We gathered later in Hotel Nordlys, which had been rented out as the base of operations and housing for the festival. Chef Árni handed us each a plastic tub and we set out, scrambling over the rock-faces in search of delicate purple and white flowers scattered about the community. Musician and actor Miké Thomsen scanned the ground with a keen eye, gently foraging the wildflowers for that evening’s salad as he gave a short lesson on Greenlandic greetings.
In the mornings, after breakfast, we walked across the rocks and over wooden pathways to the schoolhouse where the artists gathered for their pre-performance sessions. As we walked up the front steps we could hear the rhythms of their creative process emanating from within, replacing the usual sounds of prayer and school lessons for the settlement’s community of 46 people.
From its inception in 2017, the Disko Arts Festival has been a unifying force of largely circumpolar artists, coming together to collaborate, experiment, and ultimately share their energy and enthusiasm in the creation of new and interesting art. In its inaugural year the festival drew a crowd of not only artists, but also curious spectators who traveled from far and wide to see the most northerly arts festival in the world. Last year, festival organizers sought to make the space more intimate, and the Disko Arts Festival underwent a transformation away from exhibition, and towards a curated space for artists to workshop some of their more adventurous ideas.
We watched as three curious faces peered through one of the broken windows, the smallest two standing on their toes to catch a glimpse of the music echoing from within the abandoned building.
Once a post office, the old wooden structure had been transformed suddenly into a space of song and spirituality as Bjarni Frímann drew melody from an old piano he had fixed the year before. The others gathered around him, reading hymns from a songbook borrowed from the school’s library.
The next day we saw the same children again, this time trailing their parent’s steps up the stairs of the schoolhouse, following the same droning electronic music which pulled everyone towards the circle of performers inside. Soon the community of Oqaatsut was joined by French sailors who had anchored in the bay, and backpackers who were camping in the ravine by the festival’s outdoor stage.
As the schoolhouse crowded the performers came to life, each moving and swaying in time with the rhythms which emanated from the two DJs sitting in front of the altar. Qudus Onikeku, an artist and dancer who had made his way from Nigeria for his second Disko Arts instalment, moved to the center of the circle and began to dance. Soon after he was joined by Miké, and together they gave the already engrossing musical performance a physical presence which captivated, delighted, and challenged the room of silent spectators.
After a final performance back in Ilulissat, we walked in the half-light of a sun which had finally set. It was a quintessential fit to the thought-provoking dreamscape the artists had chosen to create for their last piece of the festival. Two weeks later, home in Newfoundland, the entire wild adventure still seemed somehow surreal. It’s a special thing to document a raw creative process – especially when the space it inhabits is in a remote settlement in the high Arctic.
This coming year’s instalment will see Sofie B. Ringstad taking the reins as the festival’s Artistic Director, with outgoing Arnbjörg María Danielsen staying on as Head of the Artistic Council. One thing is for sure: with Sofie at the helm, the Disko Arts Festival will continue to push the creative envelope and remain a unique and welcoming environment for artists and curious adventurers alike.