Arts Fellows breaking the ice

For most people, Antarctica is as accessible as the Moon, and they must rely on a virtual experience, dictated by others’ impressions. Most visitors are scientists, trained to observe and interpret Antarctica according to their chosen discipline. Our Arts Fellows are chosen for, among other things, their ability to capture and communicate the experiences that inspire them. As communicators, their role is to help the community understand Antarctica’s values and Australia’s role in its research and protection.

In 1998, Jorg Schmeisser travelled to Antarctica on the Aurora Australis, visiting Mawson and Davis stations. From the resulting body of work, he selected pieces for an exhibition Breaking the Ice, the title of which is a reference to the trip as a significant life experience.

After spending years focusing on works that were almost all etchings and what Jorg calls ‘culturally loaded material’ he says of his Antarctic experience, ‘The journey to Antarctica has opened an entirely different window, looking at one element only – water in all its different forms, textures and colours. The icebergs were particularly fascinating. Intriguing is not only what you see above the waterline, but imagining what the other six-sevenths under water is like, and wondering how the unbelievable shapes of many of them came into being.

‘My other fascination there is the light, with the evening light being particularly beautiful. The white changes to a yellow-orange, and the shadows become purple and violet. Ice that is up to 4000 metre thick weighs on the continent with an eloquent silence.’

Breaking the Ice has travelled far and inspired rave reviews since its opening in May 2003 at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Last year it visited the Australian Embassy in Washington and galleries in Kyoto, Tokyo and Yokohama and this year; San Francisco, Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and Bonn in Germany.

For the 2004-05 Antarctic season, six people have been awarded Fellowships from a diverse international field of almost 30 applicants.

David Neilson, a photographer and publisher, left Hobart in November 2004 on board the Antarctic research and resupply vessel Aurora Australis to spend several weeks photographing at Australian stations Davis and Mawson.

The other Fellows will travel to Macquarie Island and Casey stations on the Australian Antarctic Division’s final voyage south in March 2005.

Margot Foster, executive producer of the ABC’s Bush Telegraph program, will record segments for radio broadcast and soundscapes for the Macquarie Island house at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens in Hobart.

Frances Evans, freelance composer, multi-instrumentalist and music teacher will produce an audio-visual installation of sounds, images, photographs and new musical works.

Alison Lester, a children’s author and illustrator with more than 25 books to her credit, will gather material for a book that will become part of a travelling educative project for school children throughout Australia.

James and Janet Luxton, who own and run a small art gallery in Sydney, plan to produce etchings for exhibition from photographs and sketches of Southern Ocean and Antarctic wildlife, the Antarctic landscape, and shipboard and station resupply activities.

Cathy Bruce
Information Services, Australian Antarctic Division