How many times have you been here now — and what have you been doing?
I first visited Morgans Skip early January 2015, searching for auroræ and dark skies. I came for 2 days and stayed 2 weeks, most of which was spent slipping over; it was my first visit to the Arctic! I also had my first experience being Captain’s Cabin bartender during that visit. Since then I’ve returned to screen a film festival, make projects with Gratangen school students, helped set up an artist-in-residence program, and several hundred waffles for the café! In total I’ve been here 7 times, usually arriving via train from Stockholm, and continuing on to Svalbard for my Australian PhD researching the visual representation of climate change.
Your visit this time was unscheduled, wasn’t it?!
Quite right! There were many tourist bookings for accommodation here over summer, but all except one cancelled due to coronavirus complications. When Morgans Skip’s Board heard that I was koronafast in Utsira fyr for 3 months they suggested I take the Hurtigruten up and open the summer café instead, since Morgans Skip needed some income. This year it’s the most popular I’ve ever seen it; sometimes 40 visitors per day, 98% Norwegians. I’m an artist-filmmaker so my cafe skills are sometimes a bit like Fawlty Towers [a British TV comedy] — but I muddle through and think I understand how Norwegians expect their coffee & waffles now! We held a disco for adolescents, a DJ bar night which was a huge success, and I’m doing some little maintenance things plus revitalising our webpage. As well as chasing visitors around with a bottle of anti-bac and a sign-in sheet of course. When accommodation and event bookings start again I’ll be preparing Captain’s Cabin with coronavirus-prevention in mind, and maybe I can rent it myself when there are no reservations; I think it’s my favourite place on Earth.
What are these little videos you’ve been making?
Astrid Høgmo got Morgans Skip a grant from the Commune to help us publicise Gratangen as a great place to live and to visit; plus to show what’s happening in the fjord. So I donate my time, equipment and skills for free — and Morgans Skip donates a place to stay while I create them. The last one about Snolkehytta has been viewed over 6000 times. Later in August there will be two videos made combining the “best of”; one about culture in the fjord; the other about tourism & experiences in Gratangen. I then pass these on to Visit Narvik and Visit Norway.
How do you feel about Morgans Skip?
I love the idea that a stunning sculpture of a British sailing ship beached at low tide, designed by a Swedish artist for tiny Roatán island off Honduras, could end up in the Norwegian Arctic, attracting people from all over the world! Its principles — organic components, construction by the local community, etc — are very appealing to me, but of course every artwork in the world is decaying from the moment of creation and this one is no exception. The villagers who raised and cared for the sculpture will soon decide how and in what form they take it into the future, and that’s going to be a really interesting process, to see it reinvented and reimagined.
What does the future hold for you?
Well, Australia’s borders are closed till at least mid 2021. Singapore Airlines cancelled my return ticket, my travel insurance became invalid, and going home even for citizens is now difficult and extremely expensive: planes are limited to 50 passengers, and on arrival you must pay €2000 for quarantine in a room you cannot leave for 14 days. So while my parents remain healthy on their sheep farm in outback Australia I feel guiltily fortunate to be marooned in such a beautiful and safe environment here. Plus it’s good for me to slow down, to reduce my carbon footprint. I might be marooned but I couldn’t ask for a better place to shelter right now while the Covid-19 storm rages; I am incredibly grateful to everyone in Gratangen for welcoming me here.