... towards an iconography
Indigenous cultures have long established languages of gestures and line drawings with 'performance flows' that correlate with 'the vitality of the shapes, sounds and movements in and of the landscape' (Magowan, 2005, p.62). Gestures and lines can be used to communicate intelligence of forces at work in Antarctica and a primal sense of connection to those forces.
The practice of artist, Jorg Schmeisser, is closely aligned to an Indigenous perspective. His painted lines trace a primal response to the environment. To explain his approach to painting in Antarctica, Schmeisser cites the advice he received from a teacher.
Now imagine you are in a little boat, put on an island; the big ship leaves in three-quarters of an hour. You have to draw the things that are important to you, and there has to be a clarity in what you do, of what you see or feel about it (Schmeisser in Andrews, 2007, p.228).
In Schmeisser's painting, I Am Leaving (2002) (Schmeisser in Andrews, 2007, p. 239, Illus.)(Figure 3.1), a large swift brush stroke that bleeds colour into paper embodies an empathic response to an ice berg. The painted line appears to trace the flows of energy that shaped it.
Just as a dancer can use her body to trace lines of force within her kinesphere, a visual artist can use pencil and paint to trace lines that are similarly perceived. Through the kinesphere that surrounds us we can sense being a part a whole complex system.
The word environment means '[t]he action of environing; the state of being environed ... the conditions or influences under which any person or thing lives or is developed' and the verb, to environ, is defined as meaning 'To form a ring around, surround, encircle ... to go around in a circle' (Shorter Oxford Dictionary, 1985, p.667). The circle is a primal trace form of movement towards completion or wholeness. Circular motifs symbolise unity. Paleo-botanist, Mary E. White describes Earth as a whole system, where
The Biosphere works on cause and effect, action and reaction, because it is an intricately connected system like a huge machine. But it is a machine that is almost beyond human comprehension. It is the Biosphere that ultimately sets the rules for the survival of individual organisms of all sorts, including us, here and now (White, 2003, p.xiv).
The image of the world on the cover of the book, Earth Alive! From Microbes to Living Planet (Figure 3.2), is presented as a symbolic object. White explains that the image of Earth is 'green-tinted because it runs on photosynthesis, floats in an ocean of viruses and bacteria, symbolising the importance of microbes in maintenance of Life-friendly conditions' (White, 2003, p.xvi ). The unifying image of the circle, and the conflation of macro and micro scales, provides an icon of our relationship to the Earth as a whole living system.
Chris Drury http://www.chrisdrury.co.uk/home.htm
Explosions in glacial ice bounce back sound waves that are registered by an instrument to produce echograms (Figure 3.3)(Appendix 1F). The undulating lines of echograms are used to measure changes in the global climate over time (Hodgson, 2008). The same lines resemble the flowing motion of glacial ice. An aesthetic reading of an echogram can provide a sense of Antarctica as a dynamic system.
In Chris Drury's art work, Explorers at the Edge of the Void (2007) (Figure 3.4), words have been written by hand on an echogram (Drury in Gooding, 2007, p.32, Illus.). Between the lower lines of the image are names of scientists and explorers, written and re-written: Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole; astronomer Robert Woodrow Wilson, who led the way to the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe; physicist Max Planck, founder of the quantum theory; quantum physicist David Bohm, who made significant contributions in the fields of theoretical physics, philosophy and neuropsychology. Above the layers of names, are written the words 'nothing', 'everything', 'theory of everything' and 'theory of nothing', repeated over and over. Above everything is an obscure jumble of mathematical symbols.
Lines of an echogram describe geological time and evoke human presence. According to arts writer, Mel Gooding,
Chris Drury is foremost among those artists who have realised that the human organism, and the social systems that sustain human culture in every sense of that word, and which are served by instrumental science and technology, constitute a reality continuous with the wider ecosystem of the earth as a whole; the human and the natural are not separable from each other, but are each part of the other (Gooding, 2007, p.2).
'We ourselves are nature', Drury writes (Drury in Gooding, 2007, p.2). He explains this perspective in terms of
the strange Zen-like world of particle physics, which puts man and his thinking as part of the equation, rather than outside it. This is something which has always intrigued me and it struck me that this century of research into the smallest and largest Universes went hand in hand with the exploration of the last uncharted place on Earth: Antarctica. Plank, Scott and Shackleton were all contemporary explorers (Drury in Gooding, 2007, p. 30-31).
Drury's photographic work, Wind vortex (2007)(Figure 3.5), shows how wind is forced into spiral forms by nunataks (Drudy in Gooding, 2007, p.22, Illus.). A nunatak is the top of a mountain that protrudes from the ice (Hince, 2000, p.243). Drury drew a spiral in the ice by driving a skidoo (snowmobile), over lines that were plotted on a map and then transferred to a GPS (Drury in Gooding, 2007, p.23). 'Afterwards', he explains, 'I parked the skidoo and climbed the side of the nunatac to take photos. By the following day the drawing had gone with the wind'. Gooding describes this, and similar works that Drury made in Antarctica, as 'evocative, necessarily temporary, interventions' in the landscape (Gooding, 2007, p.6). He identifies these drawings as 'ancient signs that register human presence'.
In Wind Vortex, the spiral traces lines of force within an energy system; the flow of katabatic winds from the central ice plateau. The word katabatic comes from the Greek word 'descending'. Drury's spiral describes both an actual force and a subjective sense of it. By tracing a line from a plotted graph, Drury used planar and global geometries to transform a space into a site of primal iconic engagement.
The spiral is recognised by Indigenous scholar of linguistics, Bryan Fricker, as one of the 'semantic primitives' (Fricker, 2010). 'The circle, spiral and cross', he explains, are the 'irreducible building blocks of all communication, in gestural, visual, and written language'.
Drury's instinct had led him to Antarctica to seek 'an absolute connection of the inner energies and forms of the body to those that govern ultimate systems' (Drury in Gooding, 2007, p.5). Drury had anticipated that his experience in Antarctica 'could act as a kind of bench mark of the macrocosm to which I could compare and link my findings in the microcosm: flow patterns and processes in the body ... I needed this experience to enter my very bones'.
Andrea Juan's performance installation, Methane (2005)(Figure 3.6), interprets the untimely release of methane gas from Antarctic ice due to sea levels rising (Juan, 2006, p.93-98).
Earth scientist, Rodolfo del Valle, had explained to Juan that
Through the increase of the greenhouse gas affect, we are causing the temperature to rise too much and just in the middle of a rising cycle - this might break the cycle. I believe this additive interference is already dangerous. Nature might be unable to restore the balance (Juan, 2006, p.95).
Juan combines a scientist's insights with her sensory knowledge, of
Fog, inaccessibility, the loneliness of that frozen geography invaded by the fluorescent emanations of toxic gasses which desperately flow into its surface (Juan, 2006, p.101).
In his presentation at the 2008 Sur Polar conference of Antarctic art and science in Buenos Aires, del Valle used line drawings and a gestural metaphor to describe changes happening in Antarctica (del Valle, 2008) ;(del Valle in Juan, 2008). His drawings (Figure 3.7) explain that as the sea warms and rises, ice melts, allowing methane gas to escape from previously frozen soil.
Like frames for an animation sequence, del Valle's images represent change and transformation. They demonstrate that simple lines can describe a complex process. In Juan's, Metano Methane, (Figure 3.8) lines of tulle between performers and the ice metaphorically connect the actions of humans to the process of climate change (Juan, no date). Juan's work shows the process of change through a choreography of dancers within tulle shaped by wind. The wavy line is a trace form evident in the echograms, the wind in the tulle, and the scientist's drawing.
Juan's art provides a sense of the idea expressed by del Valle, that
Man is part of nature. Everything is natural, we are all natural we are not extra or supernatural. Whatever man does is natural since he himself is a product of nature, but he still has to learn how to live in harmony with it (del Valle in Juan, 2006, p.97).
To explain the impact of our actions on natural climate change cycles, del Valle uses the metaphor of a father swinging his child in a hammock, where
He swings the kid cyclically, with a certain rhythm, not at random - otherwise, the hammock would twist, the child would fall ... and the game would be over. I believe there's more and more evidence that we are 'twisting the chain of the hammock' (del Valle in Juan, 2006, p.95).
For del Valle, art is an essential part of human life.
Life has always evolved and was able to overcome adversity. Life is the planet itself; all planet Earth means life. We are all rooted and adjusted. We need the Earth, we need ice, air, pure water. We need all that on which we live, for we also live on art, on music - everything is part of life (del Valle in Juan, 2006, p.98).
Beaumont explains that
Coccolithophorids are calcareous plankton. The shells of these plankton formed sedimentary layers that created the 'White Cliffs of Dover'. These plankton exist in our oceans today. However, like many marine plankton, their existence is threatened by climate change due to excess carbon dioxide acidifying our oceans. The acid erodes the calcareous scales of these plankton (Beaumont in Roberts, 2008).
White reports that 'Astronomical numbers' of these forms, 'contribute to sea floor deposits that tie up carbon in sediments' (White, 2003, p.179). These are, she says, 'likely to be the largest single carbonate sink in marine biogeochemical cycles ...' (White, 2003, p.39).
The circular forms of coccolithophorid scales, and the spherical form of the creature as a whole, contributed to the development of an animated icon of interconnection. Beaumont's bracelet, Masked minutae Illusion (2007), reminiscent of Joyce Campbell's Ice ghoul, includes black and white images of diatoms (Beaumont, no date, Illus.). Diatoms are one of many kinds of microscopic marine algae (White, 2003, p.20). Contrasts within the black and white images reflect Beaumont's sense of Antarctica as
a land of contrasts and contradictions largely due to the extremes of weather: the changes in the quality of the light within a day; the clear blue skies contrasting with the grey/whiteout of a blizzard. The silence and stillness versus the howling winds and blowing snow (Beaumont in Roberts, 2007).
These contrasts can be seen in Beaumont's work, Masked Illusion (2007). The resemblance of these images to human masks suggests something hidden.
By embedding photos within Acrylic, Beaumont's aim was to
give depth to the images as if viewed from the surface of the ocean. When viewed from an angle, the image is slightly distorted, similar to the distortion of objects viewed through water. The works thereby create an 'illusion' of the image (Beaumont, 2007).
The title and appearance of Masked minutae Illusion invite metaphorical readings. That the masks are black and appear human suggests that things may not be as they should be. The circular form of the bracelet suggests the force of the circumpolar current, similar forms within the Antarctic ecosystem, and a sense of a whole system. The art work reflects a scientist's deep concern about the health of the environment.
At the 2008 conference on Antarctic arts, Imagining Antarctica, marine scientist Steve Nicol lamented the decline in recent years of images that depict krill as living creatures (Nicol, 2008). Nicol's presentation appealed to the senses by through pictures and stories.
'The word krill', he explained, 'supposedly comes from the sound that a school makes when skittering across the water's surface'. Nichol provided an eye witness account, reported by F. D. Ommaney in 1938, as an example of early perceptions of krill as beautiful creatures:
The 'krill' is a creature of delicate and feathery beauty, reddish brown and glassily transparent. It swims with that curiously intent purposefulness peculiar to shrimps, all its feelers alert for a touch, tremulously sensitive, its protruding black eyes set forward like lamps (Ommaney in Nicol, 2008).
Not all scientists today are blind to the beauty of their subjects. Figure 3.11 shows a photograph of a krill taken by marine scientist Uwe Kils. His image fits Ommaney's poetic description (Kils, 1982, Illus.).
However, Nicol argued that most scientists today describe krill in terms of their biomass, warning that '[t]he inability to recognize krill as individual, autonomous, macroscopic animals means that their conservation might be jeopardised'. The wellbeing of Krill may be threatened by the limitations of scientific perceptions. A purely utilitarian perspective may promote a perception of Antarctica, not as a living environment, but as an ecological nullius for human exploitation.
Figure 3.12 illustrates Nicol's point that
The most distinctive aspect of an organism is often its behaviour. This is difficult to observe once the animal is removed from its environment, artificially amalgamated with a group of dissimilar organisms and then preserved in formalin (Nicol, 2008).
While full colour photographs may provide more visual information, simple lines that describe the beauty of krill movement are actively engaging. Kils took underwater photographs from which he traced lines that identify the swimming motions of krill (Kils, 1982, Illus.). One of his data sets (Figure 3.13) shows that krill appendages move with soft, medium, and intense beats.
As well as communicating information about krill motion, these data sets resemble the gestures of a human swimming. When human gestures are recognised within data sets, primal connections can promote deeper understanding.
To arrive at his diagrams of krill motion, Kils used
a dark field illumination system: living krill were gently squeezed between two glass plates underwater to fix the animal in space, while they continued with pleopod [appendage] movements. During the movement the position of the bristles was recorded by a very short flashlight ... [on] high resolution film material with precision optics - the setup was especially ray-traced, corrected and constructed for this Antarctic mission (Kils, 1982).
Rather than setting up a computer to ray-trace filmed motion, similar qualities of line can be achieved by tracing by hand over individual frames of video recordings. Although greater accuracy may be achieved with ray tracing, more of a sense of life can be achieved through hand-drawing. Marks that result from hand-tracings register the gestures of the hand.
Kils produced images that show changes in the flow of water around krill as they swim using different degrees of energy (Figure 3.13). 'The length of the arrows is a measure for the flowing speed' (Kils, 1982, Illus.). The diagrams represent krill as part of a marine system. Arrows trace flows of energy produced by krill moving through water that indicate that krill actively shape the environment.
Most Antarctic life forms exist within the marine environment. This makes them difficult to observe. Nicol argues that biologists can more easily observe connections between animals and their terrestrial environments to obtain a 'big picture' overview, whereas marine biologists are reliant on sampling tools that
most often provide us with a more remote impression of marine communities, and most often produce homogenised samples of dead animals from which we have to try to reconstruct living ecosystems (Nicol, 2003, p.199).
Although work has begun on a global census of marine life (Tre Crist, Darlene and Harding, 2008), there is still much work to be done to obtain an overview of the oceans. A sense of the whole needs more than scientific diagrams and graphs of biomass. It needs a communication medium that engages the senses. Kils's images of krill motion may be unique within the field of marine biology.
The beauty of krill is in some way dependent on our recognition of the gestural qualities of their movement without anthropomorphic bias. Drawings of live krill and drawings traced from video recordings can also be combined with other data sets to visualise what is known of their relationships to other elements that shape Antarctica.
Satellite images of Earth are potent icons of forces at work in Antarctica. Figure 3.15 shows a large hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica (NASA, 2009). Although ozone forms a 'tiny trace element in the Earth's atmosphere', its presence is 'vital for our survival' (Barrow, 2008, p.163). As well as showing the delicate ozone layer, the shape of Antarctica resembles a fragile embryo. This confluence of forms makes Antarctica a potent icon of humanity's relationship to Earth.
John D. Barrow, Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Cambridge University, proposes that this image
shows the power and importance of satellite images of the Earth's surface from nearby space. For the first time in human history we have the capability to evaluate the impact of global effects around the Earth's surface in real time (Barrow, 2008, p.165).
Although it took some years before scientists worked out the significance of what they were measuring, 'international bans on CFCs and related chemicals were negotiated by the United Nations in 1996' (Barrow, 2008, p.164-165). This image may have contributed to people acting to reverse the damaged ozone layer. The hole became an icon of a fragile Earth. The size of the hole was simply frightening. The simple image of the hole was easy to understand. This made the image believable.
It is likely that this image reawakened public awareness of Antarctica. Following the Heroic Era there had been a the lull in interest.
Figure 3.16 shows an online interactive interface produced by scientists at the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) (Antdiv, 2004).1
1See Bibiography to access this image on-line to view it more clearly (from the AAD Data Centre).
Data sets in various combinations show relationships between the movements of species within the sub-antarctic region of Heard Island. From the 15th December 2003 to 13th February 2004, satellite data was gathered from tracking devices deployed on a range of animal species so that researchers could analyse the predatory food web in the region (Gales and Constable, 2005).
The interactive interface, Heard Island Deployment 2003/04, can be read at a glance as a jumble of coloured lines. Closer inspection reveals a legend that explains which lines track the movements of particular species. Data selection options are provided to reveal or hide different tracks. Display options reveal or hide layers of other information, including lines of latitude and longitude and place names.
Computer programmer, Dave Watts, who helped develop the interface, explains that
The general public can look at that and say, 'Oh wow'. But really, to get the impression of how the sea ice is changing and where the animals are going, and what they interact with, is relatively hard to do when you've got raw data. So by combining them all together you can actually do something. And if you have that quite big you can actually work out things like how far the penguins are away from the ice edge, or other useful hot spots, at any particular point in time (Watts, 2009).
Lines of data represent interactions. A non-scientist may make sense of this data at a purely visual level. We may imagine ourselves moving along the lines as we would when tracking our journey on a map. During my journey to Antarctica I had traced the motion of my body relative to the ship by holding a pen on a sheet of paper. The trace forms on the paper closely resemble the movement of animals around Heard Island. While this resemblance can be open to challenge, the recognition of patterns in seemingly unrelated situations can prompt unexpected insights. For example, connections may be recognised between ways that humans and machines perceive and measure. This kind of response to data seems intuitive. It relates to the aesthetic appeal of fractal images that reveal structures that are similar at different scales of magnification (Barrow, 2008, p.381) See Figure 3.17.
Such images as this can lead us to imagine structural similarities at all scales of the known world. They may lead us to seek order within what may first appear as chaotic gestures and lines. Studies of complex systems have led to poetic images such as the beating of a butterfly's wings, 'flapping somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, that sets off a thunderstorm on the other side of the world' (Cotterell and Pettifor, 2000, p.34).
From studies of Earth as a complex system of interacting parts, the gestural form of a small flying creature has arisen as an icon of our sensitively balanced global ecosystem.
In Figure 3.18, satellite images show Antarctica as a whole dynamic entity. These United States Geological Survey (USGS) data sets show an annual cycle of sea ice expanding and contracting around the Antarctic continent (Survey, 1991). The satellite data tracks annual changes in sea ice extent. When viewed as a sequence, it's rhythm is like breathing. Removed from its geophysicality as an abstract form of regular pulse and rhythm, it becomes an icon for the pulse of life.
In Werner Herzog's film, Encounters at the End of the World, geophysicist Douglas R. MacAyeal is interviewed in front of a time lapse sequence of satellite images of Antarctic ice bergs, where he says,
Unlike Scott and Shackleton, who viewed the ice as this sort of static monster that had to be crossed to get to the South Pole, 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 overgeneralises. Heroic-Era expeditioner Morton Moynes describes the continent as 'a slow-brained sentient being ... Deceptively solid and lifeless, but actually full of movement and change, with a low, amoebic vitality ... I could think of it as something alive' (Moyes, 1964, p.20).
In Herzog's film, MacAyeal describes a dream in which he is
again walking across the top of B15 [the name given to the huge iceberg that calved from the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000] ... Below my feet I can feel the rumble of the iceberg. I can feel the change, the cry of the iceberg. ... Now our comfortable thought about Antarctica, as static, is over. Now we're seeing it as a living being. It's dynamic. It's producing change, change that it's broadcasting to the rest of the world, possibly in response to what the world is broadcasting down to Antarctica. Certainly on a gut level it's going to be frightening to watch what happens to these babies [the icebergs].
Making sense of patterns in data is not restricted to satellite sensing. By looking up at the southern sky, Lancaster-Brown, created his own iconography.
It has been observed that in written English, when several adjectives are used to describe a thing, these are naturally ordered from subjective to objective (Cotte, 1996, p.136). It seems that we intuitively describe how a thing makes us feel before we describe its physical form. This phenomenon can be observed in the report of Nobu Shirasi's first report of sighting of the Antarctic ice barrier, which was initially described as 'like a series of pure white folding screens, or perhaps a gigantic white snake at rest' (Spufford, 2007, p.74-75).
Making sense of patterns in data is not restricted to satellite sensing. By looking up at the southern sky, astronomer Peter Lancaster-Brown created his own iconography. Between 1952 and 1953 he worked on Heard Island, where he recorded the appearance of Antarctic auroras, or Southern Lights (Lancaster Brown, 1957, p.36). He developed what he called a 'language of symbols' to describe his observations. Visual evidence of this has yet to be found, but he describes in words what he saw.
(Evening 1) First of all a dull glow on the south-eastern horizon - a mere suspicion - until it gradually spread across the sky like the pale dawn light. Then quite suddenly, at the zenith, a mass of tinted lights exploded into view like a gigantic fireworks display. Reds, purples, greens - almost every colour of the rainbow. Great streamers of light - curtains of fire - shimmered in the frosty heavens. As quickly as possible, in the faint light of a torch, I recorded their details in a language of symbols; the sky was literally ablaze with coloured lights. Yet within five minutes all was quiet again save for a dull glow that persisted in the southern horizon ...
(Evening 2) I had little opportunity to enjoy the display as such. The constantly changing forms kept me busy at the instrument, recording their characteristics in the notebook. How dull my notes would appear to a layman - a jumble of hieroglyphics - pure facts for scientific analysis. Then quite abruptly the display ended; the dancing southern lights shrinking to a diffuse glow on the eastern horizon (Lancaster Brown, 1957, p.36).
The last sentence demonstrates the order of impressions, from subjective to objective: dancing, shrinking, diffuse, glow [of the aurora]. Lancaster-Brown's hurried gestures can be imagined as he drew to capture the fleeting 'streamers' and 'fireworks'. That he assumed these lines would appear 'dull' to a lay person suggests he was not consciously drawing an aesthetic response.
Dancers describe flows of energy through their kinespheres, and into the physical environment. Choreographer, Bronwyn Judge, composed the dance, Circulus Antarcticus (2003), in response to her experience of Antarctica. The work was made for both live performance and video. The title, Circulus Antarcticus, and the choreography, evoke unity and wholeness.
In an outdoor rehearsal photograph (Figure 3.19), a dancer reaches down through her spine and head, as if grounding her body deep into the earth. Another dancer reaches through her upper body to the sky. The two bodies appear to move as one. Even in stillness, their body lines describe dynamic flows of energy.
In the video version of Circulus Antarcticus (Figure 3.20), a digital mirroring effect was used to extend and duplicate whole body gestures of a single dancer. The duplication amplifies a sense of unity between her moving body parts. Lines of force are extended from a single body into an otherworldly space. The duplication gives the sense of a new species evolving, or of human perceptions expanding into new dimensions. The blue-green costume exaggerates the colours that emanate from glaciers. Panels of fabric that trail from the body suggest continuity with the ice.
As in Davies's work, Endangered Species (Figure 2.12), gestures open and close in cyclic patterns through space and time. Like the 'chanting' lines of words repeated in Drury's Explorers at the Edge of the Void, Judge's dancer describes repeating lines. Like Drury's lines drawn in ice and erased by the elements, her body appears and disappears. Antarctica is an elusively ever-changing form.
Appearing and disappearing forms reflect Judge's experience of the 'nothingness' of Antarctica; of the world itself seeming to vanish.
Because of the silence, weather seemed to quietly come upon you. One minute there was cloud on the horizon and the next mist swirling in a disorientating fog about one so it was difficult to distinguish land from sky. The world disappeared (Judge, 2009).
A symmetrical choreography was digitally enhanced.
The mirroring is my attempt to reflect the feeling of perfection that the Antarctic landscape projects. The dance becomes a perfectly symmetrical design. Also lighting became paramount in importance. The light was such in the Antarctic that almost everything became transformed into something visually beautiful. It was so clear and intense (Judge, 2009).
The mirroring of clear body lines work as a metaphor for sharpened perceptions. An actual duet can work to mirror responses between people. Judge's dancer dances with herself in an otherworldly space. This creates an impression of intense isolation; of being alone. And yet, as if from within the isolation, connection to the environment seems extended.
Compared to Circulus Antarcticus, which communicates the wholeness of a lived experience, Maresa von Stockert's Antarctic ballet, Glacier (2008) seems fragmented. Figure 3.21 contains stills from the Ice Floe scene from that work, where men and women perform duets to a Tango rhythm (von Stockert, 2008).2
2An ice floe is 'A piece of free-floating sea ice, usually not much raised above the sea surface unless hummocked' (Hince, 2000, p.134). A hummock is sea ice that has been 'forced into rough mounds by pressure' (Hince, 2000, p.171).
Each pair of dancers in the Ice Floe scene maneuvers polystyrene blocks that resemble pieces of sea ice. The movements of the dancers are sudden rather than flowing, as they drag, throw, and lie upon the blocks. This may be explained by von Stockert's approach to choreography.
I like working a lot with objects and dancers ... I got bored seeing people move in the same way. I think an object actually makes you move in a different way. We think the only way is from your own movement, and how you can relate to something else, rather than thinking how your own body moves. How can you make something that's everyday that maybe looks uninteresting to the outside eye look suddenly interesting and become the focus of attention (von Stockert, nodate)?
In Glacier, Antarctica is represented as a place detached from the dancers. Perhaps this was intended, to offer a critical view of humans in Antarctica. Von Stockert's choreography may work to heighten a sense of connection to the material (everyday) world in a general sense. Judge's choreography, by contrast, focuses attention on qualities that are unique to the Antarctic environment. As far as I know, von Stockert has not been to Antarctica. This work demonstrates that artists need not have experienced Antarctica in order to feel moved to communicate their responses to it. The choreography of Glacier invites connections to Antarctica to be made through gestures that that question how we relate to our everyday environment.
Larysa Fabok's animation, Breath (1996-2007)(Figure 3.22) presents Antarctica as an imagined abstract place that reflects a profound response. When asked to describe the metaphors she uses in her work, Fabok wrote,
Do I know where the metaphors come from? The Void. Formlessness and void, where all creation came from. They come out of my hands. My art. The things that I am able to create. Pictures, paintings, drawings. I am starting to think that Antarctica was a place that seemed to be the 'Most' Inaccessible place that I could think of. If it was so far away, then I would give up trying to go there. But from what I understand of shamanism, then there is nothing that I am not connected to. So Antarctica has become a lens for me also for my own perception of the inaccessible (Fabok, 2008).
Elemental forms in Breath reach out as if to touch the void. Fabok's 'creature of fire' brings to mind Davies's 'engine' that drove her response to climate change (Appendix 1D). Fabok's abstract imagery unifies rock, ice, and water through simple gestures. The spare precision of digital animation can effectively describe an elemental environment. Being an imagined space, the work is more closely aligned to science fiction where ideas can be explored without having to be anchored in verifiable data.
Astrophysicist Michael Burton explains that at the South Pole
You don't have that normal sensory stimulus. You can't judge distance. You simply cannot judge distance. It's just devoid of markers. It's the closest thing to being in space without going into space (Burton, 2008).
After working on Antarctica's inland plateau for weeks at a time, glaciologist David Carter remarked on 'the nothingness that is Antarctica' (Carter in Roberts, 2008). Poet Stephen Wallace described Antarctica as 'the nothingness that is not there and the nothing that is' (McIntyre, 2005, p.3). Poet Rod Mallory uses the word 'Antarctic' to describe its topsy-turvy nature.
So Antarctic (Mallory in Hince, 2000, p.vii).
After two months of working as an artist in Antarctica, Chris Drury wrote, 'I have tried to find ways of talking about the absolute nothingness of various experiences deep in Antarctica. In a sense this nothingness contains everything' (Drury in Gooding, 2007, p.5).
Fox describes Antarctica as an environment where human desire for landscape is most evident because it is a void (Fox, 2007, p.253). He observes that some artists have transformed space into place there by cataloguing, abstracting, and physically placing objects into Antarctic space itself (Fox, 2007, p.253). The human form is used as a measure of human presence.
Elena Glasberg describes Herbert Ponting's image, Adelie Penguin and Sled Tracks Crossing (1911)(Figure 3.23), as a 'paradoxical gesture', and 'singular' amongst his oeuvre of dramatic scenes of heroic men carefully arranged in a landscape, remarking that
This perfectly composed image is a play on composition itself, on the (cultural and geophysical) blankness of Antarctica, and on the problem of depicting it. ... 'X' is a paradoxical gesture that calls its fundamentals into question: it is superbly modern in the way that Antarctica itself is not (Glasberg, 2007, p.21).
Still largely un-shaped by modern men and women, there is little in Antarctica that reflects human presence. This image implies that the ‘X’ that marks the spot in this 'nothingness' was made by a cross formed by both human and penguin passage. The marks have equal significance, or insignificance, in defining the space as a place. What is significant is that Ponting, like Campbell, recognised and photographed an elemental primal form. Recognising such forms helps to make a place for Antarctica in our imaginations. Primal forms contribute to an iconography that prompts questions about the forces that have shaped these forms in our environment.
Figure 3.24 shows some pages in Bea Maddock's 1991 artist book, To the Ice (Andrews, 2007, p.167);(Maddock in Andrews, 2007, p.173, Illus.)(Figure 3.25).
Artist and scholar, Lynne Andrews, explains that
Each day was represented by a number of horizontal and vertical strokes, which referred to the stages of the journey. The first has 40 horizontal strokes, mid-journey there are 20 horizontals and at the end there are 40 verticals (Andrews, 2007, p.167).
On one level, To the Ice can be read as a catalogue of passing days, and on another as an imagined space within which is assembled an elemental icon of transformation. Its format resembles a flip-book. When the pages are flipped the lines appear to change a static planar space into a dynamic representation of the passage of time. Changing orientations of lines, from horizontal to vertical, may reflect a personal transformation. As an object, the stack of pages resembles the layers of an ice core. Being closed, the evidence of human impact is hidden, awaiting discovery.
Iconography similar to Maddock's was observed in responses of other expeditioners to the Antarctic ice sheet. When glaciologist, David Carter, described the 'nothingness' of inland Antarctica (Carter in Roberts, 2008), his back straightened, his eyes looked up and he extended his arms horizontally. His body formed a cross. In his 2007 catalogue, Finding yourself lost (Eastaugh, 2007, Illus.) (Figure 3.26), artist Stephen Eastaugh writes that 'Locating oneself in this white wilderness is highly important and rather tricky' (Eastaugh in Roberts, 2010).
Eastaugh's painting, Intimate slots (2000)(Figure 3.27) combines signs of the cross with a line that charts a human heart beat, or electrocardiogram (ECG):
Above the two crosses, opposing conditions of life and death are expressed by one jagged line. The line simultaneously represents signs of life (ECG) and slots (crevasses). Eastaugh's iconography can also be read to mean the emotional ups and downs that can be experienced in Antarctica. The humourous title of the work suggests an intimate relationship between the pair of crosses in the ice. This refers particularly to the closeness that develops between people who work together in this dangerous environment.
Writer Carmel Bird explains the metaphorical power of the cross.
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. The symbol of the cross superimposed over the human heart reverberates into our psyche. It was a brilliant gesture of Christ to get up on the cross. It was like driving a stake through all our hearts (Bird, 2009).
Eastaugh recognised and developed the totem as an iconic Antarctic art form. One of Eastaugh's early Antarctic works, Casey Base (2000)(Figure 3.28) visually catalogues man-made structures around the Antarctic station of Casey. The images serve as icons of Antarctic colonisation.
Fox argues that
the ice people - those technicians and scientists who return to the continent year after year to perform their work - will have as much to do with shaping that part of its visual culture as the visiting artists and writers, if not more (Fox, 2007, p.253).
Cataloguing is a mapping strategy used by artists to familiarise themselves with a new space (natural and man-made).
This progression from embedding images of the place within a grid-like pattern - a mapping format often used by artists traveling to unfamiliar places - to embedding art itself in the landscape creates a cognitive feedback loop: by placing cultural objects that enhance familiarity and memorize our presence, we refashion the land physically into a landscape that we desire (Fox, 2007, p.253).
The feedback loop resembles the natural system described by scientist, Steve Nicol, in which plants and animals shape the environment to suit their needs (Nicol in Roberts, 2010).
Artists may progress from cataloguing images to transforming the space they perceive. We can see Eastaugh's artistic engagement with Antarctica transformed from cataloguing to developing an Antarctic sculpture garden (Fox, 2007, p.253).
Eastaugh set out
to create an Antarctic sculpture garden by tempting others to construct more totems. The idea is to create some other vertical structures in this environment besides the antennas, flagpoles and windsocks situated all about the station (Antdiv, 2003).
When working at Davis as artist-in-residence in 2002, Eastaugh was inspired by the totem, Man Sculpted by Antarctica (Eastaugh in Antdiv, 2003) , that had been carved in 1977 by a carpenter known simply as Hans.
The head was carved in wood to be sculpted by the elements to become a token of our humanity in an environment that we have only just arrived in. He is a work in progress! ... The Africans say that you leave a part of yourself, your spirit, in each place you camp, hence the searching looks as we leave the campsite even when we have nothing to leave. The head holds my spirit of that stay. He looks out to the forests I left behind me (Hans in Smith, 2003).
As shown in Figure 3.29, the wooden totem is sculpted by the elements. The weathered appearance of Hans's totem is a metaphor for the fleeting presence of humans in Antarctica. It resembles the ancient totems of Easter Island and may be read as a warning.
This primal form, known affectionately as Fred the Head, prompts expeditioners to express deep feelings.
Personally I think Fred has mystic powers above and beyond mere mortals and was a gift from the gods. Long may he reign in the sculpture garden ... He is the true father of the sculpture garden and should remain as a tribute to patience, winterers, sentinels, waiters, watchers, and direction pointers. It's not ALL rocks, ice and machinery, Fred is there too, just because (Bernie K. in Antdiv, 2003).
Eastaugh's response to Man shaped by Antarctica was to make his own totem (Figure 3.30). 'The first totem made was a mini sleeping container (let's call it a bonsai donga) with a rather rough head-like appearance' (Eastaugh in Antdiv, 2003). By building more totems near this work, Eastaugh not only progresses his creative practice but also encourages that of Antarctica's temporary local residents.
Eastaugh explains his work, Head Home (2003) (Eastaugh in Roberts, 2010, Illus.), in terms of questions.
Can home be situated in one's head? As a person who has led a contemporary nomadic lifestyle for many years I certainly hope so. Internally is where I have stored my lack of possessions and often I have luxuriated in a cozy private time-out place somewhere behind my eyeballs. Travel has somehow turned into dwelling after twenty years of jumping from place to place. Home has drastically shrunk: transformed into a fluid concept that's easy to move (Eastaugh in Roberts, 2010).
These are questions that other expeditioners ask of each other when their paths cross in Antarctica. 'And how does it happen', asks film maker, Werner Herzog, 'that we encounter each other here at the end of the world?' (Herzog, 2007). Philosopher and Forklift Driver, Stefan Pashov, replies,
I think that it's a logical place to find each other because this place works almost as a natural selection for people who have this intention to jump off the margin of the map. And we all meet here, where all the lines of the map converge. There is no point that is south of the South Pole (Pashov in Herzog, 2007).
A major work to come from Bea Maddock's Antarctic experience is Terra spiritus: a darker shade of pale (1993-1998)(Figure 3.31).3
3The title includes Aboriginal and English place names of landforms that are represented in the drawing.
The Online image of the whole work shows a complete panorama of Tasmania's coastline. The idea for this work was conceived on the journey home (In conversation with Bea Maddock, Launceston, Tasmania 1996). It comprises 50 images that art historian Jonathan Holmes says 'has to be imagined as if it has been depicted on the outside of a cylinder. Its forces are centrifugal [moving inwards] rather than centripetal [moving outwards]' (Andrews, 2007, p.174). Its vast circular form kinaesthetically attracts. You can physically move around it and imaginatively enter into it.
Like Antarctica itself, the vast scale of the work is physically compelling. Geological time is evoked by lines that describe bare rocks of a possible past and future ice-free Antarctica. The lines resemble those of early panoramas drawn by expeditioners to name and claim territories. Topographic features are named in parallel lines. Aboriginal names are written in flowing cursive script The softly rounded forms of the hand writing evoke sounds of a lost language. Beneath the Aboriginal names are names assigned to places by Europeans, smaller in size and typeset into the paper.
Maddock 'meticulously calculated all the visual details' (Andrews, 2007, p.174). Elemental lines lay bare the geology in a similar way that Fred Elliott had described Antarctic rock.
Before knowing she would go to Antarctica, Maddock had written about her interest in Indigenous language.
Have been absorbed in the Aboriginal culture, looking at the QV [Queen Victoria, Launceston] museum exhibition several times and hearing a talk there - Also reading 'Dreamings'. Our only hope for any culture or spirituality here is back in the land. The only roots left in the 'kingdom of nothingness'.5 Will have to try to make some sense of this existence (Maddock in Butler, 1992, p.110).
5'Kingdom of Nothingness' is the title of Chapter 11 in Manning Clark's book, A History of Australia (1962), in which he compares early Australian education policies unfavorably against those of other places.
It seems clear that Maddock's interest in Aboriginal culture influenced her perception of Antarctica and suggested ways to make sense of our relationship to land. Elemental lines that describe bare rock evoke the voices of the land itself. They appeal to our senses at a primal level to accurately communicate geological data.
'It is not easy to deal scientifically with feelings' (Freud, 1946, p.9). Freud recorded evidence of people expressing an 'oceanic' feeling is 'indissoluble connection, of belonging inseparably to the external world as a whole'. Freud says, 'I cannot discover this oceanic feeling in myself'. However, he concedes that this does not mean that these feelings do not exist in other people.
Artists Pamen Pereira, Philippe Boissonnet and Lorraine Beaulieu have mapped Antarctica in ways that may be described as oceanic.
Inspired by three days alone on a glacier, Pereira drew with smoke on velvet to compose Vistas isometricas del continente (Isometric views of the Antarctic continent from the Weddel Sea)(Pereira in Juan, 2008, p.15, Illus.)(Figure 3.32). Smoke suggests the burning of fossil fuels. Undulating lines symbolise energy flows. Lines resembling dykes of black dolerite slice through views of the Antarctic continent as if they were frames of an animation. We are shown Antarctica as a dynamic changing form.
For Pereira, Antarctica is a place that lends itself to knowing one's 'relationship with the mysterious forces of Nature and the subtle energies connected with consciousness' (Pereira, 2008).
Pereira's objective 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).
Exaggerated tones and contours describe heights and depths of Antarctic rock. As if to mimic the iconography of statistical measurement, this imagined space resembles a display of data.
Philippe Boissonnet and Lorraine Beaulieu use the human body as a canvas on which to project topographic data within its primal gestures (Figures 3.33 and 3.34).
Boissonnet positions a map of Antarctica on a man's bowed head, as an icon of human accountability for climate changes. Boissonnet explains his image, Earth Mother is becoming Earth Child (En perdre le nord) (2008), as 'a metaphorical representation of the way in which the traditional image of the Earth-Mother is becoming an Earth-Child in our collective conscience' (Boissonnet in Roberts, 2008). Structural similarities can be seen between the human brain and the Antarctic continent.
Beaulieu's Drapeaux (flags) is 'a symbol of the planetary community and as a rallying sign ... searching to suggest that north and south poles are not so far from each other [and that] as human beings, we are linked together to this fundamental necessity: clear WATER' (Beaulieu in Juan, 2008, p.57). Drapeaux represents Antarctica on three flags, as a female nude curls up like an embryo, a bag of human waste, and as rock when all the Antarctic ice has melted.