Arctic Imagination: Part Two

A diary by Himali Singh Soin of her commission for this year’s Frieze Artist Award, premiering this week at Frieze London

BY Himali Singh Soin in Frieze London | 03 OCT 19

A figure wanders in the present-day Arctic landscape. She is not alone: the ice, too, is animate. It has held bones, rusted chains, the smell of blubber.
The whalers’ graves have risen for air.

She’d take the third person over you.

The figure seems alien, a carrier of some remote collective trauma. Despite its contamination, she huddles in a coal mine, believing it to be a source of heat, a place where her pigmented body finds friendship in the charred brittle. She caresses the carcasses of failed settlements, melts meteorites in a ritual for safe passage. She names islands that do not exist and wakes up to a thousand suns, sends messages: is there anyone out there? The ice fortified her. Traversing the whiteness, she feels fronds of frost sting, spikes spreading like cables, pushing signals. She is transforming into ice. Thresholds fray, membranes slip and fuse into one other. Materials osmose, exchanging energy. An exhilarating annihilation. From her vantage, the world is spectral. From the mountains’, she is a diffractive blip, a fold.

Her broken chronometer preserved in ice, still recording two types of error.

Any site of loss is a home to ghosts. The frozen love letters of a broken-hearted explorer are hidden somewhere on Spitsbergen. A clairvoyant, seated in Calcutta, psychically roams a place she can hardly imagine, in search of ‘Franklin’, captain of the icebound ship that never returned. Permafrost evaporates, releasing primordial viruses into an improbable future. As time, Chronos, rapidly melts ice, the spirits of Kairos emerge. Like mirages, they derail their observers. Conjuring false images, imagined pathways, new ways of knowing.

Still from Himali Singh Soin, we are opposite like that, 2019. Video. Courtesy: the artist

She’d take kidneys over the north star and water over watches. She’d take time.

The poles, North and South, protest the reliability of our narratives: they proceed according to their own magic realist logic. They inspire strange and quantum communications, manifesting non-linear time and aporic space. we are opposite like that seeks to beckon the ghosts hidden in these landscapes and turn them into echoes.

Not rest like stillness, but the kind of rest in music. A string held taut, an interval with the pedal down.

This imagery floats above an endangered, soon-to-be-mythical, soundscape: sheets of pancake ice smashing into each other, the long drone of a boat, the hard timbre of the wind. The tempo is controlled by her shifting latitudes, the dynamics by the temperature variances between the late nineteenth century and her recent expedition. Melodic fragments of Victorian composer Edward Elgar’s The Snow (1895) encroach upon the images. The string quartet becomes a chamber of resonances, sounding a topological alarm. 

Quartz, astral, petrified.

Himali Singh Soin’s 2019 Frieze Artist Award commission, we are opposite like that, screens daily at 1pm in the Standard London, Library & Auditorium at Frieze London, Thursday 3rd-Sunday 6th October. The award is curated by Diana Campbell-Betancourt and supported by Forma and Channel 4 Random Acts. Read the first part of this piece here.

Himali Singh Soin is a writer and artist based between London, UK, and Delhi, India.