Bipolar Horizon focuses on the abandoned Russian mining town of The Pyramid in Svalbard, on the 79th parallel North.  

Mining activity at Pyramiden came to an end in 1996 after many decades of coal extraction. The discontinuation was apparently a consequence of Perestroika, of the transition to a more market-oriented economic policy, and changes in the global balance of power. All human activity in the little community of between 800 and 1000 inhabitants was wound up in the course of a mere three months. The speed of the shut-down and the town’s geographical location in the icy wastes of Svalbard meant that the fixtures and furnishing both of private and especially institutional quarters in the town were left more or less intact. The result can be viewed as an image of a “get in – get rich – get out” culture. The place creates an impression of being suspended in time, making it almost possible to believe that people will return at any moment to resume their activities. For example, in the cultural house (see map) one finds a library containing many thousands of books, a music room and ballet studios. At the hospital, medicine still stands on the shelves and medical journals languish on the desks. The flats still contain furniture, and cuttings about music groups and cars still hang on the walls of children’s bedrooms. Meanwhile, the place also shows clear signs of destruction.

Pyramiden strikes us as extreme, both on the individual, private level, and in its public spaces. The place can be viewed as an icon of socialist/communist high culture, and the importance thereof for the people and the community, with everything concentrated in an utterly improbable location. The distinction between the individual and the community is blatantly apparent everywhere in Pyramiden, where the public areas amount to large, architectural artworks down to the smallest level of detail. The sense of ownership and mutuality created by the imposing collective aspect stands in sharp contrast to the cramped, almost claustrophobic private quarters. It is as if the people were torn out of their lives leaving behind all the objects associated with their existence as monuments of no value.

Underlying the exhibition “Bipolar Horizon” is the notion that power structures, and rapid, large scale political change, can influence the conditions under which both individuals and groups of people live in a topo-critical context. To a significant extent, this is linked to objects and physical infrastructure like a projection of mental existence and political ideas. The location (see below) on which the exhibition focuses is unique in the global context, in terms both of history and of political and geographical circumstances.

Copyright 2023 Siri Hermansen

Islands of Memories