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The Art of Cabin Fever

By | June 16, 2014 - 11:00 am

Amusement Gathering, Beaver City, Alaska, Jan. 18, 1899.  Image credit: Jasper Wyman/Anchorage Museum

Amusement Gathering, Beaver City, Alaska, Jan. 18, 1899.
Image credit: Jasper Wyman/Anchorage Museum

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Today we explore one of the Anchorage Museum’s newest exhibits. So new in fact, that it’s still in the planning phase. Carolyn Kozak is a curator at the Anchorage Museum, and recently she was inspired by some archived photographs taken by a man named Jasper Wyman in 1898.

“Jasper Wyman got a troupe together, and like many others came up seeking gold and ended up penniless. Or as he put it, ‘800 dollars less than nothing,’ which I thought was funny,” Kozak says.

But it wasn’t the gold mining that inspired Kozak’s exhibit, it was the cabins they lived in.

“They built these tiny cabins. I think the size of one that 10 of the expedition members were seen in was 16 X 20 feet. So you can imagine such close quarters for 14 months,”  Kozak says.

And that got Kozak thinking about cabin fever, which is the name of her show. The exhibit will debut in November, and will consist mostly of photography; some Jasper Wyman’s and some contemporary. She says it won’t just showcase literal cabin fever, but similar themes like isolation and Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Andy Kahne, West Beaver, Alaska, c. 1898.  Image credit: Jasper Wyman/Anchorage Museum

Andy Kahne, West Beaver, Alaska, c. 1898.
Image credit: Jasper Wyman/Anchorage Museum

“What makes living in this place unique, and how do we deal with winter. What are the psychological effects of winter an how do we make this place fun. Or where are the dark places we go in our mind and how do they manifest. So this is a visual exploration of those feelings, thoughts and ideas,” Kozak says.

Kozak says a lot of the material she’s found has been, no pun intended, dark in nature. But she doesn’t want the exhibit to be a downer. After all, she kind of likes cabin fever.

“I think of Looney Tunes, and even The Muppets. There is a lot of humor in it, and it can be really funny. I think of my own experience in Alaska, and my cabin experiences. How a four day camping trip you’ve been looking forward to can be foiled by four days of downpour rain inside of a tiny tent with someone you really loved going into it. And how does that affect the relationship, and what you talk about, and what you do,” Kozak says.

Kozak says the Cabin Fever exhibit won’t be exclusively Alaskan. It will include photographs from all over the circumpolar north. That inspiration came from a recent trip.

“I was fortunate enough to go to Finland last month for five days, and it was remarkable to fly over 24 hours and end up in a place that looked exactly like Alaska. It was really similar,” Kozak says.

And it wasn’t just the landscape. Kozak says the people were similar; the way they coped with the dark, and the cold. The way they liked to ski, and sauna. They even had the same tans. Expanding the scope of artists also led Kozak to expand the art medium. She’s recently began accepting admissions for short films to include in the exhibit. She hopes to show the movies not just in the museum, but inside places like public use cabins and old bunkers in the Anchorage area.

“So if you are a film maker, and you have a video that’s five minutes or under that you feel fits the cabin fever theme, please go to our website and there you will find all kinds of information about submitting films to the Cabin Fever exhibit,” Kozak says.

Anchorage Museum curator Carolyn Kozak. And her raven.

Anchorage Museum curator Carolyn Kozak. And her raven.

The deadline to submit a short film is September 1st. The Cabin Fever exhibit, begins in November. And yeah, Kozak see’s the irony here.

“There is something funny about planning an exhibit that’s all about darkness and winter during one of the most beautiful months in Alaska,” Kozak says.

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