Piontek Birthe . The Idea of North

2011 Photolucida / Marquand Books

The idealization of the North has been nourished by the stories of Jack London, the films about the area’s pristine tapestry, and by the Northern Lights, which to this day have lost none of their spiritual fascination or magical appeal. The fast-paced, anonymous life of the urban environment offers neither the time nor space for individualization, nor the comforting place needed for belonging. And for some, the sense of freedom and interdependence intrinsic to a remote, Northern community makes it an idealized symbol of the Promised Land.

 In 2008, Birthe Piontek drove 1,900 miles from her home in Vancouver, Canada, to Dawson City, Yukon Territory, for a ten–week artist residency. Piontek was intrigued by Dawson City—the setting, the people, and the light—and enjoyed the idea of the quiet, peaceful town “where everybody knows each other but there are so many underlying secrets and dark stories to discover.”

 The fifty-five images Piontek produced during her stay and a subsequent trip in 2010 are collected in her first monograph published by photolucida. “The work,” the artist comments, “is about the North, the idea we have of the North, but in the end it is about a place we seek most of our lives. It is a place we carry inside, and if we’re lucky enough, find in ourselves.”

 In the book’s introduction, Karen Irvine, curator for the Museum of Contemporary Photography, writes that Piontek, like Glenn Gould—whose title for his 1967 radio piece for the CBC, The Idea of North, would inspire hers—“is attempting to capture the essence of a place through the individuals who live there, to leave an impression, to reflect its intricacy, and to discover where the reality of the place brushes up against archetype and expectation.www.birthepiontek.com


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