Everything and nothing  Connectivity  Beauty of the data  Depths of wonder  Reading the ice

Antarctica is animated. Ice forms and disappears. Bits fall off, things get lost, at such a rate that it becomes difficult to describe. Veteran expeditioner, Jack Ward, wrote, 'You feel the word lives for the first time, estranged as soon as it is spoken' (Ward, 1955). 'It's all, it's all just so simple' was how glaciologist, David Carter, described the 'nothingness that is Antarctica'. Antarctica is a place of extremes and contradictions. It can be anything we imagine and it can be a void. Metaphors that use images, sounds, textures and smells, familiar from other places, may help to describe aspects of Antarctica, but as the most elusive and remote continent, a fuller sense of it requires a language of expression that draws on deeper, more elemental forms.

My research question, can animation be used to combine scientific data with subjective responses to Antarctica, uncovered these forms. I found many scientists and artists who shared the view that Antarctica is uniquely difficult to describe and that changes happening there in response to global warming are complex and not fully understood. Although climate change was not the initial focus of the project, I found that Antarctic expeditioners expressed deep feelings about the changes.

A place laid bare to the elements allows for measurements of climate change to be made (on the ground and remotely) without the usual physical distractions. Such a place also inspires elemental feelings of connection. Climate change skeptics may deny it, but Antarctic scientists have published data sets that correlate global climate change with human behaviour. Artists who have attended to these scientists and experienced Antarctica, have contributed to an iconography of global climate change with Antarctica as the focus. This project contributes to their efforts to combine perspectives only recently made available through science. Antarctic artists and scientists share an awareness of being on the edge of the unknown.

As the project evolved, it became clear that gesture and line can be used in animation to combine scientific and artistic ways of knowing. Animations were made that reflect new and ancient knowledge:

The circle, spiral, and cross are trace forms that reflect the structure of the human body in motion

These ancient choreographies can be found in energy systems that shape the natural environment

These forms can be expressed by animating the gestural qualities of scientific data

Responses to animations can expand dimensions of perception

Recognition of these primal forms adds a dimension of meaning that is an essential component of accurate communication

The Antarctic ecosystem is a structure that is unseen by most people, and yet its health is vital to the dynamic balance of the whole living Earth. To attend to its health, Antarctica needs to be better known. Elemental trace forms of gestures can communicate a sense of balance between extreme physical and psychological conditions that can be measured and felt. These forms align with Indigenous knowledge and the Gaia world view, of Earth as a living whole of which we are a part. A sense of balance can allow for considered decisions to be made about how we relate to our environment.



Everything and nothing


After returning from Antarctica, I revisited some art works that Bea Maddock had made after her Antarctic voyage, and found new depths of meaning in her lines. I recognised my brief but profound experience on Mount Henderson where I was balanced in a void between space and time.

In Maddock's Terra Spiritus, hand-written lines of Indigenous language flow over lines that describe Australian land devoid of signs of life. When I first saw the work, the lines brought to mind the continuity of Indigenous knowledge and the time when Australia was a part of Antarctica. The work now aroused in me a sense of land embodying memories of human impact. I read the lines as if they had been sung into being by the land itself. My experience of Antarctica had changed my perception.

When I first saw the vertical and horizontal lines in the pages of Maddock's artist book, To the ice, I read them as evidence of physical changes in the ice, and as signs of a personal transformation. Now they reminded me of the gesture made a scientist to describe the 'nothingness' of inland Antarctica (Carter, 2008). His arms had reached out sideways from his uplifted chest in a cross formation that resembled the crossing arrows in Eastaugh's drawing, Finding yourself lost. A cross that marks a spot can also express tension within. A cross can hold in balance contradictory conditions.

The circle provides a focus for attending to the complex Antarctic environment, and a form within which to balance feelings that oscillate between extremes. The circle expresses a sense of unity that has been felt between elements that combine to form Antarctica. For example, repeating circles in Beaumont's art work, Cocco Cone Argentina, bring to mind cycles of energy within the Antarctic ecosystem, such as the great circumpolar current that draws up nutrients from beneath the ocean to feed life forms such as those she references in her art. The circular logo that was first used by the Australian Antarctic Division communicates this intelligence with great force. Flowing line drawings of Antarctic life forms encircle lines that cross at the South Pole. As an icon inspired by lived experience, this icon was used to add depths of meaning scientific understandings of Antarctica.

The spiral form has been linked to experiences of personal transformation (Jung in Henderson, 1964, p.146). The spiral in Drury's Wind vortex has been described as an ancient sign that 'registers human presence' in Antarctica (Drury, 2007);(Gooding, 2007, p.6). This icon connects the great spiraling system of Antarctic bottom water circulation to the delicate spiral structure of minute life forms that this massive system drives to sustain.

The circle, spiral and cross express a primal sense of connection to the natural world that we are still only on the edge of understanding.

Danced and drawn lines trace flows of energy that are perceived by the moving, sensing body. Lines of force through the body can be felt as they flow through the kinesphere to connect to lines of force perceived in the environment. Choreographies of elements perceived in the environment are reflected in dances and drawings that arise from primal responses.

In Judge's dance work, Circulus Antarcticus, similar lines flow through the bodies of dancers moving together to describe Antarctica. Broad flowing brush strokes in Schmeisser's painting, I am leaving, describe flows of energy perceived in ice sculpted by Antarctic wind and water. Undulating lengths of tulle, in Juan's performance, Methane, reflect an empathic response to scientific knowledge of greenhouse gasses leaching through ice. The flowing lines of ice and tulle echo undulating forms in Pereira's maps, Vistas isometricas del Continent, that embody 'mental substance' through which she felt, in Antarctica, being a part of the whole living Earth (Pereira, 2008).

Human forms have been recognised in structures formed by Antarctic rock and ice.

Lines in Elliott's drawing, Masson Range, Antarctica, 1955, connect the twisting forces that shape Antarctic rock to the human hands that hold it. Elemental lines in Fabok's animation, Breath, reach out to the ice like nerve endings. Campbell's photograph, Ice Ghoul, gives a human face to the forces that are warming Antarctica (Campbell in McCredie, 2007, p.24, Illus.).

Expressions of bodily connections to Antarctica relate to the view, shared by Leonardo and Ruskin, that the purpose of drawing is to describe flows of energy in the physical world that connect to those within the human body (Leonardo in Teknoart, 2009);(Ruskin, 2006). They relate to Laban's proposal that there is 'a relationship between the perception of harmony and bodily structure' (Laban in Maletic, 1987, p.157) , and to the view shared by Lovelock and other scientists, that humans are a part of the global ecology that dynamically balances Life (Lovelock, 2000).

I read Antarctic texts (including data sets and art works) through what Watts describes as 'visual/kinaesthetic recall' (Watts, 1977, p.66) . I read meanings into their gestures and lines through kinesthetic senses. These readings provided stimuli for animations. Flows of feeling were perceived within Antarctic art works that I relate to flows of energy that shape Antarctica. Flows of feeling expressed through gestures and lines were recognised in responses to Antarctica that were made by expeditioners and other artists in interviews and workshops. I recognised gestural forms that relate to my body memory of Antarctica.

As I write these words I reflect on some ideas I heard discussed yesterday on the radio. Patrick White's book, The Solid Mandala, was discussed (Gallacher, 2009). The word mandala means circle. Main characters in White's book are twins whose characters reflect opposing aspects of White's own nature: one pragmatically objective, the other imaginatively subjective. The two aspects of character are not reconciled in the story. Each twin dies before connecting to the other. The story brings to life the struggle between people unable to connect. Moments in the story teeter towards connection, yet connection is never made. White dramatises the consequences of our choices between recognition and denial of natural (blood) relationships. I read this as a parable of dissociation from the environment that in reality connects us. We choose between empathic connection and destructive dissociation.

A recurring image in the story is a circle, embodied in the form of a glass marble. The marble appears and reappears, as if the possibility of unity is always present. The circular form gives readers something to hold on to, like hope of reconciliation. White warns that we may die before achieving harmony between opposing aspects of ourselves.

Following this radio discussion was a reading from Jenny Diski's book, Skating to Antarctica. Hearing her words while still contemplating White's Mandala, another connection came to mind. It had been observed in the discussion that The Solid Mandala reveals White's fear of madness - that White may have associated madness with creativity. Diski's book is similarly autobiographical. It similarly reveals anxieties about mental instability. However, through an Antarctic journey, Diski finds the space she was seeking within herself, to reconcile opposing forces. Her story is told through a dynamic balance between linear thought and circular (repeating) archetypal expressions of feeling. White sheets and white ice appear and reappear throughout her story as symbols of emotion. Gradually a line of pure thought spirals outwards from a circling series of white images. Diski returns where she had begun, with her daughter in a flat in London. Through the journey her state of dark inner tension had transformed into a state of peace and clarity.

When I asked Antarctic expeditioner, Ken Wilson, what the circle, spiral, and cross meant to him, he explained (Wilson, 2009):

Physical laws push things into circles, lines, and spirals. Unless acted upon by external forces, a drop of water will tend to circular, and an object in motion will tend to a straight line. A spiral is a circular orbit where an object is either gaining or losing energy. Inwardly spiraling objects are losing energy. Outwardly spiraling objects are gaining it.

Reflecting on this scientific explanation and Diski's poetic response convinced me of the role of primal gestural forms in bridging these ways of understanding.

This project has been characterised by such serendipitous connections. As well as being open to chance events, improvisation was consciously used in movement workshops and in my animation practice. As animator, Len Lye explains it, 'You doodle about, to isolate some feeling out of yourself' (Lye in Horrocks, no date).





  Improvised movement

Several movement workshops were conducted. The one discussed here demonstrated most clearly the value of improvisation for generating responses to Antarctica. It was conducted early in the project. No information about Antarctica was provided. Gestures, drawings, and words were generated as individual responses to an imagined place. The animation, Connectivity, was made from these responses.

Christine McMillan (visual artist), John Smith (performance artist and health practitioner), Kim Holten (visual artist) and Yoris Everearts (sculptor and arts therapist) had volunteered to participate. They were interested to explore ways of working that might extend their own practices. Their explorations fed back into my practice as an animator.

First names are used to refer to participants. This reflects the familiarity of relationships that developed. Christine, John, and Yoris knew each other from working in similar workshops that I had conducted before the project was begun. Kim is an Aboriginal artist I had met at UNSW. This was her first experience of improvised movement.

Connectivity was made using only the drawings and words that were generated in this workshop. This made it easy to assess what animation added to these responses.

We gathered in a cold basement room. The concrete floor was cold under our bare feet. Yoris said, 'It's like being in Antarctica'. We all laughed and agreed. So we knew Antarctica was cold and hard. What else? Everyone was given a soft lead pencil, sheets of white paper and a small drawing board to work on. I asked everyone to put down their immediate thoughts, in words and/or images, that came to mind when they imagined Antarctica. I asked that this be done quickly, without talking to each other, or looking at each other's work. Except for Kim, who began straight away, everyone gazed into the distance for a while before putting pencil to paper.

Words that were written within three minutes were: Space, hostile, beauty, relationships, melting, lacking man made culture (Christine); collage of impressions entirely through the media and 2nd or 3rd hand, desolation, strange feelings that arise when you are out of the mainstream (John); frozen memory, body, matter, purity - white (Yoris); timeless cellular memories, layers of history, parallels oral traditions, needs deeper understanding (Kim).

All these words described Antarctica as I knew it. Specially interesting was John's view of Antarctica as a 'collage of impressions [made] entirely through the media and 2nd or 3rd hand'. What are these impressions of Antarctica known entirely through the media? Satellite photos of the hole in the ozone layer had shown Antarctica to the world in 2002 as exposed and vulnerable (Barrow, 2008, p.162, Illus.). Recent satellite photographs have revealed the collapse of the Larsen Ice Shelf (Snow and Center, 1995-2002). The impression is that Antarctica is melting. Artists who have worked in Antarctica have connected their experience to what they have learned from scientists working there. Andrea Juan's performance, Methane, for example, gives artistic voice to scientific knowledge of greenhouse gas escaping from ice on the Antarctic peninsular (Juan, 2006, p.93).

In the cold basement room in Sydney, I observed four artists imagining Antarctica. Some described Antarctica in terms of what it is not. Antarctica, wrote Christine, is 'lacking man made culture'. By 'culture' she meant 'a long period of human history that shapes a place'. Her word 'space' suggests a lack of visible features, such as those in familiar landscapes. I read her word 'space' to mean an external, objective place, devoid of human interpretation. Her word 'hostile' suggests an extreme lack of emotional warmth, and even anger.

Some of the artists grouped their words in ways that suggest contradictory feelings. Christine's words 'melting' and 'relationships', for example, could mean the opposite of 'hostile' and 'lacking man made culture'. 'Warmth' could reflect the tender connections that people can make with each other when living in close quarters in a dangerous place. 'Melting' could mean emotional surrender or release. By combining these words I could imagine Antarctica in new ways.

Kim and Yoris wrote that Antarctica has 'memories' that are 'cellular' and 'frozen'. These words poetically describe Antarctica as a sentient being. These ideas echo the thoughts I had when revisiting Maddock's Terra Spiritus. The ice was described as an entity with knowledge of its own past - an entity that 'needs deeper understanding'. These responses echo words of Antarctic scientist, Bill Burch: '... it's the ancient air bubbles trapped in the ice which allow us to chart Gaia's atmosphere going back millions of years' (Burch, 2007). These responses accord with my own experience, and to the Gaia hypothesis that Earth is a whole living entity (Lovelock, 2000).

Some of the artists drew images alongside their words. Others wrote words as pictures.

Christine combined words with symbols by drawing them with layers of lines. Her layered lines lines echo Kim's phrase, 'layers of history'. The star-shaped form, Christine explained, represents 'being connected with everything beyond Antarctica, and how Antarctica is linked to us'. Christine said she drew the words as images to reflect these meanings. Multiple lines in the writing were drawn, she explained, to express depths of meaning beyond the page. Her lines suggest meanings that are unconscious or unknown (beyond logical understanding).

Christine McMillan, Connecting to everything and An edge to the meanings of words, Pencil on paper (2008)

Kim drew a coil which she explained represents all things in the world connecting. Her spiral form reflects Christine's word, 'relationships', by which she meant 'relationships you would have in Antarctica, with the buildings and land around you'.

Kim Holten, Connectivity, Pencil on paper (2008)

Both Christine and Kim imagined the same place with different lines used to express similar meanings. Such a strong correlation between ways of responding, in people who have not worked together before, was unexpected. Antarctica can mean similar things to different people.

After sharing responses and noting similarities and differences, I moved with the group to an improvisation score. We moved to a score aimed to generate awareness of changing shapes of spaces within and beyond our our moving bodies - in spaces that we shape in relation to the room and each other. We began by simply walking to the haunting music of Max Eastley, which he composed from sounds he had recorded in the Arctic (Eastley, 2007)[footnote: On the recommendation of Siobhan Davies (See Appendix 1D), I acquired a copy of Max Eastley's CD for this purpose. I received this from David Buckland, director of the Cape Farewell Project, London. Davis, Eastley, and Buckland had traveled together as part of this project in 2005, to work as artists in the Arctic. ]. Although not Antarctic, many tracks on the CD sound similar to those that can be heard in Antarctica.

I spoke the score slowly, with long pauses ( ... ) between sentences to allow time for people to respond at their own pace:

With eyes closed, stand still ... Gradually explore ways to feel your weight through the floor. ... Push your weight down through bended knees. Imagine, as you rise from bending, the top of your head reaching to the sky. Then, with eyes slowly opening, describe the line of an Antarctic horizon, using your arms and torso. ... Extend your gaze along that plane. ... Move towards and away from the limits of the room and each other. ... Explore straight and curving pathways through the space. Find a way to end your dance in stillness.

Because most of the artists had moved with scores before, the words 'near, far, curved, straight' may have worked just as well to achieve the same aim. However, because Kim had no experience of movement improvisation, this more extended score, was used. It provided a guided visualisation with a familiar narrative structure. I spoke the score like a story, with a beginning, middle and end.

Immediately after moving, everyone was invited to draw lines to reflect how they had moved within the spaces they had shaped and imagined. With no hesitation this time, everyone drew. Movement creates body memories through which thoughts and feelings can spontaneously flow.

Most people made several drawings in rapid succession, using many sheets of paper. Christine said she enjoyed exploring the variations in pressure she found when using a soft pencil. This reflected, she said, the feeling of her body weight pressing through her feet into the floor. She said that when drawing these lines she had remembered another workshop (which I had led before the project began) which involved feeling body weight through the soles of the feet. She said she was wanting to draw differently now, to break away from those remembered patterns, to explore other possibilities.

Christine's dance had raised her awareness of a body memory of another movement experience. She sensed that lines she drew were similar to lines she had drawn before. This memory had triggered a conscious decision to move differently now. Now her lines reflected qualities she observed within the space. Renovation work was happening in the room above us as we moved. Light was streaming down through slots in the ceiling. Patterns of light cast through long beams of wood are reflected in her drawing, Architectural response.

Christine McMillan, Architectural response, Pencil on paper (2008)

Movement improvisations, and lines drawn from this experience, embodied and combined qualities that were sensed within a particular place, and body memories of moving through other places.

John explained that his drawings represent curved and straight pathways that he made as he moved along the floor. As he danced I had observed his fluid, continuous movement, and recognised these qualities in his lines. John had used various body parts to lead himself through the space. I identified a sense of the use of peripheral gestures (lead by head, hands, feet) in one of his drawings that resembles a totem.

John Smith, Totem, Pencil on paper (2008)

Yoris made many drawings on many sheets of paper. His lines reflect discrete gestures that were punctuated by stillness. This was evident in one drawing in particular. Each line in his dance and drawing was defined by a clear beginning and end point. His lines appear sculpted, or constructed.

Yoris Everaerts, Dance gestures 01, Pencil on paper (2008)

John's and Yoris's drawings both reminded me of the totem carved by Hans the carpenter at Davis station, Antarctica. This totem has been recognised by an itinerant resident of Antarctica as 'a tribute to patience, winterers, sentinels, waiters, watchers, and direction pointers' (Bernie K. in Antdiv, 2003). Like Antarctica itself, the totem is an elemental form.

Throughout the workshop, Kim used only one sheet of paper, as if all the marks worked together to reflect a whole experience. After the movement and drawing score, Kim added the words: connectedness, unison, fusion, oneness, layers, space, wax/wane, levels, heart, breath.

Kim Holten, Connectedness fusion oneness, Pencil on paper (2008)

The drawings Kim made reflect her explorations of the room, moving through straight and curved pathways and moving her whole body. A vortex of dots and lines, in the bottom left hand side of her drawing, she explained as reflecting her awareness of spaces that were shaped through her movement between people. A physical connection is represented by three sets of concentric circles joined together with straight lines.

The clarity of forms in Kim's drawings reflect the clarity of her movement. She seemed at ease explaining her lines in words. Her page of responses reflects a balance between her thinking and feeling about Antarctica. Within a single hour of improvising, Kim had created a view of Antarctica such as I sought to achieve through hours of animating. This convinced me that simple lines can be used in dance, drawing, and animation, to communicate primal knowledge. The resemblance of Kim's drawings to other Aboriginal art works validated the view that prior knowledge can strongly shape perceptions. As Christine's responses demonstrated, this is often expressed as body knowledge.

In their danced and drawn responses to a particular place and time, the gestural forms that the artists described are universal. These gestural forms (like the spiral and totem) can express connections between present and past body knowledge that may otherwise remain unconscious.

  Improvised animation

I approached animating Connectivity as I would an improvised dance. I worked from a position of not knowing a final outcome. I composed the animation in the same way the artists had composed their gestures, words, and drawings. Connectivity is my response to what happened in a room in Sydney between some people who imagined Antarctica.

Composing an animation through improvisation is a slower process than dancing. To find a direction for the animation, I began by working as quickly as possible on its overall construction. Without questioning ideas as they came to mind, I followed those that suggested themselves as most immediately important. Ideas emerged through the placement of elements in space and time. These elements were images, words, gestures, and sound. I used the same sound for Connectivity that I had used in the workshop (Eastley, 2007, track 8).

Just as dancers position themselves in a space, so placement of lines on a screen sets up dialogues between them. Paradoxically, hours of slow work can be involved in tweaking the timing and positioning of a single line to communicate the freshness of a fleeting moment.

Words and images that seemed to resonate most immediately to simulate how gestures and lines were originally composed were animated first. Marks that each artist had made were animated with varying timings to reflect the qualities of movement I witnessed. I traced and animated their drawings to suggest the varying rhythms that are involved in the act of moving pencil on paper. Tracing the marks as closely as possible to those of the originals, I became aware of gestural qualities that were different from my own mark making. This was an interesting and unexpected aspect of working with other people's responses. This was kinaesthetic evidence of how differently we gesture in drawing as well as in dance. Tracing other people's marks, I felt shifts away from habitual patterns. This feeling opened up new ways of thinking about Antarctica. For example, while tracing lines that Christine drew, that conflated architectural features in the room with her sense of Antarctica, I could think about Antarctic ice as an architectural form.

Christine's response reminded me of an Antarctic scene described by Jack Ward in his 1955 diary, of ancient ice resembling ancient buildings (Ward, 1955, 3 August):

... deep blue veins and shadows of the fissures in the plateau ice; the more ancient than Mayan feel of the pinnacles of a domed mountain. It all is enticing and threatening; disorientating. The warm brown rock of the ice tinged mountain surreal against the deathly white of the ice plain.

Perhaps influenced by this passage of Ward's, new readings of animated marks suggested themselves readily.

The ancient totemic quality observed in John's drawing was accentuated by laying over it a mirrored version of itself. This created a symmetrical form that dramatically exaggerated its totemic nature. It created impressions of bodily structures: eye sockets in the head, rib bones in the chest, elbows and wrists, buttocks and knees, a womb, or a vagina. The idea of a totem in Antarctica resonates with Ward's idea that Antarctica is at once enticing and threatening. A sign of human presence there may be enticing. At the same time, a strange ancient form emerging as if from nowhere may be threatening.

(Left) John Smith, Totem, Pencil on paper (2008) (Right) Lisa Roberts, Connectivity, Digital animation (2008)

While moving John's words, 'strange feelings', down below this totemic form, a new meaning for this sequence came to mind: When moving from a place of not knowing, in improvised dancing or drawing, strange feelings can emerge as connections are made, that seem to come from nowhere.

The image of the totem fades and is then re-redrawn above Kim's words, 'cellular memories'. I was interested to see how the meaning of the totem might change. Now I saw the totem as a sentient being, comprised of cells that each assumed a life of its own. The internal shapes of the totem now resembled internal cell structures. This made the totem appear more solid, more embodied. Kim's words had suggested a new meaning for John's image.

This sense of solidity slowly fades. By rotating and tilting the form, and floating it off screen, the totem is now revealed as two dimensional.

Lisa Roberts, Connectivity, Digital animation (2008)

No longer grounded, the totem floats as an icon free to find new connections. Its sideways floating gesture suggested the next move. As the totem angles through space and fades away, its gesture is mirrored by an incoming cell-like form drawn by Kim. As if they share cellular memories, the forms dance together to the same spatial design and rhythmic pattern.

Like one of myriad forms of ice that can be found in Antarctica, this totem can mean different things. Depending on its relationship to surrounding elements, it can mean anything or nothing. Like the ever-changing environment of Antarctica, this can feel disorientating or threatening.

Lisa Roberts, Connectivity, Digital animation (2008)

Kim's cellular form then descends, as if to join John's words, 'strange feelings'. Crossing over Kim's form are Christine's downward flowing lines. Her layers of lines, that reflect relationships, move together as if towards some deep and unseen place. The word, 'relationships', appears to write itself on screen as if following 'connectedness' , and Kim's spiral form. Even though words and images fade from view, they remain connected in the viewer's mind.

Lisa Roberts, Connectivity, Digital animation (2008)

Yoris's discrete sculptural forms now appear. The spiraling extension of the top of his totem echoes Kim's 'connecting' spiral. Yoris's word, 'matter', appears and then fades as it descends. As I animated the fading, descending forms, the idea arose that we return to the Earth and are transformed into energy sources (such as oil) to power future forms of life.

Lisa Roberts, Connectivity, Digital animation (2008)

The 'straight-ahead' improvised animation method lends itself to free associations of ideas. How to end the animation suggested itself through a different reading of Kim's word, 'breath'. I now moved her word up, to suggest the atmosphere we breathe. This movement connects life forms (including us), whose atmosphere is regulated by unseen marine life forms.

Connectivity took three days to make. Eastley's music was added last. The sound unified our responses.

What was the value of this workshop, and the animation that resulted from it?

A dialogue occurred between some artists who reflected on Antarctica. The animation reflects something of the tenderness and delicacy of interactions between people moving through a space, attending to the meaning of Antarctica. The animation reflects a certain tentativeness about entering unknown territory, improvising in a space that was new to all of us. A resolution was found through a gradual unfolding of connecting thoughts and feelings, symbolised by the word 'breath'.

Participants recognised that the animation traced thoughts and feelings that were shared through the process of improvisation. Weeks after this workshop, Kim said she had been moved by this experience to further her idea of cellular memories. She was interested, she said, to explore what it meant in terms of her own identity. Yoris said there is value in this kind of work in his field of arts therapy. Improvisation, he said, is good for releasing feelings, and opening up new possibilities for creative expression.

The animation was displayed on the then newly forming website. A link was made to the online log that invited comments about it. Christine wrote,

I like the way you have picked up the quality of line, in my marks. I was very aware of experimenting with the pencil to try and explore it’s range of marks.

Love the variety of line you picked up, the contrast between each of our marks, then the joining of all out work together. Your addition of fade and the movement, the growing of the line, the creation, is great. It leaves lines in my mind.

Something of the subtlety of Christine's lines is reflected in a response from Simon Pockley:

I have the sound of the animation in the background. It reminds me of being cold and on watch at 2:00am on a small semi-disabled yacht in the Atlantic with the wind mounting and the others asleep. I like the way the marks overlap like things barely seen through mist and rain or even tears.

Connectivity demonstrated that simple line animations can connect people to Antarctica through association. Animated responses can evoke familiar experiences that may become attached to an unfamiliar place.


Beauty of the data


Data sets that provided stimuli for animations included:

Graphs of Milankovitch Cycles (Hodgson, 2008

Satellite images of sea ice extent (Survey, 1991)

Graphs of sea levels rising (Church, 2007)

Video footage of life on the Antarctic sea floor (benthos) (Antdiv, 2004)

Diagrams of normal development of krill (Kirkwood, 1982)

Electron scanning images of coccolithophorids (White, 2003, p.163, Illus.)

A cardiograph of a human heart (Roberts, 2008)

Gestural qualities were perceived within the data sets that suggested ways to communicate their meaning.

Data has been defined in terms of datum: 'something known or assumed as fact, and made the basis of reasoning or calculation ... Out of what Data arises the knowledge' (Oxford, 1985, p.396). Aesthetic qualities are those that are 'perceptible by the senses ... as opposed to things thinkable or immaterial' (Oxford, 1985, p.32) . These qualities are commonly associated with beauty.

When scientist Dominic Hodgson saw the animation, Glacial cycles, which represents the Milankovitch cycles, he wrote, 'I am glad you are seeing the beauty in the scientific data' (Hodgson, 2008) . I took this to mean that he saw the animation as appealing the senses. How this appeal works cannot be explained through logic. Metaphors can help.

Glacial cycles is a literal translation of lines on a flat paper graph into an animation time line

Like the drawings that were animated in Connectivity, lines on the graph appear to draw themselves. Lines on a flat paper graph are expanded through animation into the dimensions of space and time. The movement of the lines on the graph lead your eye through time, from our geological past towards our future. Beneath these lines are animated models that give a sense of Earth moving through space. Blue and yellow bands were drawn to emphasise how the forces of these cycles of Earth motion have resulted in a pattern of glacial and interglacial periods over the last 800,000 years.

Lisa Roberts, Glacial cycles, Digital animation (2008)

Lisa Roberts, Glacial cycles, Digital animation (2008)

Lisa Roberts, Glacial cycles, Digital animation (2008)

Hodgson observed (Hodgson, 2008):

From these graphs one can really see that Earth is mostly in a glacial state, and that the interglacial in which we now live is a relatively unusual event; one that has allowed our civilisation to flourish.

With its narrative structure, Glacial cycles relates the scientific data to human experience. Lines were traced from data sets that Hodgson emailed to me (Hodgson, 2008). To an eye untrained in reading scientific graphs, this animation may more clearly communicate our relationship to past climatic conditions.

Wikipedia, Milankovitch cycles, Data set referred by Dominic Hodgson (Hodgson, 2008)

Rhythmic patterns in satellite image sequences of annual changes in Antarctic sea ice were recognised as similar to the rhythmic cycles of human breath (Survey, 1991). When placed centre screen as a recurring motif in Energies, this breathing gesture works as a point of balance; it provides a focus for meditation.

A 2002 satellite image of Antarctica provided the world with a view of the hole in the ozone layer (Barrow, 2008, p.162 Illus.). Perhaps this image influenced public perceptions of Antarctica. The shape of Antarctica could now be seen by many people to resemble a fragile embryo or a human brain. The convergence of the forms, of continent, embryo, and brain, was recognised by Boissonnet and expressed in his photograph, Earth Mother is becoming Earth Child (En perdre le nord) (Boissonnet, 2008). This recognition can also been seen in Beaulieu's fabric work, Drapeaux (Fragility entry, Antarctic thesaurus, Roberts, 2007-2009).

Beaulieu's foetal-woman form appears, in Turning cycle, within the gesture of Antarctic sea ice 'breathing'. Here the whole image turns as it pulsates. This rotation shows Antarctica as the one solid pivot point of Earth's spinning. In Energies, this pulsating form is centrally aligned, and conflated with a tiny krill egg. From this circular form, and the rhythm of human breath, emerge gestural forms that describe the circumpolar current and bottom water circulation.

Boissonnet's idea of Antarctica as a brain was re-presented in Detachment. Here Antarctica emerges as the brain in the head of a human form, who in turn has emerged from the 'breathing' Antarctic sea ice.

By conflating human gestures with lines of force that shape the Antarctic ecosystem, Energies conforms to the recommendation of writer, Ian McEwan, to bring the subject of climate change 'to human scale' (McEwan in Hinton, David and Buckland, 2006).

How do krill grow? responds to the suggestion of poet, Bill Manhire, that 'Perhaps some kind of comedy, even, may be possible' to connect the public to Antarctica (Manhire, 2004, p.28 ). Although humour was used extensively in Happy Feet (Miller, 2006) , it does not work to connect people to scientific knowledge. The humour of How do krill grow? is in its reversal of perspectives: A krill emerges from its egg and asks a scientist to describe the event. Animated with diagrams drawn by scientists to identify normal krill development (Kirkwood, 1982), the animation adds a child-like sense of wonder to the data. The questioning krill is like a questioning child. This references the reality that as much as a scientist may remove himself from an experiment, he is part of the system that he observes.

Data sets of motions of krill appendages, composed by marine scientist, Uwe Kils (Kils, 1982), resemble human swimming actions. Recognising this movement helped to communicate the knowledge that krill behaviour contributes to shaping the marine environment. Similar gestures were used when animating a response to the poem, Erebus voices, by Bill Manhire. These gestures embody knowledge that actions of creatures impact on the environment. In Manhire's poem, people who died fall into the ice, to each become a part of Antarctica. They return to the Earth from whence all life emerges.

To explain changes happening in the Antarctic environment, earth scientist, Rodolfo del Valle, used the metaphor of a swinging hammock thrown out of kilter (del Valle in Juan, 2008, p.95). This metaphor reflects an empathic sensory response to changes happening to natural cycles of climate change. A sense of this disruption from a natural oscillation is communicated in Erebus voices. The irregular line that traces an actual heart beat also represents crevasses, and the sudden disruption of the lives of people who die in the ice.

In Herzog's film, Encounters at the end of the world, geologist, Douglas R. MacAyeal, explains how perceptions of Antarctica have changed since the advent of satellite imagery: 'we scientists now are able to see the ice as a dynamic living entity that is sort of producing change, like the icebergs that I study' (MacAyeal in Herzog, 2007) . MacAyeal describes a dream he had in Antarctica: 'Below my feet' , he exclaims, 'I can feel the rumble of the iceberg; I can feel the change, the cry of the iceberg'.

MacAyeal's response to ice accords with that of retired radio operator, Jack Ward, who wrote, 'A long whine, almost a horse's whinny, comes from the ice, and at times strangely like a bird call' (Ward, 1955). The animation, Ice sound, was made silent to allow viewers to imagine their own sound.

Many responses to Antarctica are reflected in Energies. Thoughts and feelings expressed by scientists, support personnel and other artists, were combined. Although not all responses reflect knowledge of climate change, they raise awareness of Antarctica that may lead to deeper understandings.

Communicating the knowledge and experience of many people is closely aligned with recommendations made by environmental scientist, Susanne C. Moser.

After her research into how to create 'a climate for change', Moser recommends that a 'grand positive vision' is needed, that

... may well be something that no one creates but eventually emerges out of a myriad of images, stories, and on-the-ground efforts in developing alternatives (lifestyles, technologies, behaviours, environments, communities, institutions, etc.) (Moser, 2007, p.75).

Although not representing 'lifestyles, technologies, behaviours, environments, communities, institutions, etc.', animations emerged out of 'a myriad of images, stories, and on-the-ground efforts' of people who shared their knowledge of Antarctica. Animations contribute to building a 'grand positive vision' in the public imagination. The natural world is presented as dynamic, whole, and a beautiful environment worth maintaining.

Depths of wonder


Some of the expeditioners that I interviewed had preconceived ideas that I would mainly be seeking information about their aesthetic responses. This was understandable because the consent form that I asked participants to sign informed them that,

I hope to learn how Antarctic base workers have observed and recorded of changes in the landscape, from scientific and/or imaginative perspectives, and how these can be interpreted through animation.

I had prepared this form before realising that calling Antarctica a landscape may predispose people to mainly describing their aesthetic perceptions. Antarctic scholar, Brigid Haines, had described the 'frontier myth as the romantic beauty of a wild landscape [that] had the power to move people into a transcendence of their ordinary selves', and suggested that this myth may predispose people to heroic self perceptions (Hains, 2002, p.78) . My feeling was that applying the idea of landscape to Antarctica may also favour this perception.

I made it clear to participants, at the start of all interviews, that I was interested to know about their experience of Antarctica. I asked what work they did there, and listened and watched for clues about what impact the environment may have had on them. Although many expeditioners referred to Antarctica as a landscape, none identified themselves as heroes. Most expressed humility about being fortunate to work there.

Some scientists spoke at length about their feelings for Antarctica, but refused to participate in recorded interviews. Others were happy to talk about anything but Antarctica. However, participants were mostly articulate and passionate about their science programs and were also willing to talk about their experience in the ice.

Marine biologist, Steve Nicol, expressed a perception that is both aesthetic and scientific (Appendix 1E):

I think that in order to do the sorts of things that we do, we have to have some sort of appreciation for what goes on out there, some sort of feel for it. But there is also an understanding that you have to in some way detach yourself from the natural world in order to study it. So when you're setting up a laboratory experiment you try and avoid introducing bias into it through what you're doing, and so there is that deliberate attempt to remove yourself from the experiment.

Human interests do, of course, play a part in all research. These interests can be commercial and aesthetic. The abundance of krill in Antarctica, for example, is of commercial interest (as a valuable source of food). That representations of krill have changed in recent years, 'from beautiful creatures to particles' may well serve the interests of those who perceive krill only as a resource.

The story that Nicols tells, of his first sighting of live krill, demonstrates his feelings about krill as beautiful creatures (Nicol, 2009). His story adds emotional depths of meaning to his presentations of scientific and practical information about them (Nicol, 2008). It was no surprise to hear him say that, as well as being beautiful, krill are delicious to eat. Some scientists promote the consumption of krill as an alternative to the larger species of marine life forms that are more endangered [footnote: In separate conversations with marine scientists Jaime Gmez-Guti rrez and Rob King, Sydney 2009.


The Aboriginal belief, of living forms as totems, serves the utilitarian purpose of maintaining a food supply. Spiritual knowledge supports practical knowledge of how food supplies can be maintained. Totemic forms provide a focus for reflecting on our connections to the land. Perhaps if our perceptions of the world are more balanced, we may care more about maintaining it.

Hearing the feeling within the voices of scientists when they described their knowledge was sometimes the impetus for making animations. Nicol's story of watching live krill was the impetus for animating Krill watching. The drifting layered lines of its choreography refer to the continuity between krill and the environment that he described. Animated drawings that I later made from observing live krill dance to Nicol's voice telling the story that inspired his scientific career.

The unified perspective conveyed in this animation, does not, it seems, reflect how most scientists perceive krill. This may be because the scientists who study them do not have the time to observe them directly.

Marine biologist, Rob King, said that I probably saw more of krill than he ever has, during all the years he has worked with them (Roberts, 2010). As a krill scientist, he said, he is busy with experiments and data analysis; there is no time to observe krill behaviour. The krill animations I made from direct observations were of value, he said, for helping connect people to his scientific presentations. King screened How do krill grow? to audiences around Australia during his presentations with the climate change road show, Polar Palooza (Palooza, 2009) . He said they were well received, particularly by school teachers and students.

Scientists may understand that krill are part of larger systems of energy, but the scientific method only allows them to observe and describe fragments of these systems. Animations offer scientists ways of knowing their subjects in ways that are not easily available to them.

Some scientists who were interviewed said that their views were objective, yet subjective feelings about the environment were evident in the ways they spoke about it. Sometimes this was detected in tones of voice. Sometimes it was observed in gestures. Dominic Hodgson had explained that he was too busy working in Antarctica to 'indulge' in feelings about it (Appendix 1C). However, when he described the threats to rare Antarctic breeding grounds when new research stations are built in Antarctica, strong feelings were identified in his tone of voice and gestures. Working scientists did not seem to express their feelings as freely as those who had retired, but there were exceptions.

Mexican marine biologist, Jaime Gomez-Gutierrez, expressed high excitement about the dynamic systems of energy within the Antarctic ecosystem and recognised these in the animations. He exclaimed, 'I am carry myself over excited with your work' (Gomez-Gutierrez, 2009) ;(Gomez-Gutierrez, 2008).

Veteran expeditioners, Fred Elliott and Jack Ward, most freely shared their feelings about Antarctica. They joked, in our first meeting, that this was because they were 'not very manly' (Appendix 1A). Elliott and Ward had been part of the all-male community that helped define Antarctica's Mechanical era and cautioned that their aesthetic views were not typical of expeditioners of that time. At least, they qualified, such feelings were not expressed. Elliott described an 'out of body experience' in which he floated above himself, as if he were a part of the great forces that shape Antarctica. Ward described the sound of Antarctic wind as having a life of its own, and sang softly to mimic its 'breath'.

Retired radio operator, Colin Christiansen, described a lull in the wind on Heard Island. Although his words describe an objective observation, strong feelings of attachment to the place can be heard in his voice in Heard lull.

Retired glaciologist, David Carter, freely expressed feeling about the 'nothingness that is Antarctica' (through gesture), and revealed that he continues to evoke that experience to relieve a 'frenetic sense that gets out of control sometimes' (Carter, 2008).

When heard together at the Imagining Antarctica and Sur Polar conferences, voices of artists and scientists offered depths of understanding to both disciplines. More opportunities to share knowledge across disciplines may result in more art work that combines different views.

Although some expeditioners (scientists and artists) were proprietorial about their data and imagery, when the aim of the project was made clear, their concerns dissipated. The reticence of some scientists to express the very feelings that drive their research indicates there is room for artists to communicate these feelings for them.

Reading the ice


Utterly isolated here, as on another planet from what we see about us ... and the silence is accentuated by the scene, and the scene intensifies the silence. You feel estranged. The word lives for the first time, as soon as it is spoken. A long whine, almost a horse's whinny comes from the ice and at times strangely like a bird call (Ward, 1955).

Antarctica is possibly the place perceived through the least number of senses. Ward's unexpected metaphors describe the unexpected sound of ice moving through silence. His words were the impetus for an animation and an engraved Perspex art work. His words were read, drawn and danced in improvisation workshops, and a poem was composed by another artist in response to the animation.

When first seeing Ward's words and reading them aloud, I imagined high-pitched cries of ice slicing through snow. Ward's words prompted a complex mixture of thoughts and feelings. To animate this response, thin straight lines were moved through a mass of tiny dots, as if piercing through profusions of ice crystals. Dots were made to dance with high, free-flowing energy, to change direction and move with what Laban describes as a Slash Effort Action (Laban in Exiner and Kelynack, 1994, p.68). Slowly the dots were combined. With a Glide Effort Action, the dots were moved together directly through the space, and cut through by straight horizontal lines.

Lisa Roberts, Ice Sound, Digital animation (2007)

I used Laban's terms to think about the choreographies of gestural forms as they evolved in animations. They helped to make visible my sense of Antarctica as a place, not a landscape encumbered with familiar associations. Using Laban's neutral words helped to bring to life (animate) Ward's elemental Antarctica. Once this sense was recognised and embodied, neither Ward's nor Laban's words were needed. There came a point when my unconscious body memories of Antarctica surfaced.

Ice Sound was choreographed with long, thin horizontal lines, and slow, sustained gestures. The lines and gestures embody the vast breadth and depth of Antarctic space. Ice Sound reappears in the Ice sequence within the Elements interface (Appendix 7), where it plays below Elliott's words (Appendix 1A):

... the effect on the oceans of the moon's force of gravity caused this vast ice sheet over the sea to move up and down with the oceanic tides ...

Ward and Elliott experienced Antarctica together. Each described the effects of the motion of ice. Ward described it through the metaphor of bird sound. Elliott described it as a statement of fact. When viewed beside Elliott's words, Ice Sound evokes the gravitational pull between the earth and moon or possibly a bird call.

As the teacher K. Yeo had explained, 'It is not through one single image or story that the [Antarctic] experience is understood, but through the collection, the build up, the layers, the retelling, that an experience is shared' (Yeo, 2008). In response to watching Ice Sound, Yeo's student Aidan Davis wrote a poem, Iceberg (Davis, 2007).

Davis's words are similarly arranged in horizontal lines with a hard edge on one side and jagged on the other. When viewed on its side, rotated to the right, the poem resembles two tabular, or flat-topped, icebergs.

Raw untamed

Thoughts contained

Within shapes, products

of the imagination, restricted

by the confines of language, words.

The true purity of unsubjected thought hidden.

Behind carefully deranged symbols and punctuation

Complete communication of pure thought is impossible.

The global warming of thoughts into language. Smoothing

Edges and creases into a homogeneous disembodied

thought, now easily manipulated within the

confines of language. Single streams

of once pure thoughts, now

linear, unrecognisable.

Metaphors and rhythms in Davis's poem express internal sensory impulses that defy translation through the linear logic of words. Davis describes icebergs as both 'ethereal' and 'buoyant', or light and solid. Thoughts, which the icebergs symbolise, are described as 'untamed' and 'contained'. Through the confines of linear thought, or 'language', his poem argues, the true meaning of Antarctic ice is impossible to describe. Language is used to smooth over the reality of global warming.

Davis's response to the animation reflects my reading of Ward's words and my experience of Antarctica. His response demonstrated that a choreography of simple dots and lines can communicate a sense of what Antarctica means to many people. To physically embody Davis's poetic response, his words were engraved into Perspex. Engraved in cursive script, like the Aboriginal language in Maddock's Terra Spiritus, the lines of his poem flow as if through water. Appearing through transparent layers, the lines resemble his streams of 'pure thoughts' frozen within glacial ice. The 'pure thoughts' that Davis describes are not fleeting emotions, but the 'feeling' explained by the poet, Vincent Buckley, as something through which a person becomes attached to actuality (Buckley in Exiner and Kelynack, 1994, p.31).

Lisa Roberts, Oceanic Minds, Engraved Perspex sheets and acrylic thread (2007)

Ice Sound communicates the meaning of the 'ice cap' experience described by glaciologist, David Carter, in the animation, Nothingness.

Lines engraved in the art work, Sounds like bird calls come from the ice, combine these thoughts and feelings about ice with my memories of looking down slots (crevasses) in Antarctica.

Lisa Roberts, Sounds like bird calls come from the ice, Engraved Perspex with acrylic inlay (2009)

Vertical lines and ethereal blue are my memories of their depth. These memories were further deepened by reading Ward's story of his experience of a crevasse (Ward, 1955, 2 May):

I went back carefully and saw that the slot was deep, not well filled with snow, and radiantly blue below and felt inclined to worship it - the hungry depth of wonderful colour.

The colours of Antarctica are difficult to describe. This Perspex work was one of many that were made to be lit from beneath with LED lights. The lights project an ethereal glow that emanates through glacial ice. Dots and lines trace the slow streaming motion of a glacier. The cross form of the small figure below the lines refers to Elliott's out of body experience. Suspended above the vast ice plateau, Elliott described witnessing 'a dispassionate view of being one very small part of a vast powerhouse' (Appendix 1A).

A sense of being part of the flow of natural forces can be found in the work of artist, Pamen Pereira. The objective of her work, Vistas isometricas del continente (Isometric views of the Antarctic continent from the Weddell Sea), was to

... interpret the interior shape of a landscape that shows opposites simultaneously - void and plenitude, finite and infinite, freezing and boiling, visible and invisible, light and darkness. To reach its internal structure and to understand the relationship between the immanence and transcendence of the consciousness through matter and its divine resonance (Pereira, 2008).

When I first encountered Pereira's work I felt confronted by its intensity. I recognised its 'oceanic' feeling (Freud, 1946, p.9), which neuroscientist, Bolte Taylor, explains this as a right brain activity (Bolte Taylor, 2008, p.30):

Moments don't come and go in a rush, but rather are rich with sensations, thoughts, emotions, and often, physiological responses. Information processed in this way allows us to take an immediate inventory about the space around us and our relationship to that space ... The present moment is a time when everything and everyone are connected together as one.

Such extreme expressions challenged my desire for balance between equally important ways of knowing: through bodily sense and linear thought. A sense of balance was achieved by extending my arts practice to accurately trace data sets and combine these with trace forms of improvised subjective responses.

Stephen Muecke had observed that the natural environment 'does not have an inherent meaning' (Muecke, 1984, p.12). Rather, 'the meanings ... are constructed in language, that is, in dialogues which have a certain purpose or direction based on the sorts of signs, appropriate to their knowledge, which different people see in the country'.

Dialogues with Antarctic expeditioners, scientists, and other artists, revealed an iconography expressive of their knowledge: scientific data sets, statements, verbal and visual metaphors, tones of voice and gesture. Signs of meaning were recognised, recorded, and animated to form a lexicon of primal gestural forms. These forms were combined to communicate accurate information through a language of gestures and lines that appeals to our kinesthetic senses.

'While the empathic kinaesthesia can be explained, it is something with potential to reach both dancer and audience that is beyond words' (de Leon, 2009). Animations that communicate scientific data with gestural forms can (like dances) reach an audience at a primal (pre-verbal) level.