The electric alloy of art and science | Polarjournal
Based on a polar bear picture taken in Wrangel by François Bernard – Sebastião Salgado’s guide in Greenland – Sara Bran has produced Captif. Picture: Camille Lin

Sara Bran, a lace-maker on gold, is off to Greenland this summer to enrich her artistic practice. The programme includes an expedition on a solar-powered kayak to meet the wilderness, the local inhabitants and scientists.

With a few strokes of her paddle and an electric motor for propulsion, Sara Bran will be setting off on a solar-powered kayak this summer from Inglefield Bay in north-west Greenland. The area is inhabited, but it is one of the most isolated in the country. The retreat of the ice stops in summer not far to the north. The bay opens onto a strait. On the other side, 300 kilometres away, Ellesmere Island belongs to Canada. In the past, expeditions to reach the North Pole left from here. “The locals are very familiar with the French ethnologist Jean Malaurie,” she explains to us in her goldsmith’s workshop. Sara Bran is a goldsmith. She uses the precision of her own skills to carve unique pieces out of precious metals. Well-known in the luxury sector, she is no less ambitious in the world of polar expeditions.

“Solo, it takes away some of the complexities, but creates others,” she warns. To recover: camping, but not just any camping. The bear is king of the Arctic. Trained as a polar guide, the adventurer will be able to use hunters’ huts or set up scaring devices around her various campsites. And she won’t be leaving without a weapon. “Near the villages, there’s no danger, bears are hunted, but further away it’s an issue,” she explains.

As the kayak’s carrying capacity is limited, Sara Bran estimates its autonomy at a month, or even a month and a half. And since she has solar panels, there’s also a battery. This will enable her to recharge electronic equipment for navigation and communication. Her main contact will be Philippe Carlier, the router. “As far as the weather is concerned, he’ll be able to see things that I can’t,” she explains calmly. “Except for the katabatic winds.”

The boat is nine years old. It was designed by explorer Raphaël Domjan’s Planet Solar foundation. Sara Bran has received invaluable advice from Domjan, as well as from navigator Anne Quéméré, adventurer Jean-Louis Etienne and Eric Brossier, co-captain of the sailing boat Vagabond. Her physical training began last September on the Mediterranean coast.

The expedition is just the tip of a fledgling project. “I’m starting with a one-person unit, but the aim is to come back with a sailing boat for scientific expeditions,” she adds. “It would be the first French solar-powered unit capable of wintering without diesel.” To this end, in 2022 she founded the association Ice Art Hope (In Case of Emergency Art Inspires Hope). A dozen or so volunteers followed her and researchers took an interest in the project. The town council of Saint-Aubin in Normandy made premises available to her to create a development laboratory.

Sketches, photos, logbooks – Sara Bran takes everything that feeds her artistic inspiration. All sensitive information is inventoried and then transformed into art objects. “What remains of civilizations are objects and writings,” she says. “They are the pieces that survive us.” With her hands, she can immortalize such an abstract process as science in metal.

Bioacoustician Olivier Adam entrusted her with a hydrophone to record soundscapes. Groups of narwhals live in the region. Few recordings of this type exist. Ornithologists from Hokkaido University (Japan) are working on little auks, and she plans to pay them a visit. At the pace of her kayak, she would like to forge stronger links with the inhabitants of this coast. Returning to France at the end of August, she will share her experience on gold plates, which she cuts with a saw and works with fine engraving.

Camille Lin, Polar Journal AG

On June 22 in Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer (France), join the expedition team for a pre-departure lecture.

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