Considerations of symmetry led the ancient Greeks 'to postulate another land mass under the southern celestial pole to balance the land masses of the Northern Hemisphere' (Law and Béchervaise, 1957, p.xi). The map in Figure 2.1, The Western Hemisphere in the World, depicts Antarctica as a geometric construct (Monachus, 1529). Poet Bill Manhire explains the Ancient Greek notion of Antarctica as 'an aesthetic hypothesis', drawn before it was known to satisfy a need for harmonic design (Manhire, 2004, p.9). To what extend the wiggly and straight lines represent known and unknown regions is uncertain. Perhaps the wiggly lines represent known regions because they are close to inhabited land (Chile). The straight lines could represent regions that were speculated or imagined. Simple lines may represent the unknown.
Philosopher of science, Alexandre Koyré, explains the Ancient Greek view by contrasting it to the Copernican view that overthrew it in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Koyré, 1957, p.viii). Koyré describes the paradigm shift between the views as
the destruction of the cosmos and the geometrization of space ... the replacement of the Aristotelian conception of space - a differentiated set of inner-worldly places - by that of Euclidean geometry - an essentially infinite and homogeneous extension - from now on considered as identical to the real space of the world.
For the Ancient Greeks, the word Cosmos referred to 'order, ornament, world or universe' (Shorter Oxford Dictionary, 1985, p.433). This accords with the idea of aesthetic beauty as harmonic design perceived through the senses. This early map reflects a primal sensory connection.
Writer, William Fox notes:
Maps not only plot the surface of the land but, seen in historical sequence, also show us how our attitudes have imposed changing conceptions of landscape on that same land. Sometimes these landscapes are more mental than physical - a national territorial claim is just a line on a piece of paper ... (Fox, 2007, p.45).
Indigenous peoples traditionally define space and place in terms of their sacred relationships to land:
So place is important, and how we describe it ... ceremony brings us together so that we occupy the same space. ... I think that Indigenous concept of place is that there is that same kind of relation between humans and our environment. So the distance or relationship between ourselves and the environment is sacred, and so you do ceremonies to bridge that space or that distance (Lewis in Wilson, 2009, p.86-87).
Ceremonies communicate Indigenous knowledge that 'All forms of living things are to be respected as being related and interconnected' (Wilson, 2009, p.60). This implies a primal connection between land and human forms. 'The measure of the land and the measure of our bodies are the same' (Chief Joseph in Wilson, 2009, p.60) . Indigenous knowledge of land is based not on abstract considerations of symmetry but on the naturally symmetrical form of the human body, through which every body can know that
land is another word for place, environment, your reality, the space you're in ... Indigenous is another word for human being ... following not cultural norms but following foundational structures that are common to each other like the circle ... the Indigenous world view [is] egalitarian, it's relational, it's a structure that supports an inclusion, a wholeness (Lewis in Wilson, 2009, p. 92, 88).
When the meaning of Indigenous is expanded to include people who behave in accordance with the forces that shape structures that are common to both our bodies and environment, Indigenous ways of knowing are available to everyone. Perhaps there is an Indigenous way of knowing Antarctica.
Scientist James Lovelock promotes the idea that Earth is in a constant state of dynamic equilibrium: 'a stable planet made up of unstable parts' (Lovelock, 2000, p.x-xi). Its circular, dynamic form has meaning as an icon of climate change.
For some the icon of greatest meaning is that blue-white vision of the East first seen from space by astronauts. That icon is undergoing subtle changes as the white ice fades away, the green forest and grassland fades into the dun of desert, and the oceans lose their blue-green hue and turn a purer, swimming-pool blue as they too become desert (Lovelock, 2009, p.1).
Within a simple finite form, infinitely complex systems of energy are contained. Archetypal structures (or icons) such as the circle are used to express Indigenous and Gaia ways of knowing. Indigenous knowledge comes from lived experience of surviving in the world since prehistory. The Gaia view reflects scientific understandings and has become associated (by name) with the Greek Earth Goddess.
By now [around 1968] a planet-sized entity, albeit hypothetical, had been born, with properties which could not be predicted from the sum of its parts. It needed a name. Fortunately the author William Golding was a fellow-villager. Without hesitation he recommended that this creature be called Gaia, after the Greek Earth Goddess also known as Ge, from which root the sciences of geography and geology derive their names. In spite of my ignorance of the classics, the suitability of this choice was obvious. ... I also felt that in the days of Ancient Greece the concept itself was probably a familiar aspect of life, even if not formally expressed (Lovelock, 2000, p.10).
The view of Earth as a fellow creature invites a relationship to it that defies the formalities of rational argument. Regardless of beliefs that people may attach to Gaia, it is useful as an icon because it appeals to memories of our own lived experience. It makes sense to relate the records of change found on Earth to our own body structure if we seek to connect people to accurate information about climate change. Icons are useful for bridging the gaps between what is known and unknown. When combined with observations and measurements they can add profound (pre-verbal) meanings to information. However, when these same forms are used primarily to map Antarctica as part of a system of belief, people may be misled from questioning the verifiable (scientific) evidence. Examples are 'otherworldly' maps of Antarctica made by Athanius Kircher (1602-1680) and John Cleaves Symmes (1780-1829) (Godwin, 1993, p.106-112).
Antarctic scholars Paul Simpson-Housley and Francis Spufford each examine how the metaphors used by polar explorers reflected their perceptions (Simpson-Housley, 1992);(Spufford, 1996). From his studies of diaries and poems of Antarctic explorers and of Coleridge's poem, the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Simpson-Housley examined how perceptions and misconceptions of the Antarctic were created and propagated (Coleridge, 1798);(Simpson-Housley, 1992, p.69). Perceptions of explorers were shaped by prior training, experiences and expectations. Early misconceptions included the existence of Antarctic islands (e.g. Bouvelot Island) that were charted and named after they were discovered, but were subsequently unable to be located. It is likely that these islands were ice bergs. For Simpson-Housley,
Perception is a learned process, and not simply a response to a stimulus. People often see in an object what they anticipate rather than what is actually there. It is not so much that seeing is believing but rather that believing is seeing (Simpson-Housley, 1992, p.xv).
To test his proposal, Simpson-Housely recorded individual responses to such natural phenomena as 'the aurora australis, the effects of the sun and moon, impressive mountains and their associated glaciers, and the beauty of atmospheric phenomena and mirages' (Simpson-Housley, 1992, p.90). Examining their responses, he identified a connection between ice and loneliness, which he speculates is evidence of prior knowledge of the same connection made by Coleridge in his Rime. The albatross features in both the Rime and the accounts of explorers, suggesting that '[b]oth poets and explorers desired the omniscience of gods and freedom to soar' (Simpson-Housley, 1992, p.99).
Spufford's comparison of language, used in Cook's utilitarian accounts and Coleridge's poetry, reveals vastly different world views (Spufford, 1996, p.46). Spufford cites Cook apologising for his 'plain style' and his warning that 'the Public must not expect from me the elegance of a fine writer'. However, Spufford proposes, Cook's apology and warning in fact 'gave his readers something like a guarantee that the extraordinary things he related were reliable'. He observes that Coleridge drew on Cook's journal of his second (1772-1775) voyage, to give a degree of veracity to his imagined icy world. 'The ice, mast-high that floated by, green as emerald, was probably fused together from Cook's and other descriptions'.
Thanks to such literature, Spufford argues, polar exploration became 'a subject for debate, a resource for metaphor and slang, and a powerful mobiliser of emotion': All these are signs that a domain had been found for it 'in here' as well as 'out there'. Space was found for Antarctica within the public imagination. Simpson-Housely identifies such familiar metaphors as the ice and the bird as iconographic connectors to an unfamiliar place. Both utilitarian and poetic world views were necessary to imagine Antarctica.
New Zealand writer Ken McAnergney tells his story, 'In My Mind I am Going to Antarctica'. He uses direct observations and symbolic word pictures passed down through his Maori heritage (McAnergney, 2008) . McAnergney flew by aeroplane to McMurdo Sound and, according to legend, his ancestors sailed there by boat. As he told his story, he shifted between English and his native Maori language to emphasise the relationship between the journeys. The migratory lunar patterns of the moon bird (mutton bird) form a connection between the present and the timeless reality of ancestral spirits. The ancestors returned from their voyage and described a great white smoking mountain. When McAnergney emerged from the aeroplane in Antarctica he was able to recognise Mount Erebus. Knowledge of personal experience combined with ancestral knowledge had been passed on through story. The actual encounter follows a deeply spiritual connection. The legend of the great white smoking mountain assumes a timeless presence when combined with direct experience.
Knowledge of personal experience combined with ancestral knowledge had been passed on through story. The actual encounter follows a deeply spiritual connection. The legend of the great white smoking mountain assumes a timeless presence when combined with direct experience.
Scientist and expeditioner Phillip Law speculates that Hui-te-Rangiora, a Polynesian man, was possibly the first to set eyes on Antarctica and that in about 750 AD he reached as far south as the pack ice (Law and Béchervaise, 1957, p.xi). Historian Stephen Martin agrees, although some details (e.g. dates) vary in his account.
In about AD 650, he built a large canoe, the Te Ivi-O-Atea in which he made great voyages across the Pacific. Ui-ti-rangiora [sic] sailed south from Fiji past New Zealand into a foggy, dark sea with monstrous waves. In this place things like rocks grow out of the sea and their bare summits pierce the skies. He named this sea Tai-uka-aoia, meaning 'the sea with foam like arrowroot', a common white substance in Polynesia. Ui-ti-rangiora and his crew may have been the first people to see Antarctic seas (Martin, 1996, p.33).
Martin's account confirms the idea that 'People often see in an object what they anticipate rather then what is actually there' (Simpson-Housley, 1992, p.xv). Icebergs are described as 'rocks' with 'bare summits' growing out of the sea and pack ice is the 'foam' of arrowroot. The struggle to describe Antarctica resorts to the language of the known.
A report from the 1912 voyage of Japanese explorer, Nobu Shirasi, describes a first sighting of Antarctica's Great Ice Barrier.
At 2 A.M. we made out a faint pale grey line on the horizon to port, which we thought must either be a mountain or a cloud. Not until 4 A.M. did we see that it was actually the undulating wall of the Great Ice Barrier itself. As we drew nearer we could see it more and more clearly. At first sight it appeared as a sweeping crescent of ice about 150 shaku high; it was like a series of pure white folding screens, or perhaps a gigantic white snake at rest (Spufford, 2007, p.74-75).
Antarctic scholar, Ben McInnes, suggests this report is unlikely to have been written by Shirase because such poetic language was unusual for him (McInnes, 2008). McInnes describes Shirase as more of a 'boy's own adventurer' than a poet. However, uncharacteristic responses can be evoked by deeply felt encounters with the natural environment. Antarctic explorers frequently resort to poetry to reflect their responses. Regardless of how out of character these words may be for Shirase, they add depth to what was 'actually' seen, 'more and more clearly' as the ship approached the ice. Not everyone is familiar with arrowroot, or with folding paper screens. More metaphors and symbols are needed to describe Antarctica.
Expeditioner, Jack Ward, spent a year in Antarctica in the 1950's. He describes Antarctica as elemental.
The pleasure there is in being here, is hard to define. I tried to draw it as an absence of petty limitations, non-ordinariness of everyday things; a more elemental living ... Certainly you miss people, or rather the different aspects of people met in city life. Mental stimulus is lacking ... (Ward, 1955, 13 Nov).
When reduced to eating his dogs, the early Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson dreamed about a confectioner's shop, describing the food that he hungered for as 'decidedly grand and apparently opulent' (Mawson, 2002, p.175). Another kind of hunger is reflected in Ward's description of crevasses.
They are merely long orderly gutters in the ice; sometimes made evident by snow piled higher than on the ice and sometimes by slumped whiteness. Where the ice is pressed between protruding mountains, they narrow and look snaky and venomous. 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 (Ward, 1955, 2 May).
Ward's pleasure in the ice is described as both elemental and sensory. Mawson's dream expresses a desire that contrasts with the deprivations he actually experienced. The senses can be sharpened in elemental conditions.
Perceptions of Antarctica have been heavily influenced by the people who have shaped it's history.
In 1957, the Director of the Antarctic Division in Australia, Phillip Law, categorised eras of Antarctic history as Maritime, Heroic, Mechanized, and Developmental (Law in Law and Bechervaise, 1957, p.xii-xxiv).
According to Law, the Maritime Era (1820-1900), which followed Cook's reports of abundant seals and whales in the Southern Ocean, was identified by intensive British and American sealing that began in the area south of Cape Horn. Names of expeditioners of this time include Weddell, Biscoe, Kemp, Balleny, Dumont d'Urville, Wilkes and Ross. No one had yet spent a year in Antarctica. Images that shaped contemporary perceptions of Antarctica include scientific illustrations, seascapes and scrimshaw carvings.
Law characterised The Heroic Era (1900-1916) by the exploration of the surface of the continent mainly by sledge. Names associated with this era are: Robert Falcon Scott, Otto Nordenskjold, Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen and Douglas Mawson. Iconography was deliberately constructed by photographers and film makers, Herbert Ponting and Frank Hurley, who accompanied expeditions to publicise heroic deeds (Hurley and Law, 1963). Stories that characterise perceptions of this era are the race between Amundsen and Scott to reach the South Pole and Mawson's lone sledge journey. Flags were hoisted. Speeches were read. Territories were named and claimed. Antarctica was promoted as wild terrain.
The lesser known eras named by Law were the eras of Development and Mechanization.
The Development Era (1918-1939) was the period between the two world wars. It was characterised by extensive use of radio and aircraft and the intensive (speculative) collection of scientific data. Scientific research in meteorology, geomagnetism, geology, biology, oceanography, and the aurora was undertaken by the 1911-1914 expedition of Douglas Mawson. Mawson also charted inland Antarctica, and whaling magnate, Lars Christensen, charted parts of the continental coast line.
Antarctica's first permanent research stations, such as Mawson, were built during the Mechanized Era (1944-1958). Aeroplanes were used to make the first aerial maps of the Antarctic coastline.
The first international Antarctic research programmes were begun as part of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58, to map the entire Antarctic continent. Law explains that
Geophysics is a general term embracing a number of sciences concerned with the study of the physical properties of the Earth and its atmosphere. For most of these subjects it is essential that data be obtained from all regions of the Earth and consequently the Arctic, the Antarctic and the great oceans of the world have constituted large gaps in the world network of observatories (Law in Law and Béchervaise, 1957, p.xii-xxiv).The perception of Antarctica rapidly expanded from being a site of international scientific research to an 'Eldorado' to be exploited.
The mining ores [in Antarctica] will present no great difficulty but the transport of the material back to other continents will be a major problem ... it seems certain that man will continue to pit his brains and ingenuity against the forces of Nature until he has overcome the difficulties which at present delay the full exploitation of Antarctica (Law in Law and Bechervaise, 1957, p.xii-xxiv)
This perception of Antarctica brings to mind the issue of Terra Nullius. Terra nullius, the Latin term for 'land belonging to no-one', was misused by the British to describe Australia when they came to exploit its resources (Cavanaugh and Fisher, 1999, Unit 2, p.12). People have lived in Australia for more than 40,000 years (Bowler, 2002). No people lived in Antarctica until very recently. The people who have lived there (albeit briefly), and come to identify strongly with it, may be justified in calling themselves Indigenous Antarcticans.1
1 This idea emerged in conversation with expeditioner Fred Elliott (in Melbourne, 19 September 2010), when he described Mawson station, which he helped to build (in 1945-55), as the place where he felt most 'at one' with the forces of the world as a whole.
Alongside his expressions of eagerness to exploit Antarctica, Law also displayed strong feelings of connection to it. These feelings are displayed through a singularly potent image. When appointed as the first director of what later became the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), Law commissioned a logo for the new organisation. The logo features concentric circles (Law and Béchervaise, 1957, Title page) (Figure 2.2). Lines describe Antarctic life forms around the outer circle. These images frame an inner circle of lines of longitude that meet at the South Pole.2
2 ANARE man Bill Storer, who worked for Law in the 1950's, attributes the image to Law's wife, Nell, who worked as an artist in Antarctica. Law conceived of the idea for a logo on his return from Heard Island in 1947 and invited his wife to design it. It was, however, considered at the time as 'too artistic' for use as a logo on aircraft and other vehicles (In conversation with Bill Storer, 13 April 2010).
Unlike the current AAD logo (a generic Australian government crest), Law's logo served as an icon of connection to the natural world. Although the AAD currently promotes regulated exploitation of natural resources and its motto is that Antarctica is 'valued, protected and understood' (Antdiv, 2010), without an icon inspired by lived experience, these words are in danger of losing meaning. The naming and claiming of Antarctica has created a dynamic interconnection between the icons of place and time from which perceptions are formed.
Unlike the current AAD logo (a generic Australian government crest), Law's logo served as an icon of connection to the natural world. Although the AAD currently promotes regulated exploitation of natural resources, and its motto is that Antarctica is 'valued, protected and understood' (Antdiv, 2010), without an icon inspired by lived experience, these words are likely to lose meaning. The naming and claiming of Antarctica has created a dynamic interconnection between the icons of place and time from which perceptions are formed.
Icons of more recent eras of Antarctic history are suggested by the writer William Fox, who identifies stages in the Age of the Anthropocene.
The Age of the Anthropocene means the Age of Humans, starting around 1790, when we have begun to burn so much fossil fuel and put so much carbon up in the air that we have actually been laying down a new geological strata around the world, and that qualifies as a new epoch ... all reflected in the art record all around the world and specifically in the Antarctic because, as far as I know, the polar regions are very sensitive to changing environmental conditions (Fox, 2010).
Fox identifies three stages in this epoch. First, around 1790, when 'the idea of electricity suddenly becomes viable, we start digging up lots and lots of coal'. The light bulb seems an obvious (and ironic) icon for this era, when digging up coal seemed like a good idea at the time. This is when the European tradition of landscape art is used to represent Antarctica (in painting and photography) as 'a stage ... where human history is going to take place'. This view can be seen in the art of the Maritime and Heroic Eras (See Figures 2.4 and 2.5), where Antarctica is represented as a new frontier to exploit.
Fox identifies the second stage of the Anthropocene as 'the great acceleration', when, in the 1950s (after the second world war), vast amounts of fossil fuels were being used to power urban expansionism. He offers Al Gore's scissor lift, from the film, An Inconvenient Truth, as an icon for this era (Figure 4.17).3
3In the film, Al Gore's ladder extends to reach a dramatically rising line on a graph that shows the projected levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (Wowkodos, 2006-2007).
He cites the painting, Mawson (Figure 2.3), by Jan Senbergs, to show how humans impacted on Antarctica at this time (Boyer and Kolenberg, 1988, p. 35, Illus.). As Fox observes, this painting brings to mind 'this little animal that is sort of holding onto itself, protecting itself from the winds ... it's a view of our sprawl, living in Antarctica. This kind of aesthetic is talking about what is actually there, us and our stuff'. This view of Mawson station brings to mind a primal collective gesture of self-protection against a hostile environment. It also brings to mind a malignant growth that endangers a living body (Earth and its creatures); the malignant growth may be our own uncontrolled population.
'Right at the end of the 1990s', says Fox, 'we become aware that we are part of the process [of changing our own environment]'. He cites examples of Antarctic art that communicate this awareness.
I'm looking at what are very very modest gestures in a way, and yet they are bringing us pictures of the Antarctic that are absolutely alive. It's not the big sterile place. It's a place that is absolutely full of life and a place that is vulnerable to the things that we are doing to the planet ... we have these artists who are dealing with other artists and scientists to make these very elaborate and layered works ... Now [in the third stage of the Anthropocene] we're really trying to interpret where our place in the world is and how we're affecting things, and we're dealing directly with the earth as the medium for the art object and for the story of art (Fox, 2010).
By 'we' I understand Fox to mean himself and other observers of Antarctic art and science who accept that human actions are changing natural patterns of global climate change. Examples of art works that he cites include some that I review in this thesis and animations that I made to communicate perceptions expanded by Antarctic art and science. Missing from Fox's account of the Anthropocene Age is reference to Indigenous peoples' shaping of the environment and their icons of connection to it. However, when he presented this account, Fox was in the process of researching for a book and so such ideas may still be evolving.
Unlike Law, who wrote with the advantage of hindsight, we can only imagine what our era will look like to future observers. Fox proposes that 'We all have things to learn from all the eras of Antarctic exploration' and from the many ways that Antarctica is represented by artists and scientists (Fox, 2010). Fox's view accords with that of Law's cohort John Béchervaise, who suggests that
In one sense all Antarctic explorers are contemporary, for the continent they visit does not change in man's scale of time; and our modern mastery over space often seems merely to make more comprehensible the vastness and lonliness of the antarctic plateau and the polar seas (Béchervaise, 1961, p.9).
Perceptions may be expanded by attending to the insights of people from many times and places. Although Antarctica remains a uniquely remote and inaccessible place within which to reflect upon our place within infinite scales of time and space, myths have arisen that perpetuate certain perceptions of Antarctica.
A central assumption in the frontier myth was that the romantic beauty of a wild landscape had the power to move people into a transcendence of their ordinary selves. The frontier myth was also about the remarkable human capacity to survive in hostile and relentless environments (Hains, 2002, p.78).
Scott's torn sleeping bag, Wilson's first aid kit, and the page of Scott's diary entry before his death, are just some of the artefacts at the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) that are used to perpetuate the frontier myth.
Now, more than ever, the public craves transcendent experiences and the recognition that humanity can survive in a hostile environment. Ships that bring the tourists to Antarctica choreograph their arrival at featured destinations to simulate discovery of a pristine world.4 Tourists are offered exposure to a hostile environment without actually being endangered.
4This was confirmed by Denyse Hooke, who recently traveled to Antarctica as a tourist (In conversation, Apollo Bay, 21 March 2010).
Whereas the iconography of Law's eras was anchored in the reality of place and time, Antarctica is now marketed to tourists as an historic site of pristine wilderness. Once powerful images are now used as an iconography of the past.
Ponting's and Hurley's classic images of giant icebergs and tiny ships, sleds, dogs and men dwarfed by giant cliffs, and men pitching themselves against the elements, comprise an iconography of Antarctica (Noble and Sullivan, 2007, p.4).
Photographs dominate the marketing of Antarctica in books, galleries, private photo collections and on Antarctic Internet sites. They depict 'idealized' images of 'virgin wilderness', connected to stories of heroism and adventure (Noble and Sullivan, 2007, p.4)(Figure 2.4).
Not all Antarctic experiences are constructed. Antarctic scholar, Stephen Pyne, expresses contradictory responses to Antarctica. On the one hand he identifies with the ice through its movement, where
the berg is both substance and symbol. 'Everything is in it', as Conrad wrote of the human mind, 'all the past as well as all the future'. The journey of the ice from core to margin, from polar plateau to open sea, narrates an allegory of mind and matter (Pyne, 2004, p.2).
On the other hand, he expresses estrangement from Antarctica by identifying humans as
... the great anomaly in the Antarctic ecosystem. In some respects - notably their migratory and seasonal habits - they resemble typical Antarctic organisms. But in other ways they are ill-adapted aliens who find the Antarctic as disruptive as the Antarctic biota find them (Pyne, 2004, p.55).
When in substance and symbol the ice is perceived to signify our past and future, an Indigenous perspective is suggested. But Pyne's view is at the same time disconnected. The ice can embody, or mirror, complex human conditions.
In 1757 Edmund Burke proposed the notion of the 'sublime' to describe a response to extreme conditions in the natural world.
Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operations in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime ... When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are delightful, as we everyday experience (Burke, 2008, p.39-40).
Spufford explains that Burke's idea arose while watching the Liffey river surge through Dublin in 1746, when the 'elements came to town' (Spufford, 1996, p.16). Essential to Burke's idea is to be at a safe distance from the elements, which, Spufford argues, is an essentially selfish, self-absorbing perspective (Spufford, 1996, p.19).
An experience can be identified as sublime in different ways. For example, A. C. Bradley proposes that
We cannot apprehend an object as sublime while we apprehend it as comparably, measurably, or finitely great. ... all sublimity, and not only that in which the idea of infinite greatness or of the Infinite emerges, is an image of infinity (Bradley, 1950, p.60-61).
Bradly explains that 'the beautiful' is also an image of infinity. However, in 'beauty',
that which appears in a sensuous form seems to rest in that form, to be wholly embodied in it; it shows no tendency to pass beyond it, and intimates no reserve of force that might strain or break it. So that the 'beautiful' thing is a whole complete in itself (Bradley, 1950, p.62).
I recognise my experience on Mount Henderson as sublime. There I felt part of an infinitely powerful presence (Earth), poised within infinite space and time. Beautiful images can offer glimpses of what are essentially nameless sensations and thoughts. Animated gestures can offer empathic connections to experiences of the sublime.
A sense of continuity with elemental forces can be heightened in an extreme environment (Elliott and Ward, 2007);(Davies, 2008). Burke's perspective is opposite Ward's experience of 'elemental living' (Ward, 1955, 13 Nov). Ward's understanding of elemental forces came from fifteen months of lived experience. For Burke, the sublime is an aesthetic experience of extreme opposites: extreme pleasure is found close to extreme danger; the sense of everyday order is reversed. This sensibility, Spufford observes, lent itself to Antarctica because Antarctica was already a reversal of the everyday (Spufford, 1996, p.20). The perspective promoted by Burke maintains a separation between the observer and the environment.
Burke's perspective seems to reflect a covetous delight in what nature can 'give'. A self-seeking perspective goes some way to explain the motives behind early Antarctic voyages of discovery. We can see this view in a painting of the time' (Figure 2.5), attributed to William Hodges, an artist who traveled on James Cook's 1773 expedition to Antarctica (Martin, 1996, p.77). In Ice islands with Ice Blink, stark contrasts can be seen between darkness and light, and vast ice forms and tiny boats (Attributed to Hodges in Martin, 1996, p.77, Illus.). While the illusion of safety is created by conventions of landscape art (the scene is observed from an elevated vantage point), the picture presents Antarctica as dangerous. We view the scene as if through a window. A single view point presents a foreground, middle ground and background. Evident in the structure is use of the Golden Mean, or Golden Section. This was 'used by the Greeks to achieve, what was to them, the ideally proportioned rectangle' (Churcher, 1973, p.110). These proportions can be seen in the positions of the picture's major elements. The large iceberg on the left has been placed within the horizontal plane at a point dividing it into the 'golden' 8:13 ratio. The skyline is similarly positioned within the vertical plane.
Despite its harmonious composition within a 2D picture plane, the placement of its parts is disturbing. In defiance of Newtonian laws of physics, a huge iceberg stands impossibly upright. Tiny ships and men set amongst looming ice forms evoke fear and insignificance. While there is some sense of movement flowing between the parts, it is the sense of tension between these parts that holds the picture together.
According to art historian, Kenneth Clarke, the history of European art suggests that humanity has expressed its relationship to nature in cycles that oscillate between connection and separation. He asserts:
Landscape painting marks the stages in our conception of nature. Its rise and development since the middle ages is part of a cycle in which the human spirit attempted once more to create a harmony within its environment (Clark, 1966, p.17).
Although Clarke refers only to European conceptions of nature, he implies the existence of an original, or Indigenous, sense of harmony. Landscape art is a European way of visualising nature that reflects changing human relationships to it, but that essentially separates the observer. Betty Churcher, asserts that 'It was the Dutch painters of the seventeenth century who first turned their attention towards the poetry and beauty of landscape as a thing to be seen in its own right' (Churcher, 1973, p.48).
The sublime landscape image is an aesthetic ideal, separate from the experience of moving through a place. The Heroic image represents Antarctica as separate and threatening. Our continuity with nature is relational; a body knows its relationship to its environment through kinesthetic senses (all senses combined). Body knowledge conveys a sense of a place as an experience. Art that is generated from such knowledge can provide a sense of moving through it. It can invite a relationship to its parts through which to grasp a sense of the whole.
Anne Noble's photographic work, Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica (2005) (Noble in McIntyre, 2005, p.24, Illus.)(Figure 2.6), shows a tourist's view that brings us to question the perception of Antarctica as pristine. Tourist ships pollute.
Noble's image reflects Pyne's idea that humans have no natural connection to Antarctica. A picture-post-card view is presented through a foreground of plastic chairs and tables on a ship. The chairs and tables can be read as metaphors for Antarctica's colonisation by the tourist trade. Their presence mocks the popular view of Antarctica as a wilderness. Framing Antarctica like this is as distancing and fragmenting as the sublime images of deception captured by the tourist cameras. The work provides a perspective, where 'fact and fiction, reality and illusion collide, as Antarctica is an abstract space - open to the imagination' (McIntyre, 2005, p. 4).
Elena Glasberg has observed that Noble's exhibition, Antarctic Shopping Party (2008)(Figure 2.7), parodies the Antarctic merchandising market with its 'Antarctica shaped (iced) cakes and cookies, a continent-shaped jigsaw puzzle, and CDs and video tapes branded with the image of the continent - all for sale at the gallery' (Glasberg, 2008). Glasberg suggests that 'As beautiful and enjoyable as Noble's Antarctic objects may be for an audience, their appreciation is innately linked to a sense of loss of the object of Antarctica, here so complexly represented' (Glasberg, 2008).
People who have worked in Antarctica have attached high value to the close relationships they develop with fellow creatures, machines, and the elemental forces that shape the environment.
Fred Elliott worked in Antarctica as a weather observer and photographer during its Mechanized Era (Law and Béchervaise, 1957). One story that identifies this time is that of the missing weasels (Dover in Antdiv, 2006);(Law, 1954).5
5A weasel is a 'tracked snow vehicle designed to float, and extensively used in Antarctica from the late 1940s until the 1990s. Weasels were generally enclosed, but some had open cabins' (Hince, 2000, p.371).
According to Elliott and fellow expeditioner, Jack Ward, comparing the performances of huskies with the machines that were brought in to replace them was a continuing topic of conversation in the 1950's (Elliott and Ward, 2007). Mechanical failures and accidents lost weasels to the ice and snow drifts would cover them from view. Interconnecting stories of attempts to rescue weasels perpetuate a saga (Figure 2.8). It seems that the weasels had lives of their own and that, for some men, their relationships with machines were as strong as their relationships with fellow living beings.
Like the heroic images of Hurley and Ponting, Elliott's landscape, Fearn Hill, Masson Range, Antarctica 1955, contrasts a tiny party of expeditioners and their weasel with vast Antarctic space (Elliott, 1997).
The small party can only just be be seen to the left of the central rock formation (see arrow). The tiny forms merge with the abstract forms of rock, ice and sky. Unlike in Figure 2.8, it is difficult to get a sense of scale. The drawing contrasts with 'sublime' and Heroic images that represent the struggle of men pitted against the elements (Figures 2.4 and 2.5). From a high vantage point, the party is shown moving through a place with not sense of struggle against elemental forces. Elliott explains that '[t]he black and white conveys the harshness of Antarctica and the beauty of the line. I also wanted people to read their own thoughts into the images' (Elliott, 2009).
Elliott's comfortable relationship with Antarctica came from walking many times through remote Australian places.
I was just so used to being where there were no tracks, that I found it perfectly natural to be in such places. It's been like that as long as I can remember. I think that Antarctic landscape is more apparent; easier to understand than a lot of Australian landscapes. Sure, Nullarbor is an exception, where the sky comes down to your bootstraps (as they say) and, like the Antarctic plateau, you are never too sure whether it is hollow or not under your boots (Appendix 1A).
Elliott's naturally grounded relationship is dramatised in his image, Fearn Hill, Masson Range, Antarctica 1955 (Elliott, 1997). Lines trace great forces that sweep through ice and sky. The weight of the ice sheet moving past rock is suggested by darkly drawn slots (crevasses). Lines and forms balance opposing forces. There is a sense of suspended animation that seems to echo the dynamic forces that shape life itself. The men and their machines provide a sense of the vast scale of the place.
Elliott's drawing, Masson Range, Antarctica, was inspired by a rock formation (Elliott, 1997). His annotations on a copy of this drawing (Figure 2.10, right) indicate his knowledge of geology and a desire to trace evidence of human presence in Antarctica (Elliott, 2007).
Elliott observed a massive twisted rock that reminded him of a condition of the hand, Dupuytren's contracture, whereby shortened tendons curl and twist the palm and fingers:
It was the feeling of tremendous forces and heat moulding this dramatic part of the range that attracted me to it ... Note that the downward sweep of the rock has been emphasised to enhance the twisting in the central patch of snow ... The shape of the snowdrift has been altered to lead the eye into the picture ... I invented a lead up from the foreground ice to the centre of the crux of the twisting ... (Elliott, 2007).
By creating a lead, or path, along which to imaginatively climb the rock, Elliott expressed his relationship to rock that had never been touched by humans.
Elliott describes Antarctica as a uniquely elemental, dynamic environment that is 'all laid bare', where
There's nothing hiding the ice. The rock is bare, and the ice flowing around it opens and shuts as it makes its way down to the coast. The mountains absorb heat from the un-setting summer sun and melt the ice and snow lying on or next to them. These form melt-water streams which gurgle their way down the plateau ice towards the coast. The sound of water tinkling over ice is a delight to the ear. Boulders, fallen from the mountains, also sweep off downhill along the flow-lines of the plateau ice.
The air in the wind blowing out from the plateau, the gradient wind, was once tropical air, drawn up high by the great heat-pump of the sun, and descending in the polar regions where it forms a huge high pressure region from which it too, flows out to ocean. As well, there is an additional wind, the katabatic, caused by the cold, denser, ice-cooled air rolling down off the plateau, thus augmenting the gradient wind.
In winter, the sea-ice covers an area as big as the Antarctic itself, yet the huge moon-driven force of the tides raises and lowers this huge weight. Where the ice meets the coast is the tide-crack, where one can hear, on a still day, the creaking of the ice as it rises and falls with the tide.
That is what I mean by, 'It's all laid bare' Appendix 1A).
Elliott describes Antarctica, in words and pictures, as a physical system that he perceived through all his senses. His lines invite viewers to place themselves within the space to find their own sense of place within it.
As well as relationships that have been formed between people and the Antarctic environment, profound relationships have been made in Antarctica between people. Elliott he remarked, at the end of an interview,
One of the things we have left out [in the discussion] is the people in the Antarctic. To me, they are more important than the actual ... than to everything else (Appendix 1A).
The same thought is echoed by geoscientist, Jo Whittaker, who reflected that, when working in Antarctica,
you do have time to sit around and talk with other people, specially at the end of an expedition, and you're waiting to go home, and you're there for a few days and everyone's talking about how their trip went. And we ended up chatting to this biologist who was looking at fish, and all kinds of different people - a diver, and people measuring ice crystals - and all kinds of strange things that I'd never thought of before. But it seems a lot of the research down there is ultimately related to climate, or the effects of climate, so it's kind of interesting to see how people are approaching it from all different ways. It's nice to think about science as this sort of organic body that's ultimately working towards one course, because you get so caught up in your own little piece of it that everybody sort of does their bit and, yeah, and it all sort of accumulates, doesn't it ? ... But maybe, you know, but maybe that one piece of data that you take out can be a really crucial piece of a puzzle (Appendix 1F).
Relationships between people can raise awareness of different ways that we measure, experience, and describe the environment. Relationships between scientific and artistic researchers can generate new ways of perceiving.
Just as complex physical forces interconnect the poles, so the polar arts are interconnected. In the late eighteenth century, for example, Coleridge adopted Gothic iconography from the Arctic to represent Antarctica in his Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Coleridge, 1798). Artist Joyce Campbell's image, Ice Ghoul (2007) (Figure 2.11), is a direct response to a Gothic form sculpted by the elements in Antarctica (Campbell in McCredie, 2007, p.24, Illus.). Campbell recognised and photographed a grotesque human face in the ice (Jerram, 2007, p.10). Sophie Jerram recognises in Campbell's image a potent metaphor for the threat of climate change.
Artist Joyce Campbell's image, Ice Ghoul (2007), is a direct response to a Gothic form sculpted by the elements in Antarctica (Campbell in McCredie, 2007, p.24, Illus.). Campbell recognised and photographed a grotesque human face in the ice (Jerram, 2007, p.10). Sophie Jerram recognises in Campbell's image a potent metaphor for the threat of climate change (Jerram, 2007, p.10):
Having watched it [global warming] emerge out of industrial society like an amorphous Frankenstein, we now recognise the signs of the monster's self-propulsion and find that we have lost the thermostat's remote control. Campbell uses a Victorian Gothic aesthetic to exploit our fears that nature may indeed have some grand plan - that is, to shake us off the planet now we have proven ourselves unworthy of it.
Mary Shelley's Gothic novel, Frankenstein, closes with the words 'darkness and distance' (Shelley, 1999, p.170). The novel's narrator, Walton, describes an Arctic scene into which a monster created by a scientist is 'borne away'. His words express the despair of Frankenstein and the grotesque monster he created.
When I reflected on the work I had completed, no less a one than the creation of a sensitive and rational animal, I could not rank myself with the herd of common projectors. But this thought, which supported me in the commencement of my career, now serves only to plunge me lower in the dust (Shelley, 1999, p.161).
Frankenstein's monster reveals to Walton that
Some years ago, when the images which this world affords first opened upon me, when I felt the cheering warmth of summer, and heard the rustling of the leaves and the warbling of the birds, and these were all to me, I should have wept to die; now it is my only consolation. Polluted by crimes, and torn by the bitterest remorse, where can I find rest but in death (Shelley, 1999, p.170) ?
Both the scientist and his creation struggle to reconcile contradictory feelings of connection and distance. The darkness of the ice reflects their distance from the natural world and humanity. The Arctic is used as a metaphor for the human mind as described by Freud, as a site of conflict between conscious reason and unconscious desire (Freud, 1946).
Siv Jansson suggests that the novel 'defies a single interpretation, engaging instead with some of the crucial social and public questions of the period' (Jansson, 1999, p.viii). Among these questions was the influence on humans of the Industrial Revolution, of the progress of technology for its own sake. Jansson cites Levine (1979) declaring that the monster has become 'a metaphor for our own cultural crisis' (Levine in Jansson, 1999, p.vii) . Frankenstein, he proposes, remains a potent source of imagery that warns of the consequences of 'aspiration for its own sake'.
Campbell explains that 'In approaching Antarctica, I knew I needed to draw my audience into the physicality of that very strange, distant and otherworldly place' (Campbell in Jerram, 2007, p.10) . In Ice Ghoul, Campbell combines Shelley's imagined inner landscape of the Arctic with the reality of Antarctica's changing environment.
As a centre of scientific and artistic research, Antarctica represents a place of convergence between different perspectives. As more artists and scientists meet in both the Arctic and Antarctica, deeper relationships between the poles may be described. Antarctica, which is centered on land and opposite the Arctic in position and condition, may be a metaphor for harmony.
Different perspectives are brought together by artist David Buckland whose Cape Farewell Project (Buckland, 2006, p.5) takes artists to 'witness, understand and react to the rapidly changing Arctic environment'. Siobhan Davies, a choreographer who worked with him says (Appendix 1D),
It is the high Arctic, which physically has an effect on you every second of the day ... it's also an emotional knowledge. So although the scientists were terrific, and I benefited enormously from simply experiencing other people's knowledge succinctly and intelligently put forward. That was just wonderful. In the end I think it was the emotional experience and knowledge which has been the greatest ... I was going to use the word fire ... an engine for a different kind of energy.
Davies produced the video installation, Endangered Species (2006) (Buckland, 2006, p.93, Illus.)(Figure 2.12), in which a female dancing form is projected at smaller than human scale within a small cabinet, or museum vitrine.
The dancer is presented as part-human and part-insect, performing a cyclic dance within a blackened space. Clothed in a white skin-tight body suit with leggings that fade to black, she appears to emerge from another dimension. Long white flexible rods attached to her body resemble the 'theoretical rods' devised by Polycleitus. The rods define points of the human anatomy that 'show the physical potential of an athlete' (Hedgecoe, 2005). The rods in Endangered Species, however, describe more than theoretical movement. They extend and exaggerate the cyclic dance of a living body. They reach within and beyond the space that surrounds it. Dance analyst, Rudolf Laban, describes this space as the 'kinesphere' (Laban in Watts, 1977, p.7).
The amplified gestures of the dancer suggest that humanity is reaching beyond its natural limits. Sounds of the rods, as they touch each other, evoke the rhythmic cycles of Earth motion that drive the glacial and interglacial cycles (Crowley, 2002). When perceived as timed to reflect scientific data, rhythmic gestures can connect us to cycles of change at a kinaesthetic level.
Some scientists propose that natural cycles of climate change, between glacial and interglacial periods, can herald speciation or the evolution of new species (Barnosky, 2005, p.247). The choreographic process that Davies used, to replicate from a single simple movement, reflects these cyclic patterns of evolution.
Listening to scientists enabled Davies to connect her experience of the Arctic to the actuality of climate change at home, and to convey her body knowledge through dance. In our day-to-day lives, she says (Appendix 1D),
you forget that you are, that your mind and your body are made up of matter and that the place that you live in is made up of matter and that you are, each part of you is just moleculed, or remoleculed up into different ways. And by truly recognising that - not in a poetic sense, not in a ... any other sense than IT IS. There it is! It's what you have to deal with, what you have to understand.
As a dancer and choreographer, Davies says that she has experienced a gradual understanding of a lack of boundary between herself and where she exists.
Fox describes the difficulty of accurately mapping the polar region through which he has moved, where 'everything is bent into wedges as longitude lines converge toward the pole' (Fox, 2007, p.27). The globe, the sextant and the pencil and point compass are still useful for navigation (Wilson, 2008), but a polar projection, centred on the South Pole, provides the most accurate representation of Antarctica.
Art historian, Kenneth Clark, proposes that 'All art is to some degree symbolic, and the readiness with which we accept symbols as real depends, to a certain extent, on familiarity' (Clark, 1966, p.18).
Artist Stephen Eastaugh agrees that
there is indeed a relationship between art and cartography as they both attempt to make meaning of the world or communicate information. The similarities between maps and art both revolve around attempting to give information. Turning the unfamiliar into the familiar. It is presumed that the first scribblings in the dirt by humans were maps (Eastaugh, 2007).
Fox proposes that underlying all maps is 'the presumption that we can impose a systematic geometry upon the planet, a belief founded on both the construction of the world itself and our biology' (Fox, 2007, p.45). He offers this as a reason for the dominance of a dualistic world view. Because we have left and right hands, legs, and brain hemispheres, and a top and a bottom and a front and a back, he says,
We are, in a sense, polar by nature ... We are constructed the way the universe itself is because our biology obeys the laws of physics - and in turn, because we are a bilaterally symmetrical species, we conceive of the universe in terms of dualistic principles (Fox, 2007, p.45-46).
While Fox proposes a tendency among humans to classify things in terms of right and wrong and black and white, to make sense of the 'otherwise chaotic dissonance of reality', he also proposes that we have
a global view of our surroundings, a three-dimensional kinesphere. This is our sense of personal space, which changes shape and size according to circumstance and dictates how comfortable we are with other objects, especially other people near us ... Thus humans embody, literally, both dualistic and spherical geometries in (and of) the world - which is apparent in the history of cartography (Fox, 2007, p.46).
It may seem that perceptions of Antarctica have come full circle, with expressions of harmony now being made that relate to Indigenous and Ancient Greek world views. Yet there coexist responses to Antarctica that suggest conflicting thoughts and feelings.
In the extreme conditions of Antarctica, bodily sensations and thoughts can become confused, or they can become heightened. They can work together to propel actions that are needed to survive. Global and planar ways of knowing co-exist within us. We sense the physical world through the (spherical) kinesphere through which we move. We draw (planar) maps as mental constructs to guide how we think, rather than sense, our way through it. These ways of knowing are available to everyone. Artistic and scientific explorers of Antarctica have developed an iconography that reflects these different ways of knowing.