Nov - Dec 2009
I soon say good-bye to hut fever in its
Antarctic form and prepare for other fevers. My immune system must be
rather weak now after a year of no internal microscopic bug wars to
keep it fit I also worry that my tolerance to other peoples concerns
has been severely diminished as well. How can I pretend to be concerned
or even bother listening to anyone who has trivial complaints or
mentions topics like –Michael Jackson’s new film, fashion tips by the
US president’s wife or which celebrity is doing naughty things. I have
had little to do with many things for a long time, even important world
news has seemed so faraway and unconnected to life here on the Ice that
I may seem rather callous when I return. Maybe I was callous before I
wintered? I hope I did not loose any empathy out there on that slippery
I have been living in a tiny outpost of society that cannot survive at
all without support from “home” but it is a fact that I feel very
distant, fuzzy and maybe hesitant about re-integration into normal
society. Everyone certainly misses their loved ones and I desire
enormously to see Carolina but our concerns have been artificially
limited due to the isolation. Concentration is elusive now as I slowly
start to readjust for the welcome home onslaught. All these
feelings sum up what is called “a burnt out winterer” or a “broken”
winterer as an Argentinean Antarctic doctor tells me. I feel pretty
weathered both internally and externally as I sit here and wait for the
Casa light plane to land. Admittedly I did put myself in this situation
and pushed myself with an intensive work routine. I may be drained more
by my elongated self-inflicted studio time than the dark temporal
oddity of an Antarctic winter. I wave goodbye to this far-flung frigid
village surrounded by glimmering ice and pack my bags ready to fly over
masses of pack ice.
Farewell to my Mawson mates as well as to the
hardy orange lichen on nearby boulders where I used to sit and
contemplate. Melt water can now been found so moss and lichen begin to
come out of hibernation, I best work out how to do the same.
We all talk about “RTA” and wait for
extraction. No one speaks of “going home” or “waiting for a
flight.” Acronyms are linguistically fashionable down on the Ice. This
is due to communication methods used that must pass information fast
and clear also government and military systems have tainted language
down here. So you can hear over lunch sentences like - “RTA on the
AA”, “Oh on V3?” “Say hi to the VL for me” or “…FTO over summer.”
Someone on station almost ended his telephone chat with his mother with
“Over and out Mum. VLV standing by.” Return To Australia for me will
involve a whirlwind of people, chores, medical, telephone calls,
psychological debriefing, drinks, airports and acclimatization, all
sounding very exhausting for this delicate petal.
I begin to head northwards. Mawson to Davis took me over the massive
Amery Iceshelf with views galore and after a little over two hours we
landed on the sea ice just off Davis station. Here the Aurora Australis
icebreaker has been busy bashing its way through the heavy ice in order
to resupply the station with people, food, fuel and cargo. As resupply
was underway I attempted to settle first into a donga then into my
cabin on ship. My social skills have certainly weakened as I found
Davis station with a monster population of 100 rather tedious to
navigate around. I hope to get a good eight-hour long sleep some time
soon as I prepare for many days of cabin fever as we cross the often
rowdy Southern Ocean in a tiny bright red ship.
The voyage involved icebreaking, pack ice,
filming, floe ice, reading, bergs, writing, waves, sleeping, movies,
more reading, more waves and the slow shedding of polar clothing. After
322 days far south I arrived back in Hobart on 5th December feeling
rather elated but askew. Many things are surprising as I stroll around
Hobart but all things are warm which is also incredible! I have slight
bouts of ‘Green-out” upon seeing shrubbery and bushes. The smells are
fabulous but flowers look just crazy and fake. Patting pets and
observing other creatures like insects all seems peculiar. Not to
mention all those wired humans running about the place.
Perhaps as you read this Carolina is shearing off my beard with a rusty
machete as symbolic revenge for not being physically close by and
having this odd affair with an icecap for one year. I have indulged in
a serious love-hate relationship with a place that often charms and
occasionally frazzles minds. What form of relationship did I form with
Mawson station during 2009? I will answer that question visually via
exhibitions in 2010. I owe Carolina a great deal for her understanding
and extreme patience while I was ogling the Ice for such a long time,
now I must get over the Pacific Ocean and find her.
In Argentina I will thaw out and the Ice will slowly become fluid in my
mind as some good, some bad and some indifferent limbo-like Mawson
memories melt away. What I retain will be astonishing experiences as
well as a little ice floe-ing in my blood, even when its +40C.
It has been a juggle to stay happy and
focussed here at times. Not too difficult but I have had to exert
self-discipline and find a balance between the stunning sublime views
and the grind of isolation and time. Thus, there is over-stimulation
and under-stimulation found in the daily patterns of Antarctic life. I
believe everyone has felt this to a degree at some stage throughout the
year. My method of operating down here has somehow worked as I
have not “lost the plot” and there is now only a handful of weeks
remaining here at Mawson Station before I am extracted and begin to
move to one of the continents washed with liquid water and covered with
masses of humans. The cultural life here has been unique and exotic and
there is much more I wish to do but time seems to speed up now.
Culture is derived from the Latin ‘cultura’ or
‘cultured land’ but what does it mean in Antarctica where the land is
squashed under 30 million square kilometres of ice and nobody stays
longer than a year or two at the most? Culture today is many things
like “the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties of
people by education”. It is the “integrated pattern of human knowledge,
belief and behaviour”. It is “customary beliefs, social forms and
material traits of a particular racial, religious or social group” and
it is “excellence of taste in fine arts and humanities”. That is a lot
of stuff! Human culture slowly settles into the Ice. Like elsewhere on
the planet, culture is created everyday in Antarctica but here it
emerges amongst extreme isolation, severe weather and the transient
population. Most activities here are very fresh, windswept and weather
Antarctica has distinctive history, science, celebrations, traditions,
language even fashion and art begin to accumulate on top of the many
layers of ice.
I will run through some activities found on the Ice with the hope of
briefly exploring Antarctic culture.
Most ideas and pastimes come from other continents although
Science collects new data and this can indeed be original and extremely
important but other activities here are transplanted from warmer parts
of the world. Culture down on the ice revolves around science, the
collecting of data, research, PhDs, fact finding and testing to form
models that may help humans understand more, do more, live more and be
more but more sustainably.
Human History is really only 100 years young in Antarctica and consists
of a tiny number of mostly men exploring, documenting, searching and
trying to stay alive. The Heroic era is well over now but its pemmican
flavour still lingers at some stations, as does the respect for those
Art arrived here with science by tagging along
as a documentation and publicity tool for scientific work and to this
day it still plays those roles along with its own separate intrinsic
performances. As a painter in this science driven world I may seem out
of place at times but the support and interest of all on the station is
quite strong and positive which helps me to translate this strange
white land into art. Not a simple task in any climate.
Photography is the main form of visual art made in Antarctica and
cinema is the most popular entertainment but other media, can appear
depending on the individuals on station at any given time.
There is very little formal religion here and that is neatly tucked
away in a church on the American station and a few on the Antarctic
Peninsula. Science has swamped voodoo, virgins
running about heaven waiting for heroes and the idea of a hot hell here
is extremely difficult to even consider. The remaining spiritual
business here is private and intimate and that includes the common
shock of grand sublime nature doing its thing Big-time. The humble
viewing of the awesome icescape seems to be ample soul food for most
people down on the Ice.
Language is a transmitter of culture and its role here is certainly
primary, as contact with the rest of the world is much needed. There
has recently been an Antarctic English dictionary published which
reminds us that language is a very fluid human tool. The dictionary is
formed from science, acronyms, slang, Inuit and other borrowed words.
All required to describe this unusual icy continent.
Food must be mentioned as well as it is often
an integral part of social functions. High-energy food like chocolate
is popular as is alcohol. As a result both are locked in a secure
facility called ‘Fort Knox’ in an attempt to stop over consumption.
Four meals a day keep people physically and psychologically happy with
smoked oysters and other treats strangely desired. Over winter fresh
fruit and vegetables are missed but hydroponics can help in that
department. Otherwise there is no local produce so a special Antarctic
cuisine has not grown but experimentation with homebrew beer is far
from unheard of.
Celebrations imported from various homelands
are performed with gusto. Public holidays, religious festivals, (often
attended by atheists with full glasses) special days and birthdays are
all diligently celebrated. Unique Antarctic events are found on the
calendar such as the Mid-Winter feast, end of summer and end of winter
formal dinners along with the short getaways called “jollies.” All of
these activities ward of the ‘groundhog day’ syndrome, which can make
each day in Antarctica, seem like the last. These functions create a
community structure and acknowledge the desire to share events.
In Antarctica you can see the following –
1. A strong focus on positive scientific activity.
2. Immediate help to any one from any country in trouble.
3. Recycling and environmental impact concerns that are as strong as
anywhere on the planet.
4. An aesthetic love of the continent displayed by the staggering
number of photographs taken by those that work and visit Antarctica.
These positive cultural traits have become ingrained and automatic on
most stations most of the time.
We can thank both the demanding climate and the geo-political anomaly
of the Antarctic treaty for the above behaviour. Surprisingly this
treaty has the signatures of over 40 countries on a document that
states they will not fight over borders or make a mess as well as share
knowledge across the entire continent. Very surprising in fact!
Someone once said to me “why go to Antarctica? There’s no culture
there!” My slightly arrogant reply was “ Then I best make some when I
get there.” Which is what we all do here, there and elsewhere. It is
what type of culture that is important.
On pre-departure talks before travel to Antarctica there is usually a
doctor to give everyone a fast overview of conditions down on the Ice
regarding health. Often the final words are simply something like this
“ Don’t get cold and look after one another.” Not a bad doctrine
for Antarctica or elsewhere in this world.
This is a shocking place. Every time I remove my padded jacket after
going into a building on station I am zapped by static and not just a
little click of electricity but sparks shoot from my fingers. Touching
metal, wood, taps, doors or even people jolts any weariness from me
Once the jacket it off and I look outside my window I can see all this
water in solid form but I will never see rainfall, rarely snow either.
In fact in the Dry valleys near McMurdo station there has been no rain
for over two million years! This is some desert!
My skin is dry and needs some serious moisturizing products as soon as
possible before I mummify, my lips are always cracked and its time to
celebrated another birthday; this one involving drinks with the Mawson
crew and a superb blueberry strudel kindly whipped up by the
chef. I actually think about my next birthday in 2010 when liquid
water will be nearby, my lips will be repaired by then and it will be a
great deal warmer than minus 29 C outside.
The senses are all used here in Antarctica to make this place real as
they are anywhere. Touch is big due to the dry cold and static
but human touch is sadly zero without partners around. Smell is useless
as there are not that many pleasant aromas here for the olfactory organ
to enjoy. Taste is always grand but our pantry begins to empty of
certain favourite items and hearing is used to mostly indulge in
music or to gauge the various levels of katabatic wind. The darkness
and blizzards makes sight not so easy but when we have views they are
massive and intense. In fact the last aurora australis show was so
brilliant it dragged me from a warm bed outside into -23C to feast on
the wild dancing lightshow above. We are busy with all our senses
discerning and indulging but Antarctica remains aloof. It does not give
a penguin’s pecker about us humans.
In 2005 I visited the Ross Sea and managed to visit a tiny island in
Terra Nova Bay. Inexpressible Island was named by a group of six
explorers that were stuck there for one year back in 1912.
The name says it all. Miraculously the Englishmen survived by living in
a snow cave and eating the odd penguin and seal. My time down
here is another story and far from desperate but I can peer out the
window and gather all my Antarctic experiences together and quite
easily rename the entire continent Inexpressible Land. Not
because of any trauma or shocking diet I have undergone but simply due
to this continents scale and stark display of a shimmering void that
murders language. Nevertheless I shall babble on…
Everyone on station has bunkered down to their routines and keeps busy
with work and various station social activities. This winter crew will
avoid any Polar madness thankfully but the winter period seems to be an
experiment or adventure into an extreme locale for everyone on the Ice.
We hover in-between the long dark night and the titanium white
icescape. And hover we do as we are all definitely temporary but also
relatively long term inhabitants on this peculiar ice-land that is
often not even found on maps of the world and if it is pictured very
few people will be able to point to any particular location besides the
south pole. For a big chunk of time we are living or stationed or
isolated perhaps stuck, marooned or even imprisoned here. The word
selection above depends on the mood; stress or loneliness one feels on
any given week. Today I like the words - We are ‘purposely plonked’
I start to miss insect life! Which seems silly, as I never thought I
would miss those little annoying creatures. I also miss trees and all
those other green fluffy and spiky living things. I don’t even want to
think about how much I miss my partner. Lets not talk about it. It’s
If anyone happens to be in Paris in September I will be in a group
exhibition titled @RT OUTSIDERS. Opening Sept 8th. This is a show
dealing with artists working in or with very out of the way locations.
Outside it is cold, dark and noisy or I could say very cold, very dark
and very noisy. Reading is the current activity for me and predictably
the novels I plod through are somehow fitting to my situation. If on a
winter's night a traveller - Italo Calvino. Heart of darkness - Joseph
Conrad. Journey to the end of the night - Louis Ferdinand Celine. Terra
Antarctica - William Fox. Negative horizon - Paul Virilio. H2O - Philip
Ball and Solitude - Anthony Storr.
Time, dates and occasionally months have become fuzzy down here.
Daytime has left this part of Antarctica. In fact using the term 'day'
here seems rather silly at the moment. I eat my lunch as the sun hides
just below the horizon so a glimmer of twilight is all we get. What is
the correct Antarctic small talk/greeting during winter? "It's a nice
night today" or "Lovely day this night" or perhaps "Good twilight to
you" could shrink to "G'twi mate"? Actually everyone mostly watches and
comments on the wind velocity and then the temperature down here. As is
to be expected my circadian rhythm or body clock is a little mangled
but not so bad as to make normal operation difficult. All this darkness
is great if you're a vampire but I begin to miss the sun a little.
Strangely a vampire series is being screened during this month in the
mini cinema. I munch on vitamin C and D pills and know that light and
warmth will return but that is in a few months time. We all hurry up
and wait for that.
While waiting we watched some very attractive nacreous clouds recently.
These rare mother of pearl like clouds form 20 kilometres above the
polar-regions during winter as they require tiny ice crystals and
atmospheric temperatures below -85C to occur. We also saw solar pillars
before the sun disappeared and dancing Auroras appear in the dark sky
every so often to visually entertain us.
I want to hibernate as my body tells me to do so but my brain wants me
to make art. This body vs. mind war battles on over the winter period
but I feel a truce coming on. My brain is the referee so it usually
gives the title to the mind but the body sometimes just shuts down and
I crawl into my sleeping donga to catch up on lost sleep.
Antics occur over the year to help grease the time and massage bouts of
hut fever. Not sure if the doctor has any medicine for hut fever. I
must ask him. Traditionally it comes in a bottle and smells of alcohol.
The primary Antarctic tradition is the Mid-Winter feast. Here at Mawson
station on June 21 we amused ourselves with the following - 1000 Brunch
1200 Swim (Yes we cut a hole in the sea ice and performed a polar
plunge. It was -19C and 30-knot winds so rather invigorating.) 1500
A.A.T.W.O.P. (A micro exhibition of my works on paper.) 1600 Nunatak
Brewery's new line of boutique beers tasting. 1700 Mid-winters dinner
or should I say feast. 1900 Evening Entertainment. - 'Cinderella' (The
traditional Antarctic play performed for decades on many stations.) -
Director's Cut Station movie. - Classical music from Tom and Doug. -
Other stations mid winter movies.
All entertainment intended to mark the mid way point between arrival
and extraction for this very isolated crew of Mawsonites. Imagine
living in a tiny village with a population of 16 people. There is no
way to leave for ten months and you will not see anyone else at all.
The other expeditioneers are initially strangers but soon friends as
outside the village there is plenty of fatal weather mixed with
astonishing views that bond everyone to various degrees. A number of
social and personal skills are obviously required to make the village
run smoothly. The 2009 winter crew are all a pretty fine mob of
characters so we survive easily. After the mid winter festivities I had
a nice mug of hot chocolate with rum and then fell into bed for two
days to repair.
Most creatures have left the continent except the male Emperor penguin
who is now busy huddling, incubating and waiting for their partners to
return from a six week long extremely arduous shopping trip. There is
also lichen, moss, ice algae and other tiny life forms hanging onto
survival as well as the odd, warmly dressed human. My estimate is about
1000 humans are scattered across the entire continent this winter.
To humanize this seemingly endless continent is a complicated chore but
we humans like a challenge and we are pretty good at adapting.
Currently under the flag of science a number of countries gingerly
colonize this part of the globe. Usually the term colonize has a nasty
smell about it as it can mean evicting, killing or assimilating the
previous inhabitants. As no humans have ever lived on this continent
there is no one about to bother but it is far from an easy place to
settle or even survive in. Today part-time Antarcticans across the
continent are careful to not disturb the wildlife as well as the tiny
pockets of vegetation so we all tread as gently as possible. My hope is
that this polite, receptive attitude towards Antarctica will remain and
also spread to other continents but that is asking a great deal indeed.
Trips out to Auster rookery and Taylor rookery recently displayed to me
the unbelievable lifestyle of the Emperor Penguin. This is one tough
bird that each year comically waddles over the sea ice surviving near
starvation and blizzards with what seems like the greatest of ease.
Blizzards when they reach a certain level are very noisy, over 50 knots
and some people cannot sleep without earplugs. One gauge which is
utilized regarding moving about safely is that if the wind gust knot
reading is over your body weight then walking and standing can be
difficult. So at my current weight I must be careful when it is gusting
above 70 knots, then getting to and from the studio is a splendid way
to freshen up. Sometimes it is best just to say in bed and nurse the
occasional bout of hut-fever with a book.
To view the short movie HUTFEVER click the play icon. To download the
movie right click the play icon and click 'Save Target AS'.
Hut Fever (18MB)
A field trip or 'Jolly' up onto the icecap to visit three huts for
survival training took me to Rumdoodle, Fang and Hendo. All three are
simply tiny boxes plonked and tied down in spectacular scenery with
comforts like beds, stoves, toilets, food, heaters, radios and other
treats to keep people alive and happy. We rode quads across the blue
ice, over snowdrifts and sastrugi following arrows on GPS units and the
cane lines or marked routes to avoid crevasses or 'slots' as they call
them here. An exhilarating trip to say the least and we even found a
few pretty ice flowers.
I am in MacRobinson Land named after the boss of the chocolate company
who kindly bought us the Cherry Ripe and Old Gold chocolate bars. Mr.
Mac kindly gave Mr. Douglas Mawson 20,000 Pounds to help fund the
BANZARE expedition of 1929 in order to map this area of coast. Mapping
this continent is an ongoing chore as it literally grows or shrinks
Here in White-Chocolate Land I share the living quarters or Red Shed
with 15 other expeditioneers – Peter, Tubby, Glenn, Matt, Gunny,
Nathan, Dave, Doug, Buckshot, Fridge, Aaron, Jeremy, Lee, Tom and last
but certainly not least Jaz our chef. Everyone has settled into the
unusual and artificial station life and we all peer out the window
watching the sea freeze over and turn into a hard shiny extension of
this icy continent. When it does freeze to the maximum extent the
continent literally doubles in size to something like 30 million square
To get from the Red Shed to my studio in the brown Wombat building is
at times demanding. A blizzard will quash visibility and require me to
put on an extra layer of clothing as well as holding onto the 'blizz
line' which is a rope connecting one building to another. In this
climate even 25 meters is a long way to navigate. People have been lost
and even died only a few meters from safety down here. Once I do
waddle, stumble or fly over to the studio I find myself attempting to
shrink Antarctica to a manageable scale. Domesticating the Ice. I sew
and paint the vast landscape outside with a desire to know it better.
Antarctica reduces us with its sublimity, gob smacking us and
physically slapping us about in order to remind us of the small part we
play in the universe. The 'diminutive effect' that environmental
psychologists talk about is another name for this conceptual slimming
that we encounter in the midst of grand expansive nature.
As it belittles us I do the same to Antarctica. I play with or reverse
this 'diminutive effect' by creating tiny paintings about an awesome
brutal majestic space just outside my window. I know I am a tiny speck
and I am happy with that fact but if Antarctica shrinks me it is only
fair that I shrink it right back with the hope of understanding it and
attempting to see this white void-land in human terms. Antarctica
reminds me I am human and very mortal and I try to humanize it by
making it bite size.
Besides making art in the studio I also eat chocolate and brew up
coffee with cardamom to ease the odd bout of disquiet bought about by
this isolation. Will exotic spices from warmer climes do the trick? I
guess not but it is worth a try. Looking out the window I see a hostile
beauty that is oddly inviting due to its chilled purity but I am not
able to survive very long at all outside this cocoon called Mawson
station. Home sweet home this place is definitely not.
There is understandably a lot of homesickness on Antarctic stations, in
fact I believe an Argentinean doctor once burnt down some buildings in
order to be extracted from the Ice as he did not wish to stay for the
long winter period. Here an artificial home feeling or lets call it a
haven mood has formed in order to psychologically prepare everyone for
the months of isolation ahead. No human would be here without the
massive life line support systems from other continents to keep us all
animated for periods of time down here. If technology zooms ahead and
makes some kind of self-support possible in Antarctica then maybe
humans could actually call it home but until then I am in some kind of
comfortable limbo or I am just 'doing a winter' like many have done
before me. The first wintering over on Antarctica was in 1899 by a
group of ten young men. They stayed in a tiny hut at Cape Adare and had
a very unpleasant time I have read. Nine managed to return home. I have
been to this hut and I am very thankful that Mawson station is a
hi-tech village paradise in comparison.
A quote from the poet Wallace Stevens makes sense down here on the
blizzard days - 'the nothing that is not there and the nothing that
is.' Another quote from a travel book I just picked up mentions a
saying from the Maasai world that could make homesickness and
dislocation thoughts totally defunct. 'You are never far from home as
long as you are alive' so my cunning plan is to stay alive and what is
that weird glossy green goo swirling about in the night sky?
Night Aurora - Photographer Jeremy Wills
Waiting for the Russian ship to leave Hobart and head south took a few
more days that planned but repairs had to be done and the extra time in
Australia gave me a chance to consider how crazy I was to leave my wife
and family for most of the year with no possibility to return until
next summer. I happily said goodbye to certain elements of big city
life like the 'Passionfruit flavoured decaf regular skinny latte' Which
means expensive crap coffee and milk spiced and some synthetic flavour
of the month. This ingredient of the modern world I truly find silly
and will not miss.
Hobart still seemed to me a cute, small city but growing steadily in
size and diversity under the impressive Mt Wellington. In early January
it was fresh, funky and busy with its summer tourists as well as a
small but stimulating arts festival. Down by the Salamanca dock area I
strolled around the popular market and the festival drinking a little
beer with Hobart friends as I waited and churned over a pile of
confusing sad excitement in my head.
Once on the ship there was no turning back. The massive Amderma
cargo-moving icebreaking beast was 177 meters long, flying a Russian
flag but actually made in Finland in the early 80s. My cabin on that
slow lumbering ship was cosy and all my own, the toilet seat was even
padded to protect my delicate bum and I got herrings for breakfast
every Monday morning. It was 'all good' and luckily no one whistled
onboard which would have caused wind to pick up and a storm to appear.
This old sailors belief was adhered to it seems as the crossing was
like cruising over a pond which is usually not the story on the
Southern Ocean. The various working ship smells of fuel, potatoes,
fresh bread and old socks perfumed the decks along with brisk air
aplenty. Days got bigger as nights almost evaporated and the
thermometer dropped. Polar birds flew by, penguins appeared, whales in
the far distance were spotted as well as seals luxuriating on the floe
ice and a massive iceberg 45 kilometres long. Routinely the ships
routine became the ships routine as I sailed through a few books,
wrote, sketched ideas, watched icebergs and thought of Argentina each
As soon as we arrived at Casey station thirteen intensive days of
resupply began. 730,000 litres of fuel were pumped through a 1.8 km
long fuel line plus tons of food and gear all moved by barges and
cranes. Not easy work anywhere.
At Davis station I had a fine dinner with Senor Clobbs an Antarctic
scientist friend who has spent many a summer down South and I also
managed to visit the sculpture garden that I set up in there in 2003.
The works had weathered as was to be expected and the local penguins
seemed to enjoy the art so all was in order. I pleasingly discovered
additions to the garden in the form of over a dozen simple rock
arrangements constructed nearby. Vertical piles of rocks had been
gathered and set along a small path leading to an old weather data box.
Minimal earth art in style or maybe just funky cairns? Not that it
mattered, as they were subtle and looked totally happy there.
A few days latter we anchored off Mawson station near Horseshoe Harbour
on February the 18th. Thirty-one days after leaving Hobart. That was my
17th crossing of the Southern Ocean and as I said bye and thanked the
Capitan of the Amderma and all onboard I felt like the end of a very
long commute to work had ended and now it was time to settle into a
little studio on the outskirts of an enormous white continent with a
total winter population of less than 700 people scattered across 40
isolated Antarctic stations.
The Ship sailed north after a few days of busy resupply and left myself
and the other 15 Mawson winterers waving goodbye with flares as we all
considered our self-imposed exile. There is no way out or in for anyone
for the next nine months. This is a teeny village enshrouded by extreme
weather that will forbid outside activity for some months due to
cyclonic katabolic winds, whiteouts, blizzards and very un-tropical
temperatures. A sort of yearlong Big Brother Television situation now
begins without the hidden cameras, excitable wannabes and pathetic
antics. It will be much more real than reality TV I am afraid.
I have placed myself in a strange situation, as for me to stay in one
place for many months is something I have not done for over 2 decades.
Many people find security, safety and comfort in a single location
called home. A concept that I lost for a long time but recently I
attempt to gingerly adopt Argentina as a home. I call La Consulta my
base at this stage so home seems like the next obvious step. Until I
return to South America I shall train myself to stay put with the help
of this isolated studio located 67° South. Ridiculous behaviour
without a doubt! I should get a proper life or a proper brain or both
My art supplies have been located and a science building charmingly
called 'Wombat' I have seized as my studio. I now adapt this space by
filling it with art gear. The massive support from Art Spectrum who supplied
the painting equipment for this residency must be thanked enormously.
I will paint, sew, draw, write, photograph, film and doddle my way
through a mixture of experiences over the coming months, some dark and
some light so off to work I go as the first Australian Antarctic Arts
Fellow to winter-over. (www.aad.gov.au)
Antarctic station life is a little like living in an airport, which may
explain why I like the environment. Polar stations are always ready for
emergencies, safety is routine, governmental in manner and logistics,
watching the weather is primary as are communications, strict
quarantine rules are obeyed, there is even a tiny cargo container set
apart for the evil smokers just like those little rooms found in many
airports. Unlike airports there are no border facilities to be seen, no
customs, no duty free shops, no multinational junk-food stalls selling
local penguin pie and seal sushi and the human traffic is miniscule
even compared to a tiny airport.
This icy lifestyle is more like being at sea but the water outside my
cabin is firm and white. We hover over solid sea or dark ancient
Gondwanaland boulders. The station is a gaudy flotilla of boxy crafts
lashed together by metal utility pipes and blizzard lines all floating
on the white snow and wind-blasted rock. The huge wind turbines are
like masts that generate energy for us to stay afloat on this
inhospitable topography. Its not the type of sea that you can wallow,
dive, and splash about in with a fruity cocktail in one hand. It is
hard and unforgiving. We move only as the earth moves on the good ship
Mawson but sometimes as I drift to sleep the raucous blizzard tricks me
into thinking that I am on my way someplace.