World Map Arctic Ocean

On Top of the World the Tate four, Neville, Penny, Fabian and Erik have arrived at the Geographic North Pole. We are all wearing our T-shirts: ‘Monday at the North Pole 24 April’. It is an absolutely glorious moment to savour and I think we all shed a tear or two, even someone as hard-bitten as Carlsson. There is often an imbalance between the expectation and the reality but in this case the reality is absolutely overwhelming. My skin is on fire.

We are so excited that we practically jump out of the aircraft and start running, slipping and sliding in our haste to reach Andy and the others. This is what we have come all this way for, to be part of this great adventure, to be part of Andy Goldsworthy’s art project Touching North. We are touching north and each other and everything; all roads lead southwards. Now it is time to reveal my great secret, a secret I have carried with me all the way from England. It is lodged under my coat, after all this time almost a part of me.

World Map Arctic Ocean Photo Gallery

A strange, heavily muffled, bearded creature of the Arctic bounds towards me, looming out of the immediate distance, becoming defined and accentuated as the mists clear around it. I hurry towards it, my arm outstretched in anticipation. ‘Mr Goldsworthy I presume?’ Shades of Dr Livingstone, somewhat melodramatic, but I can’t resist. The occasion calls for it, even demands it. He nods his response. We embrace, there are really no need for other words. The emotion felt by each one of us speaks volumes. Now for the special moment. I have to remove one of my mittens, the intensity of the cold bites deeply into my fingers but no matter. I undo my coat, retrieve and reveal my secret. It is an early Andy Goldsworthy catalogue, aptly named ‘Rain sun snow hail mist calm’, containing photographs of some of his other ice and snow sculptures. ‘Will you sign it?’ Andy responds generously as I had hoped he would. He enters into the spirit of this wonderful occasion. I produce a biro, praying it will work in the sub-zero temperature. Andy grasps it, he also has to take off his mittens to use it. He is truly touched that I have thought of this and have brought the catalogue all this way. He pauses and thinks for a brief moment. Then he draws a circle of giant ice blocks, like one of those I realise he has sculpted here, also drawing a long North Pole to the left of it, and writes ‘Signed and given to Neville Shulman at the North Pole 24 April, Andy Goldsworthy. Between the voids.’ Andy then takes a fragment of snow and rubs it into the bottom part of the page to etch for all time the memory of this exquisite moment. It is utterly poignant. Words are not needed. What a treasure to gain and enjoy! One of the greatest Zen masters, Shunryu Suzuki has the words which say it all, ‘The world is its own magic.’

There are three others with Andy Julian Calder the photographer, Gordon Wiltsie the guide and photographer and Mike McDowell the team leader. I learned later that all three had pitched in to help Andy complete his North Pole sculptures. It is so amazing to be here and on top of the world! The temperature is only about -15 oC, which for this place and time is surprisingly mild. I unbutton my coat again and loosen a few layers. The sun is bright and the glare makes everything seem surreal and magical. The team have been sleeping in one red and yellow bivouac tent and they cooked, ate and washed inside. It is impossible in this cold intensity to do any of those duties outside. I suspect that very little washing actually took place. The brightness of the tent stands out vividly within the clear whiteness of the surroundings. But we haven’t come to see the tent. Where are the sculptures?

Andy had only arrived just over two days ago, so he’d had a very short time to create anything. Still we are in for quite a surprise. With his companions trying to help, Andy has laboured extensively to sculpt four huge circular voids. Each void consisting of over forty blocks of ice welded together to form a large circle with a base for support. They create monuments of stillness and simplicity. Defining emotion down to its bare essence. As Tao Te Ching puts it with his direct clarity, ‘We shape clay into a pot but it is the emptiness within that holds whatever you want.’ He has also stated, ‘The more you know the less you understand.’

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