Elaine Byrne

The title of ‘Blazing World’ is derived from 'The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World,' written in 1666 by Margaret Cavendish. The book is a depiction of a utopian kingdom that can be reached via the North Pole. It is the only known work of utopian fiction by a woman in the 17th Century, as well as an example of proto-science fiction. Various cultures (and hollow earth proponents) believe that the gateway to another world exists at the Poles. The idea of an Arctic gateway to a kingdom in the centre of the planet has been depicted frequently in film, with these worlds ruled over by an immortal empress.

Blazing World explores the issues of sovereignty and myth of the Arctic island of Svalbard. The Svalbard archipelago, positioned between Norway and the North Pole, enjoys a unique status defined in the 1920 Svalbard Treaty. This grants Norway sovereignty over Svalbard but requires that Svalbard and its waters remain a demilitarised and free economic zone for all signatory parties, now numbering 45 states. If you are from one of the 45 signatory states you can live and work in Svalbard without a visa. However, the treaty was drafted decades before the emergence of contemporary maritime law and the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and the treaty’s inadequacies are now allowing tensions to develop.

Blazing World

Video, photograph, sculpture


Based between Dublin and New York, Elaine has an MA in Visual Arts Practices (IADT) and was previously a fellow at the Whitney Independent study and the Art & Law Program, New York. She has had many solo shows including borderline (Dublin), women in boxes (NY), La Diritta Via (Rome), Ruam (Dublin) and Raumplan (Limerick). Group shows include The Hugh Lane Gallery (Dublin), Douglas Hyde Gallery (Dublin), RHA (Dublin), Elizabeth Foundation (NY) the Shelly and Donald Rubin Foundation (NY) and ISCP (NY). She won several prizes including the 8th Arte Laguna prize for sculpture, Venice, Italy, the T.I.N.A art prize, Milan and the Curtin O’Donoghue photography prize. She was awarded residencies including at ISCP, Art OMI, Soma Mexico and Arctic Circle. Her work in various collections including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rosenbach Museum and Library (Philadelphia), the Crawford Art Gallery (Cork), the Office of Public Works Ireland and the Rubin Foundation.

She is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Temple University, Philadelphia and is represented by the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, Dublin.

Co-created by:

Supported by: