Antarctic Visions

Artistic drawing of a krill
One of a series of drawings of krill by conference participant and artist, Lisa Roberts, after her visit to the Australian Antarctic Division in 2009. (Photo: Lisa Roberts)
Antarctica has been the subject of many an academic conference, but few of them focus solely on the role that the arts, humanities and social sciences play in the study of the continent. This was the aim of an international conference Antarctic Visions: Cultural Perspectives on the Southern Continent, held in Hobart in June, which followed its predecessor, Imagining Antarctica, held at the University of Canterbury in 2008.

Antarctic Visions attracted around 65 delegates from across Australia, New Zealand, the US and the UK. Participants ranged from artists and photographers to archaeologists and psychologists, and included a handful of intrepid scientists interested in making connections across the so-called two cultures divide.

The conference began with an energetic keynote address from Max Jones, the editor of the recent Oxford World’s Classics edition of the journals of Robert F. Scott. Subsequent session topics included ‘Exploration History and Heritage, Art and Science’, and Perceptions, Policy, Politics’. Presentations boasted titles as diverse as ‘What Mawson knew’, ‘Hidden depths: poetry for science,’ ‘Penguin metaphorics’ and ‘Naked Antarctica: just what do different portrayals of the naked body in Antarctica tell us about our relationship with the continent?’ Two well-attended public lectures opened the discussion to a wider audience. The final day of the conference focussed on Antarctic exploration history, and included a presentation by Jon Stephenson of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

The conference highlighted the many opportunities for interdisciplinary exchange in Antarctic studies, particularly between the arts and sciences. An edited collection of essays based on papers given at both conferences is planned with Quintus Publishing, as is a special issue of the new Polar Journal. A similar conference, this time incorporating a major theme on music, will be held at the Australian National University in Canberra in June 2011.

ELIZABETH LEANE1 and STEVE NICOL2

1University of Tasmania, 2Australian Antarctic Division