Illustrating Neutral Nature: Scientific Depictions of the Arctic from Moscow, Stockholm, and Paris

Project leader: Katarina Wadstein MacLeod
Starting year: 2022
Project type: Project
Total funding: SEK 2,789,000

Illustrating Neutral Nature appears self-contradictory, as any illustration is culturally produced, and thus, never fully neutral. And yet, with its floating icebergs in the unpopulated distance, visualizations of the Arctic constantly fall prey to this illusion of neutral, untouched, nature. The aim of this project is to investigate the differences and similarities between Russian and Western European representations of the Arctic during the first major scramble in early 19th century. Originally produced for audiences in urban areas in the search for science, trade and routes across the Circumpolar North, did the Russian, French and Scandinavian explorers see the same thing? A detailed investigation of such seemingly neutral items as maps and scientific illustrations of nature will reveal the cultural and colonial underpinnings of the powerful gaze that made the Arctic its object. It will reveal to what extent they e.g., acknowledged or obscured the indigenous people’s local knowledge, on which they depended for their search. The method employed is a comparative analysis of the visual culture produced on two expeditions, the sledge and river based Russian Kolyma expedition (1820s) and the French/Scandinavian La Recherche naval expedition (1830s). Whilst research on 19th century art and knowledge production of indigenous people and Arctic nature is growing, this project focus on normative narratives about Arctic nature, and how these were constructed across the East and West.