In 2013, artist and explorer Esther Kokmeijer collaborated with musician and sound artist Rutger Zuydervelt, aka Machinefabriek, on a project called Stillness, a series of short films of landscapes in and around Greenland and Antarctica.
I like Stillness as a multi-media piece, however, I could never manage to connect the music to the footage it was meant to accompany. The soundtrack seemed to float in another dimension, as if it pre-existed and had been chosen after the fact. Kokmeijer’s footage also struck me as perfunctory, as if she’d turned her camera on and just let it record whatever came through her lens in the hope that the extraordinary landscapes would take care of the rest. Beautiful and otherworldly as it was, nothing drew me in or touched me. There was no sense of scale established, no engagement with the terrain. I felt an odd, unexpected distance, a kind of torpor at work that didn’t suggest stillness as much as detachment.
This year Kokmeijer and Zuydervelt have followed up with Stillness: Brash Ice, Pack Ice, Growlers, Bergy Bits and Icebergs. The unwieldy title doubles as a glossary of terms for arctic ice. (In case you were wondering, a growler is smaller than a bergy bit, but you can look it all up here.)
Nothing prepared me for this new work. Kokmeijer’s footage is eerie, astonishing, and horripilating – active and fully engaged – and Zuydervelt’s music is right in sync with it. I’ve been listening to this for days now and loving it, reveling in its depths and textures, losing myself in the speculative soundscapes it conjures for me. And when I need grounding, I pore over the booklet of moody, mystifying, emotive images that comes with the download.
As I’ve been looking and listening, I’ve also been reading. On February 13th, 2020, the temperature at Seymour Island, Antarctica, was 20 degrees Celsius, or 68 degrees. One week prior to that, a temperature of 64.9 degrees was recorded at Esperanza Island, Antarctica. Elsewhere, it’s been pointed out that January of this year was the hottest January on record for the planet. All of which has added a poignant new element to my experience of this work. Icebergs and arctic regions are melting down. Will they disappear? And if they do, are we prepared to face what comes next?
With Stillness II, Kokmeijer and Zuydervelt have opened a portal to a part of the world that most people will never get to but that everyone will be affected by as it disappears. Step through and look around. And if you find yourself at some point in the future trying to describe what ice was like to someone who’s never seen or felt it, Stillness II might be the place to start.