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About Observed - 79°N

Ellen Karin Mæhlum

Ny-Ålesund, located at 79° N on the island of Spitsbergen in Svalbard, has one of the world's northernmost settlements. From being a mining community, Ny-Ålesund has developed into a centre for international Arctic research and environmental monitoring. Around 35 people live there in wintertime. During the summer up until 150 scientists may arrive from around 15-20 countries. In addition, several thousand day-trip tourists, arriving with cruise ships, visit Ny-Ålesund each year. (

Nature here is vulnerable, and over the course of recent years, major changes have taken place. This includes a significant retreat of the glaciers and the disappearance of ice in Kongsfjorden, where Ny-Ålesund is situated.

My first visit to Svalbard was in the year 2000. After this I have spent many seasons there, as a user of the Artist's cabin the Norwegian Visual Artists Association leases from Kings Bay AS in Ny-Ålesund. Some years I have taken part in research expeditions at Svalbard. The visits and collaboration with the different scientists have resulted in several print exhibitions. In the series OBSERVED - 79°N my own sketches and photos from experiences and observations in the field form the basis for the prints. In several works the scientists and their instruments are the subject, for example the prints Chinese Grass Counter and Goose Peeper.

In Svalbard, 60% of the land area is covered with ice, and less than 10% has vegetation. The midnight sun appears from 20 April. My fascination with this cold, grand and boundless landscape is difficult to explain. The light, ice, abrupt weather changes, animal life, polar bears, polar history and the dramatically climate challenges are a part of it. 

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