Map of the ancient world, according to cartographers of antiquity. Hyperborea can be seen in upper left corner.

Apollo Belvedere. Drawing by Bourdon, engraved by Bourgois.

Matthew Drutt
The Shape of Time: Anton Ginzburg’s “At the Back of the North Wind”
2011

Imagine a place on Earth devoid of seasonal change and natural disaster, whose inhabitants were free of pestilence, aging and war. It was a land situated so far from explored territory that it seemed otherworldly and could only be described or imagined through second-hand accounts of its existence.

The ancients believed in such a place and they called it Hyperborea—a realm lying far north of the winter territories, where the sun never set and whose landscape and waters were lush, fertile and wild. First chronicled by Hesiod, Homer and Herodotus, Hyperborea’s mythology and association with the god Apollo has grown in scope and credibility over the centuries. Fantastic accounts credited the Hyperboreans with the construction of mysterious temples like Stonehenge, and in recent times, to their race being the origin of human spiritual and physical evolution.

Now imagine that this place has been discovered, not in its entirety, but rather through artifacts and remnants of animal species whose age and complexity match no historically documented civilization. At the Back of the North Wind, Anton Ginzburg’s project for the 54th Venice Biennale, confronts us with this curious premise. It embraces both the scientific and the fantastic dimensions of the “discovery” of Hyperborea, especially in the modern era, with its disparate and geographically dispersed attempts to reconcile its existence.

Through the guises of explorer, geographer, archaeologist, anthropologist and historian, Ginzburg has developed a body of work in photography, sculpture, film, painting and notation whose master narrative is a reality-based fictive expedition to ferret out Hyperborea’s factuality. Yet like any quest for truth, Ginzburg’s endeavor goes beyond its prescribed subject, venturing into deeper territories of human inquiry about origin, destination and the journey in between.