The invitation to “Think at the Edge of the World” makes sense while it proposes to constitute a heterogeneous network of people who, by finding themselves in a terra franca as Svalbard, whose history has always been shaped by the forms of temporary occupation that have been projected upon it (still nowadays it is highly unlikely that someone either is born or buried in Svalbard, and one’s residence permit depends on one’s capacity to be self-sufficient), are able of summoning new forms of relating to the past that hopefully will contribute for new modes to tackle the pressing issues of the present.
Yet the outmoded notion of ‘edge of the world’ asks to be redefied, updated, refreshed, as to give way to a figure that still assures its meaning as a threshold, connecting place while it moves away from the naïve tropes of the exotic finisterrae.
Exoticism is indeed a ghost that has been kept at good distance but nonetheless risks of haunting this mission of OCA. If it is true that culture can indeed be transposed, discussed, and transformed elsewhere—and in this sense a location in permanent definition as Svalbard offers itself as a good site for new discourses—the notion of the remote ‘other’ needs to be properly exorcized.
OCA has managed to keep this ghost away by choosing to talk about indigenous rights and traces outside the specific sites that allowed for the emergence of these same indigenous cultures, as it creates a protective layer against exoticism: here, the anthropological, ethnographic quest for the ‘other’, the drive towards the encounter with the stereotyped difference cannot take place, and the imaginary is prevented from being a distorted reflection. At the same time, there has been a consistent, ongoing investment by OCA's Director Katya García-Antón, alongside Senior Programmer Antonio Cataldo in establishing deep, long-lasting relationships with various Northern communities and entities, a gesture that has strongly shaped the new identity they are giving to OCA's mission and sphere of action.
Besides several trips to the Lofoten archipelago and to their cultural institutions during 2014-15, García-Antón and Cataldo took part in the second Dark Ecology art and research project (Nov' 2015) , which took them from Kirkenes to Nikel, Zapolyarny and Murmansk (all three in Russia), and subsequent research trip took place across the Norwegian and Finland Northern geographies early this year, establishing relations with artists and institutions across locations as Kirkenes, Inari or Tromsø. Previous to this convene, a subsequent visit to the Alta Museum and Archives, combine with trips to further locations, comprising Nordkapp, Hammerfest, Gjestvæar and Lakselv solidified OCA's commitment to support and collaborate with the Boreal ecosystems, their inhabitants, institutions, and initiatives.
The results of such a visible interest in intensifying OCA's dialogue with the regions will require time to fully unfold, and one of the main challenges for OCA will be that of devising ongoing modes of dialogue and connection between the heterogeneous realities that compose the Norwegian cultural context and its relation to an international sphere.
Talking about transporting, travelling waste is also a fundamental issue. The modes in which artistic practices have embraced the contradictions that characterize their modus operandi have become such a banal tranquillizer to institutional critique and its declinations, that referring to the large carbon footprint generated by an initiative that is mostly aimed at promoting the importance of local spheres would be to ignore how the lesser evil is the other side of the greater cause coin.
Under these optics, the dispersed community of indigenous rights activists, scientists, researchers, artists, and thinkers who have accepted to be accomplices of OCA’s CO2 emission lesser crime constitutes the lesser evil that hopefully will make sure that OCA remains faithful to its mission. The visions, ideas, and possibilities opened by this encounter have constituted a powerful lot of story-tellers: the responsibilities, duties and aspirations turns them (us, to be more precise) into vulnerable subjects: let us not fall beyond the edge but make sure it exists as a territory of tactile encounter with what lies next to it.