“Odyssey is a travel with a lot of trouble. This is also how life is”
Edison, able seaman on board the “Nordic Odyssey”

“The traveller is the journey.
What we see is not what we see but who we are”
Fernando Pessoa, “The Book of Disquiet”

What propels an individual to venture from the safe and familiar to the unexplored and unknowable? For Fernando Pessoa, the author of “The Book of Disquiet”, the experience of a journey enhanced the sense of freedom. Even though the writer, who dedicated most of his oeuvre to the idea of travelling, never left his beloved Lisbon –not needing to go far in order to feel free.

Arctic Coordinates was made during a thirty-five day journey on the “Nordic Odyssey” cargo ship*, which transported, in the summer of 2012, 70,000 tons of iron ore from the Russian port of Murmansk to China across the Arctic. It was the first time ever that a cargo boat sailed the Northern Sea – an alternative transportation route made available with the onset of global warming. The ship, led by an icebreaker, waded through the ice of the Arctic waters, crossed the foggy Bering Strait and continued along the far-eastern parts of Russia, passing by Japan before arriving to a newly built port on the shores of China.

The voyage soon turned routine, flattening the sense of time and space, negating any excitement of being somewhere unique. The boredom, the slow passing of time, the impossibility to escape – is daily life for the sailors who undertake this journey to earn their livelihood. The romanticized image of the Arctic – of exotic travel, of brave seamen – fades to the harsh reality faced by the men who spend months away from their families, overwhelmed by the utter feeling of time laid waste. Like Odysseus, their only wish is to return home.

So the lust for adventure becomes a trap; the thirstiness for new impressions gives way to deep thinking. And this switch of mood becomes visible throughout the Arctic Coordinates series – like Mark Rothko’s color field paintings, Davide Monteleone’s images are expressive without being descriptive, thought provoking without becoming literary. And the leaden emptiness of space, eventually losing its deepness and sharpness, creates a meditative mood and a perfect setting to embark on a journey towards oneself.

* The work was commissioned for the New Yorker story Polar Express in 2012.

– Anna Arutiunova