The Soniferous Æther of the Land Beyond the Land Beyond 2012
The Soniferous Æther of the Land Beyond the Land Beyond is a 35mm film installation shot by Charles Stankievech (b.1978) at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Alert—the most northerly permanently inhabited location in the world and situated only 817 kilometres from the geographic North Pole in the Arctic. It is part of a series of fieldworks Stankievech made that look at remote outpost architecture, military infrastructure, and the embedded landscape. He used a computer-controlled time-lapse tracking camera to make this film during the winter of 2012. At that time of year the darkness of the polar night is almost continuous, and he transformed the base into something resembling an eerie abandoned space station lit only by its own internal lighting systems and the stars above. (In fact, the base houses many temporary inhabitants because of its many uses: it hosts a military signals intelligence radio receiving facility, an Environment Canada weather station, a Global Atmosphere Watch monitoring laboratory, and an airport.)
Viewing this film is an immersive experience. The total darkness is barely interrupted by a repetitive otherworldly mechanical voiceover and minimal streaks of light. Slowly the ice and snow that surround CFB Alert come into view, the shapes of white-tinted outcrops echoed in the twisted remains of crashed aircraft and inactive vehicles. Other than the voiceover, there is no sign of human activity. The base is also presented as unpeopled, as Stankievech’s camera pans over the array of machinery within its walls. The work suggests an imagined science-fiction movie set, but it is actually a witnessed event, a documentary, capturing in sound and film the otherworldly nature of the furthest reaches of Canada and its northern defence installations.
Stankievech’s art practice explores issues such as the military industrial complex and the history of technology in art, film, photography, installation, and writing. He uses the term “fieldwork” to describe it. By engaging with a geographic site or “embedded landscape,” he merges architecture, equipment, site-specific earthwork, and sonic and electromagnetic communication. Stankievech’s contribution to the Canadian Forces Artists Program has been transformative. As an up-and-coming young multimedia artist with a knowledge of and keen interest in the North, he has helped to make the program relevant as art to contemporary artists and art audiences. In 2016, he was shortlisted for the Sobey Art Award.