The Ache earthquake happened at 00:58:50 UTC, on December 26 2004. Twelve hours later, evidence of the tsunami registered in Antarctica. I heard this from an artist, Catherine Ryan, who heard this from a scientist, Rupert Summerson. Rupert had set up the registering equipment. She described his story excitedly, recreating how he gestured when he had spoken to her. So strong was the impact of how he had described it that she wrote a poem about it:

The man who set the guage
scribes his finger though the air.
Close to a sine wave
from where I stand
off to the side.
Patterns of the tides, Antarctica.

His smooth gesture seizes
A saw-toothed splutter
Twelve hours on from tsunami
Thousands and
Thousands and
Thousands and
Thousands of
Lives away.

Man's finger stops, drops
arms to his side.
We fill the space with
our breaths drawn -
The awful poetry of ocean's
echoing lament.

Catherine Ryan, Christchurch, New Zealand
September 2008

I had missed this conversation, but imagined Catherine's gestures as I read her poem. The rhythm of her words reflect the rhythm of her gestures, drawing undulating sine waves suddenly disrupted. In my mind I saw the graph, and got a sense in my body of its smooth motion and sudden change.

Why were we so moved by Rupert's story? Somehow, it connected us with Antarctica, and to the shocking human tragedy that happened in Ache. It was so unexpected. We had only just met. But this story somehow connected us deeply with each other. On reflection I can see how it resonated with the Antarctic work each of us was doing. We were all at a conference, Imagining Antarctica, to publicly present this work. Catherine had written a radio play about two women wintering at opposite poles, communicating with each other by Email. Rupert was researching definitions of Antarctica's 'intrinsic value and natural beauty'. Between sessions he had played me the shakuhachi, a Japanese flute he had played it in Antarctica. It's sound evoked for me the sense of the 'nothingness' I had experienced in Antarctica. I was making Antarctic animations with material collected from encounters with artists and scientists. My aim was to connect different ways of knowing Antarctica. The three of us were connected through our Antarctic work in art, science and technology.

Rupert's story suggested an animation, but it took a while for this to emerge. It took more encounters and memories to surface before a solution presented itself.

Some days after returning home, Rupert Emailed me the tide graph image, and then an explanation of his involvement with it:

I set up the program of sea level monitoring in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean while I was working at the Antarctic Division. A team of three of us, myself, Roger and Nick, installed the tide gauge at Macquarie Island over a period of three or four days in 1993. Roger has been improving it more or less continuously ever since. It is a small triumph of engineering in a very tough environment. I cannot find any up-to-date information on the web about it though. I don't have any formal involvement with the program now but the current manager at the Antarctic Division keeps me informed of any developments.

Rupert Summerson
Canberra, November 2008

Materials I had then to begin work on an animation were the poem, the graph, Rupert's message, and my memories of the Catherine's gestures describing how Rupert told his story. Catherine's gestures stood out as the strongest place from which to start feeling this through. Remembering television pictures taken after the tsunami, of dead bodies floating in the sea, I imagined them rising and falling with the sine wave motions of the graph. In my mind they were moving with creatures of the sea, falling in with the rhythm of their motions. There would be a sudden shift in this animation, to signal the sudden event. But how to render that was still unclear.

Meanwhile, I animated some elements with which I could compose: the lines of the graph, moving left to right across the screen, words and numbers locating these lines in time and space, and a schematic human. I had recently been to the Sydney zoo, and watched seals swimming under water. I was struck by their awareness of me, filming them through an enormous window of glass. It seemed like they were performing, showing off their dives and turns. I wanted to capture something of this. Tracing each frame of a video clip, I drew simple lines to animate one seal's fluid motion. Here was a creature of the sea I could move with the floating bodies.

What sound should accompany the moving forms, or should they move silently? As often seems to happen, when working on one animation, something from another offers a solution. As I was working on tsunami graph elements, I had also been working on another animation that suggested some Tango-like sound. A fiddler had given me music to use that perfectly suited this work. The idea of including this music with the tsunami material arose most surprisingly. It seemed ridiculous that sound which is so full of life could accompany a human tragedy. Yet when I remembered where I was around the time that the tsunam had happened, it made sense.

Soon after the 2004 tsunami I remember teaching a particular class of students in a Sydney high school. Having only just started teaching these students, I was keen to get to know them. We got talking about the Christmas holidays. Some talked about being overseas with their parents, or hanging out with their friends back home. These seemed like happy kids. When the subject of the tsunami arose, I was shocked by what seemed like a complete lack of interest verging on boredom. This troubled me. Then it occurred to me that what happened in the Indian Ocean as we were all on holidays was so big and so horrific that it was difficult to know how to feel. The students did not want to talk about it, and so we continued sharing other, brighter stories, about happier times. Remembering this incident suggested that this could be how some feel about Antarctica, and the implications of the climate change science happening there. The issues are so big, so real and so immediate that it is hard to know how to respond. Life goes on. People have parties and go on holidays. So party music would play over the tsunami sine waves and creatures floating in the sea. But it would stop towards the end, offering silence, to think and feel about the facts represented by the graph.

Other creatures joined the human and the seal in a dance around the tide gauge sine waves. A diatom and pteropod were made as part of learning about the microscopic forms that are vital to our ecological system. Their structures and movements were drawn from reading how scientists describe them. These forms are invisible to most of us, and yet our lives are interconnected. That we are part of an interconnecting system that moves on many levels, is suggested by this dance, of the tiniest living cells and the largest forces of nature.

By gradually introducing elements of the tide gauge data, the factual information accumulates, revealing itself completely by the end of the animation. The intention of this work is to lead viewers gradually towards evidence of a dramatic change in the environment, through empathic connection with a dance moving to its harmonic rhythms.

Sydney, November 2008