Reciprocity  Impact of the animations  Shared insights  Next steps Postscript: The journey home



The animations and art works have not yet been embedded in the Antarctic environment. To date they have been accessed through conferences, exhibitions, websites, and publications in the fields of Antarctic arts and science.

Unexpectedly, the animations have provided the impetus for further artistic responses. This mutual action and reaction, between the animations and artistic responses, is a form of reciprocity. Fox refers to this phenomenon as a 'cognitive feedback loop' (Fox, 2007, p. 253). He noted it in the work of artist, Stephen Eastaugh, who moved from visually cataloguing objects in Antarctica to placing his own art amongst them. Eastaugh had intended that his objects provide the impetus for other people to create Antarctic totems (Eastaught in Antdiv, 2003b).

As well as inspiring Davis's Iceberg poem, animations prompted other creative works. For example, artist Christine McMillan composed a poem in response to Insights and posted it as a comment in the online log(McMillan in Roberts, 2008):

growth cycling

aim heavy

attention to centre

wide line soft on

edges joining

fading fine line,

is it the same


oh darker

+ distorts changes

spiral focus

words make spiral a


is it a circle it closes


focuses. oops fading yes

I can see circle breathing slowed

beginning of spiral breathing fast

breathing slows towards the end


McMillan's words reflect the even rhythm of transformations that she saw, between circling, crossing and spiraling lines. Her words resonate with the feeling that I had when composing the animation. Like Davis's poem, her response is evidence that visceral connections to Antarctica can be conveyed through animated elemental gestures.

During the movement workshops, other artists had made dances, drawings, and poetic written responses, based on how they imagined Antarctica, and from their readings of Antarctic texts. More material was produced from workshops than was possible to work into animations. Each artist's response convinced me that visceral responses to Antarctica can be generated with greater ease when words and drawings are made after movement improvisation experiences.

The greatest challenge I found when working with other artists was to maintain the focus of the workshops and at the same time to recognise the value of spontaneous insights that arose through expressions of extreme emotion. Rena Czaplinska had asked to be involved in the workshops because, she said, she was 'passionate' about dance, drawing, and Antarctica. She would dance and draw within boundaries, push these to extremes, and then discuss her emotional associations with the process. I needed to work with simple scores with clear boundaries in order to record and trace clear gestures. I needed to find a balanced way of working. The solution was to work alone with Rena, to allow more time for personal expression before approaching the more restricted scores. This allowed more time for her to move and talk about her feelings, and for me to connect with her insights. The process provided depths of meaning to the animations that may not have otherwise been possible. This experience helped me to attend more to the needs of participants and to balance these needs with my own. Research methods may be designed and planned, but in the end, relationships with people can evolve unpredictably and become more reciprocal.

The spiral form of Rena's body is the closing gesture of a dance that she improvised while imagining a crevasse. Intense feelings are expressed through the line of her inwardly spiraling body. At the other extreme, outwardly spiraling lines in her body-motion drawing trace continuous changes in form and direction. Her lines reflect the gestures of an artist pushing boundaries. These gestures and lines were accurately traced to communicate her powerful extremes of feeling. Rena's spiraling gesture contributed to the lexicon. It appears in Energies to signify loss of energy within a system threatened by global warming.

Rena Czaplinska, Gesture and drawing, made during movement improvisation workshops (2008)

At the start of the project, the Thesaurus had been built to contain information about Antarctica. Information of most interest then was about its changing environment and about how working there can change people. Although much information was gathered about Antarctica's physical changes, evidence of how people are changed from working there was more difficult to identify. For this reason, the question soon shifted to asking expeditioners how they describe Antarctica. The more simple open question led to observing tones of voice and the gestures of people as they described their observations and experiences. This led to the idea of communicating these observations through animation. Animated gestures could convey the sense of what they said. Movement workshops resulted in combining these responses with those of other artists. Responses of other people sharpened my perceptions. Over time it was possible to identify the recurring forms of the circle, spiral and cross.

The foundation work, Beware of Pedestrians, provided the model with which to animate gestures through which to connect Antarctic and human structures (Appendix 3A). Its sparse open form evoked the sparse open space of Antarctica. Circling, crossing, and spiraling gestures had been identified as 'semantic primitives' (Fricker, 2008).

These observations led to exploring how these forms could be used most economically. Compared to earlier, more representational animations, Insights is highly symbolic.

Fox had predicted (Fox, 2007, p.253):

As the Antarctic becomes more familiar to us, more within our cognitive grasp, the art made about it, whether on the ice or elsewhere, will include more symbolic works.

After three years of attending to ways Antarctica is described, such abstract expressions combined many perspectives.

The website progressed from a site within which to catalogue descriptions of Antarctica to a site within which to embed 'cultural objects that enhance familiarity and memorize our presence' in Antarctica (Fox, 2007, p.253).


Impact of the animations


Marine scientist, Jaime Gomez-Gutierrez, confirmed my observations that

Scientists easily recognise their knowledge and experience in animations that were made, sometimes feeling a strong sentimental connection with the natural forces portrayed. ... [and that] circles and spirals that trace gestures arising from our physical human structure reflect similar structures that exist in the Antarctic environment (Appendix 2).

By 'scientists' I meant Gomez-Gutierrez and his colleagues at the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) krill nursery, who had responded enthusiastically to animations of krill. He later confirmed, by email, and as co-author of a report in the GLOBEC International newsletter (Peterson, 2009, p.40), that Energies was well received at the conference.

The 3rd GLOBEC Open Science Meeting (GLOBEC) in Canada, June 2009. Photo courtesy Jaime Gomez-Gutierrez

Energies was presented to scientists from around the world both during the plenary meeting and poster sessions (Gomez-Gutierrez, 2008) ;(Peterson, 2009).

The aim of the conference was to provide

... a new mechanistic understanding of the functioning of the marine ecosystem, in order to develop predictive capabilities and propose a framework for the management of marine ecosystems in the era of global change (GLOBEC, 2009).

The GLOBEC Newsletter included a report on the inclusion of Energies in the conference, with an image from the animation that was adopted by conference organisers for use as their 'krill logo' (Peterson, 2009, p.40).

Lisa Roberts, Krill logo, Digital drawing (Peterson, 2009, Illus. p.40)

Animations contributed an aesthetic dimension to the mechanistic understandings presented at the conference. The GLOBEC Newsletter report of the conference states (Peterson, 2009, p.10):

... there is abundant evidence that the Antarctic waters are warming and that the ice sheet is melting, two processes that are certain to impact on krill but in ways that we can only guess ...

These are the understandings aesthetically expressed in Energies.

An article on current krill research at the AAD, published in their magazine, Antarctic, included a report on How do krill grow?, with an image from that work (Pyper, 2009, p.9). A link to the website,, was provided in both online and hard copy versions of the article and on their online update of my activities as one of their Arts Fellows. The Fellowship update included a a report on the animation, Insights (Antdiv, 2004) . Additionally, a link to Energies appeared on the entry for 'Krill' on Wikipedia (Wikipedia, 2009).

These positive responses from the scientific community provide strong evidence that the animations are useful for communicating scientific information. They were recognised as representing the Antarctic environment and valued for the aesthetic impact they add to presentations of scientific data.

Evidence of the impact of the animations on another field entirely is the inclusion of the Thesaurus in the online Taxonomy Share Space Registry (Roberts in Taxonomyspace, 2010). This open access website contains information about vocabularies of all kinds and encourages their sharing and reuse. The Thesaurus is presented (with a link to the website) as 'a visual language of gestures and lines'.

Before Energies was conceived, animations had been recognised by other Antarctic researchers. When screened at Antarctic conferences and exhibitions, animations had attracted further material with which to work.

On the recommendation of scientist and artist, Karin Beaumont, who had seen the animations and art works online, I was invited to participate in the event, Sur Polar: Arte en Antartida (South Pole: Art of Antarctica) (Juan, 2008). This was an exhibition of Antarctic art curated by Andrea Juan, an artist who had worked in Antarctica on scientific expeditions. Sur Polar was staged at the MUNTREF (Museo de la Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero), in Buenos Aires (2008) and later toured to Mexico City (2009). The exhibition opened with an all-day conference of public presentations by international scientists and artists. Scientists and artists who had worked in Antarctica projected images of their work and spoke in Spanish, French or English. I presented Cycles of change, Diatoms, Estranged, Pteropod, and Sea levels are rising, and explained how they reflected responses to Antarctica that other people had shared.

Sound artist, Phil Dadson, improvised music with Antarctic rocks and bowls of water, with a projection of video footage he had taken in Antarctica. His performance convinced me further of the power of improvisation to reconnect people to the natural environment.

Phil Dadson improvises with sounds of Antarctic rock and water at the Sur Polar conference presentation, Buenos Aires (2008)

After mounting our works for exhibition, Dadson volunteered that the lines in my animations and art works were similar to Len Lye's doodles (Dadson in Roberts, 2008). One work he referred to was Fleuro Zooplankton 01:

Lisa Roberts, Fleuro Zooplankton 01, 2007, Engraved fluorescent Perspex (Roberts in Juan, 2008, p.29, Illus.)

This work was an improvised response to scientific diagrams I had studied in the manual, Guide to zooplankton (Ritz, 2003);(Roberts in Juan, 2008, p.29, Illus.) . Dadson and I recognised similarities in each other's work. We abstracted and improvised in ways that appeal to primal rhythms and forms. This recognition was later reflected in two animations.

First, Old brain, which combined drawings from my art works with the sound of Dadson's voice describing Lye's ideas (Dadson in Roberts, 2007-2009, Old brain) , and second, Mental substance, in which drawings I made of people and art works in the streets of Buenos Aires were combined with a recording of Dadson's conference performance (Dadson in Roberts, 2007-2009, Mental substance).

Other artists at Sur Polar viewed the animations and agreed to contribute to the project. Sounds of Beaumont's metallic Shining stars, that tinkled at her touch, became the sound of ice in the Ancient mariners animation (Beaumont in Juan, 2008, p.45, Illus.);(Beaumont in Roberts, 2007-2009, Ancinet mariners).

Karin Beaumont, Shining stars, Sur Polar installation, Buenos Aires (2008) (Beaumont in Juan, 2008, p.45, Illus.)

Artists Beaulieu, Beaumont, Boissonnet, Dadson, Pereira, Morales, and Juan, each contributed images that were included in the Thesaurus and in animations.

The scientist, Del Valle, contributed data sets that were combined with Juan's images for the Thesaurus entry, 'methane' (Juan and del Valle in Roberts, 2007-2009, methane).

I later presented these animations at the conference, Imagining Antarctica, at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand (2008). Although the focus of the conference was Antarctic arts, some scientists also presented. This was where I met scientists Steve Nicol and Rupert Summerson, who contributed significantly to the project. Nicol contributed his story about observing live krill, and scientific insights into the reciprocity between biological and physical systems. Summerson contributed music that was used in many animations.

As animations were made with contributed material, links to these were emailed to contributors for comment. Most were satisfied with how their material was combined. However, one scientist asked that his voice be removed from an animation that was to be screened at a scientific conference. The quality of his voice in the animation reflected a sensitive response to the natural environment. It seems that the scientific community is not ready for expressions of sensitivity.

Shared insights


Once the first draft of Insights was made it was presented online for comment. This method of gathering information was the opposite of that used in the workshop that resulted in Connectivity (See Chapter 7: Discussion / Connectivity). In the workshop, no image of Antarctica had been provided. Now I sought comments on a work that visualised a key insight that had emerged from the project: that the circle, spiral and cross could be animated to describe the forces that shape Antarctica. I wanted to find out if the lexicon of gestural forms could communicate to others.

Although comments had been received about other animations, responses to Insights most clearly indicated that the elemental forms were communicating. The log post through which I comments included an explanation of my intention (Roberts, 2009):

The spiral represents dynamic forces that drive biological and environmental change. It also represents growth and transformation. The circle represents the Antarctic environment as a meeting place for sharing knowledge. As a continent of science, Antarctica attracts many nations to explore our place in the world. The cross marks the one grounded pivot point of the spinning Earth. It also represents a convergence of ideas. It represents the convergence of different kinds of knowledge that combine to reveal Antarctica as a conveyor of global change.

To read online comments in this post, enter the words, 'Animated insights' in the search tool of the log.

Performance artist, Ellin Krinsky, wrote,

Your spiral, pulsing and subtle, drew me into a feeling state. Static as the cross is, it always distances my sense of feeling, which seeks movement. The two qualities of the spiral/cross, in bold and fine [lines], do open up the dynamics and feelings of opposites which manifest themselves in what you are writing about.

Dance therapist, Jane Guthrie, also recognised these opposing qualities:

I like the idea of the spiral representing 'dynamic forces that drive biological and environmental change' and/or 'representing growth and transformation'. A spiral, in movement terms, is the most advanced form of Shaping/relationship available to us all, as opposed to the straight line which is the most simplistic.

Jane's comment validated my feeling that the spiral can communicate more complex ideas than the straight line. Depending on whether energy is diminishing or increasing in a body, a spiraling form can reflect feelings of desolation or elation. The spiral form is a connector of extreme conditions (physical and psychological).

Dance performer and therapist, Jennifer de Leon, wrote,

With the final words ('Antarctica is melting') I could imagine (I wished to see) a figure dancing behind them, curving forward, bowing to the inevitability, strong at her centre for as long as the core rock remains.

Her suggestion of a human form 'bowing to the inevitability' in the last frames would have changed the focus of the animation. This made me think more consciously about my decision to end with the image of Antarctica. It helped me realise that Antarctica was the image I wanted viewers to hold in their minds. However, that Jennifer held a human form in her mind suggested that the animation worked to connect her to Antarctica at a kinaesthetic level (through the body).

American educator and scholar, Bethe Hagens, identified the animation with her personal journey:

Lisa, I only realized a few months ago that I had been living what I had been trying to discover in bullroarers consciousness as spiraling spinning intelligent energy.

Then, I discovered an old book by D. A. Mackenzie, The Migration of Symbols, and found a treasure trove of spiral and cross symbols across human existence. You are awakening an archetypal giant with this project.

I am using massive spiraling sea and air currents in my book draft, though I did not use Antarctica! I love the idea that it might just be a midbrain!

And am including whirlpools sucking tiny animals. All of the powerful creative energies - tornadoes, whirlwinds, the spinning of Earth or the Milky Way, the growth of vines, the call of the bullroarers ... I have a list now of at least a hundred spirals manifest the same propelling energy of conscious intelligence. I try not to put 'good' or 'bad' on it, because the energy is in many ways so mechanically predictable.

Your cross-hairs of a rifle analogy really got to me. Almost the way a swastika is also the cross of Calvary or the heart of a labyrinth.

Thanks so much for this imagery. Bethe

Australian teacher and dramaturge, Sharon Pittaway, wrote, 'This is a work that has piqued my interest in the wider issues into which you delve so fearlessly'.

I was surprised by Bethe's and Sharon's strong responses. The archetypal forms had triggered memories of profound experiences. They suggested that a sense of human energy was communicated through the gestural forms.

Some comments were particularly helpful in suggesting ways to clarify the sense I wanted viewers to be left with. Sharon added,

The poignancy of your final line 'Antarctica is melting' and then the image fading away is a powerful way to conclude. Is it possible for the image to fade more slowly? A sense of hope perhaps??

When I changed the animation to fade the image of Antarctica more slowly, I could see how a simple change in timing might communicate a sense of hope. Sharon's comment reflects her skill and experience in theatre, where timing is all important.

Physicist, Cameron Smith, wrote,

My only critique is that if someone didn't have a caption, it would be hard to work out that it relates to Antarctica. I wonder if there could be some experimentation with the spiral to map out the continent’s shape.

I had taken for granted that viewers would recognise Antarctica, assuming that the animation would be seen within the context of the website. Cameron reminded me that art works need to speak for themselves.

Written comments in the log provided durable time-stamped evidence of responses. I could refer to the comments and reflect on what was working (or not) in the animations. There were, however, limitations to this process. Responses from people who communicate more easily by talking, drawing or dancing, for example, were more fleeting, and although as important, were often lost.

Writer Carmel Bird, who had responded to the animations by email since the project began, wrote about the power of the metaphor of the cross (Bird, 2009).

Metaphor is a powerful force in human behaviour and meaning. For example, why Christianity has such a strong hold on our imaginations is because the cross is central in our human physical structure. ... Why the Pedestrian form [Appendix 3A] works well to connect with how we feel is because its cross structure is so clearly revealed.

Not everyone, however, was so immediately responsive to the value of subjective responses to Antarctica. For example, paleoecologist, Dominic Hodgson, declared in an interview,

... when I saw your website, what struck me was ... there were some comments on there of people actually being in the Antarctic environment and having these sort of experiences and feelings. And I have to say my first reaction was, when I arrive in the Antarctic environment, I never have that (Appendix 1C).

He said he was too busy, when working in Antarctica, to 'indulge' in feelings. However, after viewing the animation, Glacial cycles, which was made from information that he had supplied, Hodgson expressed feelings about 'the beauty of the scientific data'. Perhaps the rhythmic patterns of the animation added an aesthetic dimension to his unconscious understanding of the changing global environment.

A balance between emotions and cognition was recognised as important for gaining a big picture overview of Antarctica. Environmental scientist, Susanne Moser reported, in More bad news: the risk of neglecting emotional responses to climate change information (Moser, 2007):

In situations where the threat is not (yet) directly perceived - as in the case of climate change - we may misleadingly believe that there is no danger at all. Thus, emotionally under- or overreacting without the help of our cognitive facilities will lead to inappropriate responses. According to Davidson (2000: 91), 'Cognition would be rudderless without the accompaniment of emotion, just as emotion would be primitive without the participation of cognition'.

Cotte's study of English language provided evidence that adjectives used to describe the environment are typically ordered from subjective to subjective (Cotte, 1996, p.136). Subjective responses precede objective understanding. Emotional responses must be distinguished from those governed by primal feeling. Emotional responses are temporary, whereas feelings that are continuous are attached to actuality (Exiner and Kelynack, 1994, p.31) . A feeling response can be primal, and vital for survival. Primal feeling responses may be vitally important for our understanding of hard data.

By the end of the project I recognised my own view as Indigenous and Gaia. I recognised that knowledge arises through relationships. Indigenous doctoral candidate, Bryan Fricker, at Monash University, said that these symbols reflect how ancient knowledge flows between people and land (Fricker, 2010). Indigenous American Indian scholar, Bethe Hagen, commented, 'You are awakening an archetypal giant with this project' (Hagan in Roberts, 2009) . Australian Aboriginal artist, Elaine Russell, identified the simplicity of the animated lines as a powerful way to convey this kind of knowledge to the public. 'Simple lines work best', she said, 'to tell our stories' (Russell, 2010).

Next steps


There is much work to be done to engage the public with accurate information about climate change and to promote a healthy environment.

Methods that were used to make the animations will be applied to other projects that aim to make sense of scientific data and to communicate research findings to the public. For example, animations will be made in order to communicate results of new scientific research that is presently being conducted at the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) to measure the impacts of global warming on Antarctic life forms. Increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are predicted to further increase acidification of the oceans that is already threatening the health of many creatures such as Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) and coccolithophorids. Gestures and lines will be animated to describe structural changes that are being measured in these endangered life forms. Data sets from recent studies of benthos (ocean floor life) will be animated in ways that suggest what scientists know about how these newly discovered forms interact with other elements within the global ecosystem. Fragments of information collected by scientists will be animated in order to communicate a sense of unity between the parts that form a whole system.

By building on the relationships with people and institutions that grew and strengthened as a result of this project, new ways of communicating climate change information will be explored. Explorations will include setting animations to music and dance works composed by other artists and creating more animations for scientists to present with their research findings. By working with scientists and other artists, opportunities have been identified for developing new work to present to new audiences.

Methods used in the workshops will be adapted to promote more healthy ways of relating to the environment. It is common knowledge that body movement has inherent health benefits for individuals. However, there are few opportunities for people to develop a deeper understanding of the body as system of energy that has a reciprocal relationship to the environment. A practice that balances kinesthetic sensing with conscious understanding is needed. Opportunities are available to undertake research to develop such a practice for use in dance therapy and the professional development of teachers and other artists.

There is work for artists to explore new ways of communicating information about our changing climate. It is vitally important to reverse the confusion about global warming that is currently promoted in mainstream media. The greatest challenge is to stir people into action to reverse the imbalances in our ecosystem to which we all (perhaps unconsciously) contribute. Accurate expressions of information provided by scientists are needed to engage our senses to give depth to our understanding.

Postscript: The journey home


Lenton Parr, Emblem of the Victorian College of the Arts (1972)

The emblem of the Victorian College of the Arts is a form of Pentagram, a traditional symbol for the five senses. It thus refers to the various modes of perception and, by implication, to their aesthetic functions in the various arts. The five curves comprising the figure are in reality a single continuously interrelation of the several arts which the College seeks to promote.

On the day of the first lunar landing, 20 July 1969, I entered the National Gallery School of Art in Melbourne. This was the school that my great-grandfather, the painter Tom Roberts, had attended. The old school felt like home ground. I attended life drawing classes and used the same easels he would have known. Then suddenly everything changed. The school was moved and renamed.

Under the leadership of the sculptor Lenton Parr, the school was transformed to become the heart of the emergent Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). After years of directing the Australian Antarctic Division, Phillip Law guided this project as Chairman of the Victorian Institute of Colleges (VIC) (Sturgeon et al., 1984, p.25) . Law and Parr shared a vision. Training in the various disciplines of art would be integrated to form a new college so that art could become more a part of the community than was possible through 'single discipline' institutions. At the VCA I worked with other students to make experimental films that combined drawing, dance, and animation. Lectures were given that related the arts to other fields of knowledge. As a sculptor who worked with metal, Parr shared with us his deep understanding of earthly forces that provided the physical and aesthetic sources for his work. We were introduced to geology through art.

The artist Bea Maddock soon joined the VCA as a teacher. Years after I left the college she traveled as an artist to Antarctica. She said that going there was like going to the moon.

After my own Antarctic voyage and the research project that resulted in this thesis I relate to my home ground differently. I more deeply perceive and understand Earth as a delicately balanced system that we are just on the edge of knowing. I understand the meaning that our senses can bring to scientific information.

The words of a cosmonaut (Taylor Wang, China/USA, in Kelly, 1988, p.60) [footnote: Taylor G. Wang was a cosmonaut who worked on the American space expedition, Challenger 7, in April 1985. ] accord with my belief that our senses are essential for understanding climate change data in ways that can stir us to maintain the health of our home planet:

They say if you have experiments to run, stay away from the window. For me, preoccupied with the Drop Dynamics Module, it wasn't until the last day of our flight that I even had a chance to look out. But when I did, I was overwhelmed.

A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl who, upon seeing her beauty, became her protectors rather than her violators. That's how I felt seeing the Earth for the first time. 'I could not help but cherish her.'