Stephen Eastaugh was the first arts fellow to ‘winter-over’ in Antarctica. He returned from his year on the ice in December 2009 and wrote the following just before his departure from Antarctica:
"As the first Australian Antarctic Arts Fellow to Winter-over I feel weathered and a little burnt-out but certainly very grateful for this unique experience.
Living in a place with no rain, family, money, shops, police, grass, rivers, streets, animals, neon signs, crowds, sex, flowers, strangers, trees nor mobile phones in a climate not designed for humans for 11 months could make slipping back into one of the busy continents rather bewildering but I do have places to go and people to meet as well as many exhibitions to arrange. The long woolly beard will sadly have to go unless I wish to join some bikers club.
I may look scruffy but I have been productive as I have 200 paintings and 150 works on paper as well as far too many photographs of ice and penguins as cargo.
How to describe this winter-over experience? It is not easy to sum up one whole year anywhere but I shall try. I can say that this year has been more a charm than a hex and definitely a long, stupefying intense spell that has been extremely demanding but extraordinarily worthwhile.
Experiences are often rather rich on the Ice. Captain Scott in 1911 wrote in his final diary — ‘Great God! This is an awful place’. I understand his dire predicament 98 years ago but today the icecap is dotted with experienced people armed with technology and Antarctica seems not so awful but it certainly does generate an abundance of awe. Over the next few years I shall attempt to display bits of that awe.”
Meet Stephen Eastaugh
Stephen Eastaugh was awarded the Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship on 3 occasions: a re-supply trip to Casey in 2000, a summer at Davis in 2002-03, and a winter at Mawson in 2009.
Born in Melbourne in 1960, Stephen Eastaugh completed a BA in Fine Arts at Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts before being awarded a Certificate of Achievement at the University of Oslo. He also completed a Diploma of Education at the University of Tasmania.
Eastaugh is a visual artist with severe wanderlust. Over the past few decades he has travelled to over 100 countries scattered across all continents. Travel, geography and dis/location have continuously fed his practice which has always been characterised by overseas research and the creation of new mixed media work in response to extensive travels.
While on the road, Eastaugh has presented over 100 solo exhibitions in a wide range of venues. Studios have been set up on a Russian Icebreaker at the North Pole, a cabin on a cargo container ship in the Indian Ocean, a science building in east Antarctica, and many places in-between. Eastaugh has made 9 voyages to Antarctica as an artist in residence – 6 on tourist ships, and 3 as an Australian Antarctic Arts Fellow.
Eastaugh is represented in major public galleries in Australia and numerous private collections across the planet. His group exhibitions number more than 100, and have included: Australian National Gallery, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Museum of Modern Art, Heide, and other regional and commercial galleries in Australia and overseas, many of which hold his work in their collections. Eastaugh currently resides in West Australia.
Arts Fellowship projects
2000: Aurora Australis and Casey
Stephen Eastaugh’s first visit to Antarctica was a re-supply voyage to Casey research station in 2000. This was primarily a maritime residency onboard the Aurora Australis across the Southern Ocean with a brief stop at Casey.
The experience spawned his interest to further explore Antarctica. Some would say that the ice got into his blood.
Stephen Eastaugh’s 2002–03 fellowship was spent at Davis research station during the summer. He produced many small, two-dimensional artworks using scrap timber, as well as more conventional materials, to capture the essence of this wild place and the transient human footprint upon it. Most of these works were exhibited at Davis before he left. Other, larger pictures were developed after his return to Australia.
Not all of Eastaugh's art was exported from Antarctica when he departed. He left behind a sculpture garden. The garden occupies a picturesque setting near the blue meteorology building, overlooking a usually-frozen sea, with low, rocky islands beyond a channel, and gleaming icebergs along the horizon.
The creation of a sculpture garden was inspired by the enigmatic, weathered, carved face, that has gazed northwards from a pile of dark rocks close to the meteorology building since the 1970’s. It is roughly carved from a squared length of Oregon timber – the work of an unknown expeditioner. It was moved to its present location in 1993 when building operations threatened its former site close by. The garden has no plants, of course, although in late summer, moulting Adélie penguins may be seen there. Usually it is deserted, quiet and peaceful. In this out-of-the-way corner of Davis, the sculpture garden provides a place of serenity, reflection, beauty and fun, contrasting with the functional reality of the rest of this Antarctic station.
Towards the end of his sojourn at Davis, Eastaugh described the project:
“My hope is to create an Antarctic sculpture garden by tempting others to construct more totems. The idea is to create some other vertical structures in this environment besides the antennas, flagpoles and windsocks situated all about the station. The first totem made was a mini sleeping container (let’s call it a ‘bonsai donga') with a rather rough head-like appearance. Headhome is the working title for the entire series.
Can home be situated in one’s head? As a person who has led a contemporary nomadic lifestyle for many years I certainly hope so. Internally is where I have stored my lack of possessions and often I have luxuriated in a cosy private time-out place somewhere behind my eyeballs. Travel has somehow turned into dwelling after 20 years of jumping from place to place. Home has drastically shrunk: transformed into a fluid concept that’s easy to move. Antarctica will be home for the little sculptures I make, but it cannot be my home.”
Establishment of the sculpture garden was given official blessing via the environmental preliminary assessment (PA) process in April 2003. In the garden there are 4 Eastaugh sculptures, in addition to the original wooden head.
In 2009, Stephen Eastaugh was awarded a third Fellowship; this time to overwinter at Mawson research station.
He attempted to navigate through the unusual Antarctic winter colours, lines, shapes and textures in search of new views.
Eastaugh wrote of this fellowship:
“I have spent this year turning strange into familiar, or familiar into strange, with the intention of creating new territory within each work. The paintings produced in the studio here hopefully contain and balance feelings of both being lost and also finding something.
Outside the window the conflicting and powerful Antarctic views seem both calm and lethal and have been challenging to absorb. Nunataks, floating boulders on ice pedestals, auroras, sastrugi, moss, lichen, knots, blizzard lines, fata morgana, rafting sea ice, the dark winter time and the icecap were the subjects that strongly intrigued me. I have stitched and painted these elements with a desire to comprehend this location; interpreting my experiences of being here simply with paint and thread.
A type of closure was sought within each painting that is very difficult to describe. Some form of cerebral fermentation occurs that relies on visualisation and a distillation of ideas, experiences and images.
As an example, ‘blizz-lines’ are the rope and chain lifelines strung between all buildings on station, and hung onto during blizzards as aids to locate buildings in white-outs. They keep you upright and not lost, so my bond with them has grown over the year to the extent that I depicted many blizz-lines in large-scale paintings. In the studio I also found myself attempting to shrink Antarctica to a manageable scale….”
During the long winter, Eastaugh also drafted an artist travelogue book titled UNSTILL LIFE, and made numerous small experimental films alongside a short documentary all dealing with his extensive time on the Ice.
Find Stephen Eastaugh’s work
Stephen Eastaugh’s Fellowships have informed his practice, with 50 solo exhibitions and over 30 group exhibitions between 2000 and 2016 incorporating Antarctic content.
His work can be found on his website and ongoing blog, and in his artist travelogue book UNSTILL LIFE.
View his small experimental and documentary films created at Mawson online.
And of course, the sculpture garden can still be viewed at Davis research station in Antarctica.