Here you will find behind the scenes snippets, vigenttes and occasional deep dive into my projects and commissions.

Avannaata Qimussersui, Greenland

This winter the incredible Avannaata Qimussersua, Greenland's National Dog Race, took place in Ilulissat on 16th March 2024 and I had the opportunity to attend. The 40km race is one of nation's largest cultural events and takes place in different locations each year but always on the Greenland's West coast and above the Arctic Circle.

Most dog races, like Finnmarksløpet, a 1200 km race across Northern Norway, or the very slightly longer Iditarod race in Alaska, focus totally on endurance across multiple days and nights. Avannaata Qimussersua differs, as it is all about speed and purity, with only the most basic sledge and handheld dog ropes allowed (not even ropes really, just lengths of fishing net cord). The musher sits on a flat deck, without any harness or safety aids, bar donning the obligatory GoPro hat-cam to document their endeavour.

The mood in town during the build up to race day was one of storytelling and competitiveness. Looked up to by teenagers as a heroic rite of passage, the race held in very high esteem, with a buzz and energy permeating in bars and workplaces throughout the preceding week. Winning the race, or just being selected for the starting line, is shrouded in folklore, free beer and life long respect. Gaining a place in the race requires years of training and skill - one has to live and breathe with the dogs. Luckily Ilulissat has an official population of 2,500 dogs - a grand total for a town’s residency of just 4,000 people.

In recent years, the race has also evolved into a successful nexus of national pride with indigenous peoples asserting their special relationship with territory and cultural heritage as they navigate the spectre of colonialism.

The field of 36 teams launching from the start line was a sight to behold - more like a frantic chase akin to an aerial scene from a ‘frozen’ Mad Max: Fury Road. Mushers have to aim for a tiny gap in the mountain valley entrance, all whilst ensuring their dogs don’t get tangled up with another Musher’s dogs. Sure, grit and skill is required but also an element of luck. Once the teams had left the spectators’ field of view, out into the wilderness, random dogs returned like homing pigeons after their Musher had cut them loose before being injured or worse still, dragged under a sledge.

It was a comfortable -19°C without any wind, with the occasional cloud blocking the sun. Perfect conditions to witness the spectacular return of the competitors and a mesmerising celebratory ritual...

It took around an hour for the Musher’s to complete the 40km route. During that time, and with the race completely out of view, the audience bought snacks, played in the snow and generally hung out. Various spotters with scopes and binoculars kept a vigil eye, whilst locals prepared their drones to document the final few kilometres back across the frozen plane and finish line.

When the dogs are running at full speed, there’s no way they will stop by their own free will. Also, due to the lack of effective brake on the sledge (remember, this is seat of your pants / bare bones racing) an alternative method is deployed to bring the dogs to a halt. Along side locals throwing drones in the air to film the finals few minutes of racing, Mushers have their team members cover the ground over the finish with raw meat. One audience member told me that without that tasty incentive, the dogs simply would not stop and just end up running endlessly into town!

And so a spectacular ritual played out each time a Musher would cross the finish line. A team member will spot their Musher with binoculars, another team memeber would roll out a huge tub of raw meat and spread with precision - aiming the meat directly into the path of their incoming dog pack. Impressive yes, but the best part followed.

Within milliseconds of the dogs stopping to inhale the meat, other team members, family and supporters close to each Musher would run around the seldge, a race offical handed the Musher with the national flag and medal, and the slegde and Musher would be lifted above their heads. Cheering, hype, laughter and tears previaled each time. Precise choreography completed in under 1 minute - Musher after Musher. Spotter, meat thrower, race offical, seldge lift, repeat.

Below is Avannaata Qimussersua 2024 race winner Thomas Thygesen from Saattu, followed by many of his competitors finishing the race. Click an image to enlarge.

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