Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to present The Arctic Trilogy, our first solo exhibition by New York artist Janet Biggs. Over the past two years, Biggs has traveled to Svalbard, a group of islands between the top of Europe and the North Pole. Filming in extreme conditions in one of the most remote and least-forgiving places in the world, Biggs has created three stunning videos that explore longing, mortality, and our futile fight against nature.
The first of the videos, Fade to White, deals with the unachievable desire of discovery on an already exploited planet. Traveling aboard a 100-year-old, two-masted schooner in the Arctic, Biggs filmed a member of the crew as he navigated the sailing ship through iceberg filled seas and paddled a kayak past glacier walls and polar bears. Testing her own will and endurance in this harsh environment, she captured a landscape of uncompromising imagery. Loss and change are implicit in the work’s title, Fade to White, which can refer to an editing technique used to evoke death or transcendence. Biggs integrated her Arctic imagery with video of countertenor John Kelly, whose age, androgyny, and mournful operatic voice parallel the vanishing Arctic landscape and signal the waning of male dominance.
In the second work, In the Cold Edge, Biggs delves more deeply into the issues of isolation and vulnerability. In filming this piece, Biggs followed the video’s subject deep into a beautiful yet terrifying ice cave. The viewer can feel the massive weight of the ice above in the dangerous and claustrophobic tunnels. Shimmering stalactites and gravity-defying ice formations, lit only by the explorers’ headlamps, generate a dual sense of awe and intimidation. The relief felt by the viewer as the explorer emerges into the open Arctic space is quickly quelled, though, as the reality of the landscape’s vast emptiness begins to seep in. In the Cold Edge ends with Biggs herself shooting a flare into the vast Arctic sky, both an act of aggressive assertion and a cry for help with absolutely no one to hear it.
In the last work of the trilogy, Brightness All Around, Biggs brings the viewer back to an inspiring determination to define and defend one’s identity in perhaps the Earth’s most extreme environment. The video focuses on Linda Norberg, a woman coal miner working in a very inaccessible and dangerous place. Norberg begins each day by descending miles into the darkness beneath the frozen Arctic. Surrounded by deafening machinery, relying on her small headlamp for light, she is seen drilling and bolting the newly excavated cave ceiling in freezing temperatures and relentless darkness. Serving as a counterpoint to the terror of the underground is a vocal performance by New York music guru Bill Coleman. As an isolated performer, Coleman is sexual, seductive, and a bit threatening. Using lyrics taken from near death experiences, Coleman becomes a witness to the struggle to maintain a sense of self.
Janet Biggs received her undergraduate degree from Moore College of Art, and pursued graduate studies at Rhode Island School of Design. Her work has been exhibited, among other institutions, at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, NY; Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY; Gibbes Museum of Art, South Carolina; Rhode Island School of Design Museum; Vantaa Art Museum, Finland; Linkopings Konsthall, Passagen, Sweden; the Oberosterreichisches Landesmuseum, Austria; and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Australia. Reviews of her work have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, ArtForum, ARTNews, Art in America, Flash Art, Artnet.com, and many others.