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Arctic research is The Matter of the Soul

Press release

International artist and University of Leeds Cultural Fellow Kat Austen will premiere a new artwork based on research in the Arctic at Bonhams in London (30 July – 17 August).

The work, entitled The Matter of the Soul, is continuing its development during Kat Austen’s Cultural Fellowship in Art and Science at the University of Leeds’ Cultural Institute, in collaboration with researchers from the Priestley International Centre for Climate.

The piece will be presented as a performance and installation at Howard Assembly Room in Leeds at the culmination of her fellowship, on 23 October 2018.

The Berlin-based artist visited the Arctic in 2017 through the Friends of the Scott Polar Research Institute’s Artist in Residence programme, and The Matter of the Soul captures how climate change is affecting the fragile environment.

Transformation in the Arctic

The Matter of the Soul is a new media artwork that explores the process of dispersal and transformation in the Arctic. The work draws an analogy between human migration, the movement of water from ice to ocean in the Arctic and changing identity online.

Kat Austen conducting some of the sampling for The Matter of the Soul

Comprising sculpture, video and sound installation, The Matter of the Soul at Bonhams centres around an abstract visual form that resonates with the aesthetic of dispersal in the Arctic.

The sound installation draws on musical compositions by the artist based around field recordings of the different acidity and salinity of Arctic waters using hacked pH and conductivity meters. These properties of the waters vary depending on the melting of ice that increases the amount of fresh liquid water in the Arctic. and so the measurements – and sounds created from them – capture the way that climate change is affecting this fragile region.

Leeds scientists on a research trip to the Barents Sea for the NERC funded Changing Arctic Ocean Seafloor (ChAOS) project are currently collecting samples that will also contribute to the final presentation of the work.

The compositions also include samples from interviews with visitors to and inhabitants of Baffin Island and Resolute, exploring the impact of human movement on the region’s culture and individuals’ identities, and reflecting on the environmental changes interwoven with this process.

Leeds symphony

Kat Austen says, “The Matter of the Soul captures the moment of transition that comprises both loss and transformation in the Arctic, both for water and for human beings. The installation at Bonhams focusses on the physical forms that evoke this transformation – its urgency and duality. The installation will be extended into performance with symphony at Opera North in October.”

Sue Hayton, Associate Director of the Cultural Institute, says, “Our Cultural Fellowships in Art and Science exist to support artists to develop their practice, inspired by the intellectual curiosity within academic institutions. We’re proud to have facilitated meaningful cross-pollination of ideas and creativity between Kat and researchers at Leeds who are leading ground-breaking research into climate change.”

The raw material and compositions from the project will be released online under Creative Commons licence, with a call for others to remix the work’s identity as it travels the internet. Limited edition cassettes of the musical compositions are available, as are limited edition spherical canvasses containing cassettes, from the artist’s page:

Main image: listening to Arctic waters using a hacked pH meter on Devon Island, Canadian High Arctic (Kat Austen)