brings a little more humanity to the science, as long as there aren’t too many names to juggle.

Can you tell us how you hope ice cores will be used in your future research projects?

One of my ongoing goals is to characterize the spatial and temporal variability of snow accumulation in Greenland. To do this, we often use radiostratigraphy, the practice of sounding through the ice with electromagnetic waves, and interpreting the stratigraphy that we see in the returning waves. Researchers at Scott Polar Research Institute did some of the pioneering work in this area quite a long time ago, and we still use similar (but updated) equipment to what they worked with then. Where ice cores enter the picture is that at one spot along a radar transect, the ice core can pin the accumulation rates perfectly; we can get exact dates on the ice core from a combination of layer counting and chemical analysis. From this, we can pin dates on our radar layers, which we track from one core to the next. Ice cores are thus critically important for this kind of work.

What will your forthcoming expedition to Antarctica study?

My colleagues from New Zealand are drilling a core at Roosevelt Island, a small ice rise in the Ross Ice Shelf. As part of the project, my team will be measuring both optical stratigraphy and temperatures in the borehole. Optical stratigraphy will help us determine if there are any sections of the borehole that are not represented by our cores (i.e. we lost some core pieces), and also may help us determine the rates of vertical ice motion at the site.

The temperatures we measure will be valuable for three important reasons; first, part of our project is modelling ice flow in the region, and the rheology of ice (how the ice responds to being squeezed) is highly dependent on its temperature. Second, geothermal flux (how much heat flows from the ground into the ice) is poorly constrained in Antarctica, and our measurements will provide a point measurement of this flux at Roosevelt Island. Finally, if you understand how heat flows in ice, you can use the current temperature of the ice to determine what the past temperatures must have been. This is like what would happen if you pulled a frozen turkey out of the freezer and placed it directly in the oven. Thirty minutes later, although the outside of the turkey would be hot, the center of the turkey would still be frozen, as if the turkey was still in the freezer. How thick the hot outer layer of the turkey is depends on how long it’s been in the oven, the temperature of the oven, and the thermal properties of the turkey. If you know the thermal properties of the turkey, you’d be able get a feel for how long it’s been in an oven of what temperature. We can do a similar analysis on the ice sheet.

Many thanks!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Tracey Rowledge: Drawing in Arctic Water

Readers with an interest in the Arctic may enjoy my series of blog posts on the arts and climate change in the Huffington Post. The latest post discusses bookbinder and fine artist Tracey Rowledge's 'Arctic Drawings'. You can read it here.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Oxford Christmas Light Night

Every year, bicycles sputtering trails of sparks soar above Oxford's High Street...

Last week the the city's season of lights was launched with a Christmas Light Night parade. I had been lured out on a frosty evening to sell my cards at one of the roadside stalls, and witnessed the slow procession of lanterns made by local schoolchildren. To my delight, they all had a polar theme that echoed my own work.

It was hard to capture such magical movement, but I hope the following images will give an idea of those wonderful paper creations.

...and after the event, a tired penguin waits for service at the kebab hut:

Friday, 7 December 2012

It sifts from Leaden Skies

I'm delighted to be among the contemporary poets whose work features in a new anthology of ice poems from Pighog Press.

'Seven Words for Winter' (a riff on the Greenlandic dictionary) can be found alongside 'Cold Fusion' by John McCullough (who has just won the Polari Prize for his wonderful collection The Frost Fairs) and 'Winter' by John Davies, as well as more traditional offerings from Christina Rossetti, John Keats, Charlotte Bronte and Emily Dickinson. I hadn't read the three wintry poems by Dickinson before, and they are a happy discovery:

'It sifts from Leaden Sieves -
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkes of the Road -'

Pighog are offering a special postage-free deal for anyone buying the book before 1 January.
Full details here.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Holiday cards

My Arctic-themed holiday cards are now hot off the press and available from Bookartbookshop, London.

The letterpress-printed cards come in three colours, delft blue, aquamarine and lilac, each with a seasonal Greenlandic greeting (and there's a translation on the back for those whose Greenlandic is not yet fluent!).

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

A Small Betrayal

Today I jumped ship to write about the Greenlandic language for the Huffington Post.
You can read it here.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

How To Say 'I Love You' In Greenlandic at Bookartbookshop, London

Thanks to everyone who came along to the private view of my exhibition in the window of Bookartbookshop on Friday night. It was wonderful to see so many old friends and meet new ones.

Anna served canapés inspired by How To Say 'I Love You' In Greenlandic. The onigiri - or Japanese rice balls - looked like snowballs with colourful fillings. The Greenlandic language doesn't appear to have a word for 'rice ball' but I was pleased to find an equivalent so that we could provide a Greenlandic menu, with translations for the English-speakers present.

The exhibition continues until 29 November, to be followed by a new work by Tom Phillips, creator of A Humument, the altered book to end all altered books. Phillips' work has featured in some of my recent workshops, and I'm excited to see what he does next with the book form.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Altered Books Workshop: Albion Beatnik, Oxford

An altered book created by Mike Sims (Poetry Society Publications Manager) 
at a workshop during the Free Verse Book Fair in London. 

I'll be running an Altered Books Workshop in the Albion Beatnik bookshop in Oxford in December - details below. This will be a twist on previous workshops, as participants will be invited to pick their own book from the bookshop's shelves - and then turn it into an entirely new work.

Many thanks to Dennis Harrison for deciding to offer another bookish event so soon after the phenomenal series of poetry readings that was this month's The Sounds of Surprise festival (still going strong - come along!). Also a big thank you to the bookshop's resident bookbinder Lucie Forejtová, who runs Immaginacija and makes a beautiful range of handmade stationery. I've snaffled one of her coptic-bound appointment diaries for next year, and now I can't wait for January.

5 December 2012, 18.30

In this workshop we select existing books from Albion Beatnik's shelves and adapt them using cut-up, collage and mark-making techniques to create completely new structures and texts. For inspiration, we'll examine altered books made by artists and writers including Tom Phillips' A Humument and Jonathan Safran Foer's Tree of Codes. We'll discuss poetry beyond the text including visual elements, invisible elements and the role of chance in writing. Come prepared to think in three dimensions, and forget all you were ever taught about not scribbling in books.

Cost: £12 per person. Includes materials and a £5 voucher towards the cost of a book from Albion Beatnik.
To book your place leave a comment below and I'll get back to you!
Venue: Albion Beatnik Bookshop, 34 Walton Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX2 6AA

Friday, 9 November 2012

Slightly Foxed Children's Catalogue

Over the last few years I’ve contributed the occasional illustration to Slightly Foxed, a delightful quarterly review of old books.

Slightly Foxed on Gloucester Road, the second-hand bookshop rescued and now run by the magazine, has been solving reader’s queries and sourcing out-of-print books for some years. This winter sees the launch of their first children’s catalogue – and I’m happy to see that my illustrations of a sly old fox with his eye on some kookaburra bookends grace the front and back covers. You can view the whole catalogue online here.

If you like bookends, you might be interested to know that these unfortunate birds were inspired by the work of Australian ceramic artist Grace Seccombe, whose humble kookaburra and koala bookends now fetch wild prices among collectors. She's not well-represented online, but there's a short introduction to her work here.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Escapism for Amateurs

As a huge fan of Sarah Nicholls' work, I was delighted when the latest in her series of free informational pamphlets arrived in the post recently. Escapism for Amateurs (pictured above and below) is an oblique homage to Houdini that follows in the wake of other useful publications such as A Guide to Leisure Activities for Introverts and There are Dangers to Being an R&B Heartthrob. I look forward to practising its precepts, including such valuable lessons as 'no performer should attempt to bite off a red hot iron unless he has a good set of teeth'. Quite. 

Nicholls is a Brooklyn-based visual artist who 'makes pictures with language, books with pictures, prints with type, and animations with words.' If you follow the links above, you'll find a selection of images demonstrating the vibrant colours and dynamic typography characteristic of Nicholls' work, not to mention its wry sense of humour.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

How To Say I Love You In Greenlandic at Bookartbookshop

I'm delighted to be exhibiting How To Say 'I Love You' In Greenlandic: An Arctic Alphabet at London's wonderful Bookartbookshop. Readers who have yet to visit this cavern of bibliographic enchantments can feast their eyes on the panoramic view of the shop floor, below. 

The exhibition will open on Friday 16 November and runs until 29 November. 

There is a Private View on Friday 16 November from 18.oo - 22.00, during which copies of How To Say 'I Love You' In Greenlandic will be on sale, and a range of Greenlandic greeting cards will be launched. Refreshments inspired by the Arctic landscape will be served.

There will be an artist's talk and group discussion on the subject of Geopoetics and Artists Books on Wednesday 21st November from 1800. This is a free event but numbers are limited so please contact the gallery to book your place.

Location details below. Please check shop opening hours before your visit.

Book Artists Aloft

As the summer drew to a close, book artists Mette-Sofie D. Ambeck (Ambeck Design) and Mike Nicholson (Ensixteen Editions) visited me in Oxford. How would I entertain the two travellers, one fresh from the flatlands of Jutland, and the other, a vertigo-suffering Londoner?

We went as high as it's possible to go in this city of spires, climbing up the tower of the University Church of St. Mary. I hoped the candy-cane pillars, the gargoyles and the crumbling finials might interest Ambeck, whose latest book (pictured above) is a celebration of the stone-carvings found among the curious, shadowed pathways and tombs of Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington, North London. Ambeck has worked with Tom Sowden in the studio at Centre for Fine Print Research in Bristol to replicate her photo-archive through laser cutting. In this process, the laser sears into the paper fibres, creating a ghostly image that is not only the perfect technique to represent the crumbling, eroded gravestones but also evoking mortality itself.

The clouds lowered as we climbed - on the east side of the tower our faces were stung with rain - from the west we saw patches of sunshine break through thunderous skies to illuminate the cornfields on the far side of the city. Pressed in against the ancient walls as other sightseers passed us on the balcony, we noticed an abundance of graffiti left by earlier climbers.

Deciphering the amateur carvings in the Tower's winding stairwell, the descent was giddying. The image below, from the cover of Mike Nicholson's new edition Glass Half-Full/Glass-Half Empty, was penned many days before our climb, but it captures the sense of disorientation we felt on returning to the cobbled ground, and to the present moment. 

Readers are encouraged to visit the Small Publishers Fair in London on 16th and 17th November, to take a closer look at both Ambeck's and Nicholson's books.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Derby Day

A busy summer drew to a close with a day off in Derby. These photographs show a selection of works currently on show in The Visual Poetry of 1001 Objects, an exhibition of wood, bone, glass and stone, at Derby Museum until January 2014. 


Australian daggers

The Spade Bone of Ye Wonderful Dun Cow
(whale bone pub sign)

Alphabet crib book

Skulls of Little Tern and Redwing

It is more blessed to give than to receive 
- Eric Gill

It is better to Prosecute than to Beg 
- Derby Council

Friday, 31 August 2012

Sweet Pages

I’m ashamed to say that I have neglected to feature any edible book design in this blog to date. However, I have just discovered The Book of Decorative Cakes by Gwyneth Cole, a trade recipe book which nevertheless has royal icing typography and decoration on the front cover that any bookbinder would be proud of. I’m posting these pictures here for my friend Katherine Hyde, not only cake decorator and sculptor at betty bakery in New York – but also a paper connoisseur.
The quality of Cole’s cover art is not deceptive: there’s invention in all the cakes featured within, but I’m particularly seduced by a charming bookish mise en abyme on the last page. It tells the reader how to replicate, in icing sugar, the very page they are holding in their hands.

A close-up, below, shows the detailed sugar work, and a further reproduction of the same page spread: 

The Book of Decorative Cakes by Gwyneth Cole was published by Ebury Press in 1984. At the time of posting, there’s a second-hand copy available on Biblio. The others seem to have vanished into infinity…

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Books in America

Illustration from A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain (unidentified artist)
How To Say ‘I Love You’ in Greenlandic is currently on show at The Center for Book Arts, New York, in the exhibition Tell Me How You REALLY Feel: Diaristic Tendencies, curated by Alexander Campos, Executive Director, and the artist Rory Golden (until 22nd September). It has just been announced that the exhibition will then travel to Payne Gallery at Moravian College Pennsylvania, where it will be on show until the end of the year.
Doverodde has been selected for the exhibition Sense of Place in Artist Books at the Architecture and Landscape Library Gallery, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, curated by Karen Kinoshita (also on show until the close of 2012). The exhibition is part of Mapping Spectral Traces which serves to mediate and facilitate inter- and trans-disciplinary international dialogue to explore the role of the visual and performing arts in addressing such relevant concerns as ecological activism, ‘deep mapping’, place-based memory work, trauma, postcolonial geographies and related topics. 

Monday, 20 August 2012

Two Autumn Workshops

This autumn I will be teaching two courses in London:
Following my workshop on artists’ editions of Wallace Stevens’ poems, I’ve been asked to teach a workshop at Free Verse: The Poetry Book Fair on 8 September.
As a nod to the many books that will be circulating at the event, I decided we could afford to be a little iconclastic. In Altered Books we’ll adapt existing books using cut-up, collage and mark-making techniques to create new structures and texts. For inspiration, we’ll examine a selection of altered books made by artists and writers. We’ll discuss poetry beyond the text including visual elements, invisible elements and the role of chance in writing. This workshop is now sold out.
UCL Department of Scandinavian Studies
To mark the cententary of August Strindberg’s death, UCL has organised a season of events called The Red Room — also the title of Strindberg’s most famous novel, named after the salon where he and his friends would meet in fin-de-siècle Stockholm. I’ll be delivering an altered books workshop on Saturday 6 October, looking specifically at Norvik Press’s new edition of The Red Room. Further information and booking available here.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Nowhereisland comes to Bristol

I will perform a new text commissioned by Tertulia and Spike Island Associates in Bristol on 7th September in response to Nowhereisland. The artist Alex Hartley’s project for the Cultural Olympiad has been described by Situations as ‘a work of land art for our time … above all sculptural – a provocative act of material displacement by a visual artist.’ My new work Dr Freezelove on Ice will consider Hartley’s ephemeral utopian project in the light of the work of climate scientists extracting ice cores from Svalbard glaciers and US military interventions at the North Pole.
Tertulia is a regular event for people working with or interested in language, writing and dialogue across disciplines, founded by Phil Owen and Megan Wakefield.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Back in the saddle

I took a break from blogging last month after the epic effort of posting daily as part of my spring residency at Doverodde Book Arts Center in Denmark. Here's a round-up of what's been brewing during June.

How To Say 'I Love You' In Greenlandic

This evening the summer exhibitions open at The New York Center for Book Arts. There's a free drinks reception at 7pm - do go along if you're in the area. 

This year offers two great shows - Maria G. Pisano, founder of Memory Press, curates Book as Witness: The Artist’s Response. The artists, who use the book form to investigate death and destruction as a result of global conflicts, prejudice, terrorism, natural disasters, and individual losses, include Booklyn Artists Alliance, Combat Papermakers, Maureen Cummins and Art Spiegelman. 

Tell Me How You REALLY Feel: Diaristic Tendencies, organised by Alexander Campos, Executive Director, and the artist Rory Golden, focuses on artwork that has been inspired by the concept or content of graphic novels, memoirs, and travel journals with a strong visual presence. How To Say 'I Love You' In Greenlandic will be featured. The definitions of Greenlandic words that can apply to both the emotions and the landscape do indeed Tell Me How You REALLY Feel. The pochoir prints depicting icebergs which illustrate the book reference the recurrent use of the iceberg as a motif for the inexpressible sublime in illustrations to nineteenth-century Arctic travel narratives. 

Both shows run at the Center from July 11, 2012  to September 22, 2012.

Miriam Macgregor in her kitchen

Anyone interested in pochoir prints and hoping to find out more can read my interview with the grande dame of pochoir, Miriam Macgregor, in the Summer Issue of Printmaking Today. Last November I spent a week in the New Forest with Miriam and the American wood engraver Abigail Rorer, writing and sketching during the day, talking long into the evening. Miriam began pochoir in her sixties after a life of wood engraving, and her excitement in the process and sense of its possibilities are an inspiration.

The Night Hunter

The compendium 1,000 Artists' Books: Exploring the Book as Art has been some time in the making: it's a lot of artists' books to round up. Edited by Sandra Salamony, with advice from those wonderful artists Peter and Donna Thomas, it is now out from Quarry Books. I am delighted to see the work of many friends included, and interested to discover some artists whose work is new to me. Roni Gross of Z'roah Press has several book works included and The Night Hunter is one of them!

Watch this space for a companion volume to The Night Hunter in which Roni Gross responds to my poem The Hunter Teaches Me to Speak, currently in production as part of the Al-Mutanabbi Street project. 


My exhibition Limfjord Lines has now come down after a month in the Doverodde Book Arts Center. However,  DOVERODDE, the book inspired by my residency is now on sale in the Center's shop, and sales via the internet are cheering. This was my first experiment with print-on-demand provider Blurb and although it is a very different aesthetic to letterpress I am pleased with the results.  

The book has been selected for the exhibition Sense of Place in Artists' Books, curated by Karen Kinoshita, which runs from October to December 2012 at the Architecture Library, University of Minnesota. 

Images of the Doverodde Book Arts Festival, including Arne Holstborg's raucous woven hearts workshop which brought proceedings to a close, are now up on Flickr