By Blake Nelson
People are filing into the large auditorium inside the Nevada Museum of Art. The seats are nearly full (this is no small auditorium by the way). Everyone takes a seat, gets comfortable and the lights begin to dim.
This isn’t a film screening, or concert for that matter; rather, all these people came to hear artist Megan Berner speak about her artist residency in the Arctic Circle.
For around an hour, Berner walked the audience through her three weeks spent just below the 80th parallel north during July 2015.
Berner spoke of her trip to Norway then up into the unincorporated area of Svalbard, now within the Arctic Circle. From there, her and her travel mates took a ship to view the Arctic by sea. Berner kept a body temperature log, which she showed the audience, later explaining that the sharp downturns in temperature were due to her swimming in the frigid water.
Taking a ship through the iceberg-laden area greatly affected Berner and her understanding of the Arctic Circle and the world.
“What I realized was that it’s all so connected,” said Berner. “What happens there affects everywhere else.”
Through her talk, the audience was also able to gain insight into the thought processes that pervade Berner’s art and what she took away from her trip. The main focus of the trip for Berner was the relation of humans to the landscape, specifically mirage theory and liminal space.
As the talk went on, Berner would present various photographs taken from the ship in which she stayed and traversed in.
Berner works with landscape photography, but not necessarily in the standard way of just finding a beautiful scene to photograph. Instead, Berner likes to accentuate the role humans play in the landscape. Her work with flags, mainly photos consisting of a flag placed in the foreground of an expansive landscape, deals with a theme of claiming territory.
“I can see light phenomena and an instillation of the psychological aspect that light has on the landscape,” Berner said when reflecting on how her residency would affect subsequent art projects.
The group that Berner went with consisted of not only artists, but also teachers and professors, all looking to experience a deeper understanding of the Arctic landscape. Berner herself is able to claim both roles; besides being an artist, Berner is also a lecturer at the University of Nevada, Reno, in the art and photo departments. She foresees the experience gained in the Arctic affecting her style of teaching, which in the past years has been mostly classroom-based instruction.
“[The trip] made me really think about experiential learning … it would be great to teach a class where the students were actually out in the field and then have students respond to that,” Berner said.
Berner is now teaching four classes at the university ranging from introductory photography to advanced photography. The trip opened Berner’s eyes and she wanted to share her experience with the audience.
“If you have the opportunity to travel, do it,” Berner said when asked what advice she would give someone who is interested in traveling, “no matter where it is.”
At the end of her talk, Berner played a video she made in the Arctic Circle, a flag with the Sierra Nevada skyline fluttering in the thin blue light, as she fielded questions from the crowd. Berner has a website with some of her earlier work, and is currently waiting to publish her photos from the trip.
Blake Nelson can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @b_e_nelson.