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A New North

DISPATCHES FROM BEYOND THE 58°N PARALLEL

Charting a New Cultural Geography


IAN MCKAY

Like the bare canvas for an artist, or a blank page for a writer, an empty blog space can be a tricky beast to wrestle with. I have chosen to begin, therefore, with a short introduction to the thinking behind how this blog came to be titled as it is, and of what to expect as it grows. The primary focus of A New North are the visual arts and crafts of 'the far north' of Scotland, but it is not just about that. If it's about anything, it's about my charting of new cultural geographies beyond the 58° N parallel.


WHY A NEW NORTH?

In 2018, Kenny Taylor, editor of the literary paper Northwords Now, wrote that 'as befits its links to the magnetism of the whole planet, north is a word with powerful attractions.' Regardless of whether one might feel distant from it, or, conversely, consider oneself intrinsically northern, he wrote, 'there’s a sense of something wider and further; beyond immediate grasp, but worth striving to approach.' What resonated most strongly for me in Taylor's words, however, was his observation that, for artists and writers, the theme of northerlyness can often result in journeys being taken – both 'in person or in mind' – and that from this, inevitably, 'writing and wider art' may be the result.

 58° degrees north of the Earth's equatorial plane. The white horizontal line indicates the 58th parallel north, which crosses Europe, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, North America, and the Atlantic Ocean.

58° degrees north of the Earth's equatorial plane. The white horizontal line indicates the 58th parallel north, which crosses Europe, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, North America, and the Atlantic Ocean.

By way of introduction to the blog that I am now maintaining here at Hatchetgreen.com, and how I arrived at the decision to title it A New North, I think it is worth examining precisely how Taylor came to write his editorial for Northwords Now. The thinking behind his text can be traced back to the Scottish Government's hosting of the Arctic Circle Forum in November 2017 in Edinburgh. 'Scotland – Arctic?' he begins:

...at first, the connection seems tenuous. But as delegates from across much of the upper part of the hemisphere – from Alaska, Canada, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Scandinavia and Scotland – shared information, the linkage began to make more sense. [...] In both geopolitical and environmental terms, the northern world is changing very fast. Melting of ice means that the Northwest Passage will soon readily be navigable by large vessels for much of the year. Goods will ship faster from China to Europe by this route. Norway and Finland are already cooperating on major infrastructure projects to receive Chinese containers. In just a handful of years, Iceland has become a global communications hub. From the growing disaster of global warming, entrepreneurs across the wider north are plucking business opportunities. It’s an uneasy combination. But like it or loathe it, this is the reality of the new north.

It is indeed an uneasy combination that Taylor summarises, but it is a reality that we face, and it is not just the global trade operators who are responding to it. In fact some of the cultural linkages between the northern states represented by the Arctic Forum have existed for some considerable time, and particularly among visual artists, craft makers, writers, poets, filmmakers... the list goes on... who recognise their connections as 'northern neighbours' and share an often similar cultural vocabulary resulting from location and a sense of place and space. Steadily, the cultural connections among these 'northern neighbours' have been growing further over recent decades, and have been actively promoted for what they indeed are: clear cultural connections above the northerly 58th parallel, latterly facilitated by rapid advances in communication technologies.

And yet... the cultural connections across the fields of visual art, craft, literature, etc., that I refer to above, often appear to be considered secondary (at best) to the development of new trade alliances, the growth of new sustainable tourism opportunities (much of which take the form of 'eco-chic' vacation opportunities on the rich-list's pick list, it should be observed) rather than grass-roots alliances among those on the 'climate change frontline'. While the impact of climate change and ecological disaster are rightly the concern of all right-thinking people and affect every one of us, I genuinely believe that the arts, crafts (indeed, the culture industries generally) have a crucial part to play in articulating something of the grave situation that awaits.

It is this; therefore, that tipped the balance when I began to think about a title for the blog, and why I chose to co-opt the title of the Arctic Circle Forum of 2017 for the purposes of what I write about on these pages.

Note: An edited version of the above information appears on the About 'A New North' page of our website.  


WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT TO SEE AROUND HERE

As I have written above, A New North is an Arts and Culture Blog, the primary focus of which are the visual arts and crafts of the far north of Scotland, but it is not just about that. If it is about anything, it is about my charting of new cultural geographies beyond the 58° N parallel, and that will sometimes involve casting one's eye much further afield for context.

What you can expect to see on these pages for sure are the following features and highlights that will appear on a regular basis:

EXHIBITION & BOOK REVIEWS (almost exclusively relating to the Highlands & Islands of Scotland)
OPINION (essays relating to the visual arts and contemporary crafts in new contexts)
ENCOUNTERS (occasional interviews with artists and craft-makers)
THE FRIDAY EDIT (a weekly round up of whatever is currently catching my eye)
CERAMICS SUNDAY (a series of posts on the ceramic arts, appearing once a month)

There's more that I'll be announcing in the near future, but that gives a fair impression of where I am currently at. In addition I'll be posting articles and essays that I've written that have recently appeared in print and, of course, the latest publications news from Hatchet Green Press.