Icemelt is the body of artwork I have been making in response to a voyage I made to Antarctica in 2002, and from looking into how the landscape has been perceived by others. I traveled to Antarctica on icebreaker RSV Aurora Australis. Throughout the voyage, and while staying on the Australian bases Davis and Mawson, I developed material to make the interactive CDROM Imagining a different view (an animated journal), prints, drawings, paintings and assemblages.
I was cleaning my studio last week, moving some stuff around, when I began to look at some thing I had put together last year with new eyes: a length of varnished wood with a fax roll core at each, with handles welded on for winding. I'd used it last year as a tool when teaching English. Students were each given a length of paper the width of the rollers and asked to make a drawing to represent the action of a chapter in a novel. Joined all together, and attached either end to the rollers, we could wind the handles and read the whole book in picture form. A T-shirt my partner was wearing that day caught my eye. Printed with actual penguin feet, it reminded me of the penguin tracks I'd seen in the snow at Davis. A scientist on Macquarie Island had made it when he was wintering there in 1995. I started to think about treadmills. Then Karin, an artist/ marine biologist friend staying with us at the time, who had made five trips to Antarctica studying zooplankton, pointed out that my machine looked a bit like a CPR: Continuous Plankton Recorder. These devices trawl rolls of strong silk mesh through Antarctic waters collecting zooplankton, to track their distribution and abundance. They're indistinguishable to the naked eye. Could this be a Continuous Penguin Recorder? I thought of the continuous toil of penguins, and of other Antarctic creatures, in their struggle to survive: the treadmill of their lives. I thought too of the continuous toil of scientists collecting data on them. The original CPR was developed by Alister Hardy in the 1920's and has been used since those days to track the tiny but critical little beasties in the marine food chain, on which penguins and people depend.
Michaela Gleave, a Sydney based installation artist who is yet to go south, imaginatively responds to an Antarctic word: diamond dust - Tiny crystals of ice in cold air, brilliantly reflecting sunlight (Hince, B. 2000, p.98):
Raining Room (Diamond dust) is a 3D animated room of actual falling water through light, imaginatively transporting visitors into an Antarctic atmosphere. The word is physically extended into a space and time you can walk through and touch. How might such a work be represented on-line, and linked to the word and its definition, and evoke an experience of the artwork?
Gleave, M. 2006 Exhibition, Raining Room (Diamond dust), Firstdraft gallery, Sydney:
I find a sound sculpture in the National History Museum, London (June 2006). Made by Max Eastley, an artist just returned from the Arctic, it's a line of shaped glass shards suspended from fine steel cables, in a long line along a wall. A small mechanism turns the top of each cable, causing the shards to strike into each other randomly. The sound evokes that of the millions of tiny bells I heard at Ace Lake, beyond Mawson, where the sun shines through crystal a blue sky, and warms the black dust particles that land on a nearby glacier. The glacier is melting, crystal by blue crystal. Melodic ringings sound through Antarctic air from vast distances, yet can also put your ear to hear a single crystal tone.
Working with some stereoscopic photographs taken by Tony Oetterli, an Antarctic expeditioner who was stationed at Mawson over two summers, including the intervening winter, I'm engraving each of two images (one for each eye) onto either side of a thick glass sheet. Another experiment involves transforming each image into an oil painting, for rephotographing and viewing in strereo. As anyone who has tried to paint outdoors in Antarctica will tell you, it's impossible! Working with these 3D images, however, is perhaps the next best thing to being there.