Astronaut Chris Hadfield took ten artists on a journey to the Arctic with one simple purpose in mind: to capture the cold, desolate and sometimes surprisingly lively and fearsome land that to most Canadians, seems otherworldly.
Hadfield, who became the first Canadian to command the International Space Station in 2013, posted a call for artists on his Facebook page earlier this year inviting applicants to join him on an 18-day arctic expedition to the Canadian High Arctic from Aug. 22 to Sept. 8, 2016.
Photographer Vivienne Gucwa was one of the ten chosen for the journey.
"I'm a lot like other people," Gucwa said. "The Arctic seems so far away to us that we might as well be talking about it as though it were on a different planet."
The New York-based photographer, known for work that features city snowstorms, never thought she would be chosen for Hadfield’s team of videographers, photographers and musicians.
"When I got the call, I nearly fell out of my chair,” Gucwa said in a phone call from her studio in New York City.
The expedition, dubbed Generator: Arctic was coordinated by Evan Hadfield, son of the famed astronaut, as a spin-off from the Generator stage show the Hadfields launched in 2015.
The show is billed as a “science-based variety show,” and this year features the likes of comedian Robert Ince and cyborg activists Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas.
"The point of Generator is to see, think, and act," Evan said. "I brought people to the Arctic to show the people down here what exists up there."
The second annual Generator show, hosted by his father Chris, centres around the philosophy, “If not me, then who?” — an attitude close to the Hadfield heart. For the Arctic expedition, instead of producing a run-of-the-mill documentary, Evan hired artists who had already mastered their own environments to see what they could do outside of their comfort zone.
"These artists captured their experience in the same setting, but with different eyes," he said.
The challenge the Hadfields posed for the artists seemed straightforward, but Gucwa remarked that the emotional and psychological impact was anything but simple.
"For me, photographing this environment made the Arctic extremely visceral and raw," she said. “Where seeing a polar bear never seemed human, nor was witnessing the impact of the receding glaciers.”
Evan hopes the project prompts discussion about global warming’s effects on Canada.
"I think that there are parts of this country that nobody wants to look at," he said. "It's easy to shut off the things you don't want to see."
The works spawning from Generator: Arctic will be displayed on the artists’ websites and YouTube channels, and in-person at the Art Gallery of Ontario on Nov. 2. They will also be incorporated into this year’s Generator stage show at Massey Hall on Nov. 12.