Monday, October 26, 2009

Antarctica, Ross Island, Erebus: memory and imagination

Cape Crozier

This is part three of 'what I did in the holidays' but like the other projects that I worked on in the holidays this one is still work in progress and will be for some time. The origins and influences on this piece also go back many years.

My fascination with Antarctica was launched the first time I read Kim Stanley Robinson's novel, Antarctica. That book also (re)launched my enthusiasm for reading contemporary science fiction, so that for me Antarctica and imagining the future are inextricably bound together. Antarctica's human history is so recent and so sparse that there is a lot of room for speculative creativity on that vast white continent.

More recently I came across Ursula K Le Guin's brilliant short story, 'Sur', about a group of South American women making a secret successful expedition to the South Pole and getting there before Amundsen and Scott (but leaving no trace and telling no one so as not to bruise the great heroes' egos). I particularly love this comment by the narrator on seeing the mess Scott had left in his hut in after his first failed expedition: "... housekeeping, the art of the infinite, is no game for amateurs". (The women leave the dirty hut untouched and make their own shelter).

an island or a stack of pancakes?

I originally began thinking about using topographical information when I first started making visual art but I never really felt that my usual materials of paper and card were going to work. But now I have the Kaiapoi blanket which I like to imagine has visited Antarctica. If it hasn't, some just like it certainly must have. Christchurch was, and is, where so many Antarctic expeditions have been launched in a flurry of final provisioning, that surely the local Kaiapoi Woolen Mill (1878-1978) must have supplied some thick warm blankets, if not as official procurement, then to a crewman supplementing his personal kit in anticipation of the extreme cold.

I've cut my op shop felted Kaiapoi blanket (seen as Mars brooches and the ongoing fossil embroideries) along the 1000m contour lines of Ross Island to create a topographical model map, and now I am blanket-stitching it in white. Ross Island is arguably Antarctica's most significant nexus of historical, contemporary and imaginative power. It's where Scott and Shackleton wintered and launched their attempts on the Pole- their huts are still there, preserved as historical monuments (somewhat looted/cleaned). The main US and NZ bases (MacMurdo and Ross) are close by the historical sites and have the largest populations on the continent.

Mt Erebus

And towering over it all is Mt Erebus, a live volcano which has been in the news this week on the 30th anniversary of Air New Zealand's worst ever air crash in which 257 people were killed. With a population of only 3 million it was a national tragedy and like many NZers there was only one degree of separation between me and a victim. Those memories have made it difficult to consider Mt Erebus as a benign, neutral geographical feature. This weekend, on the anniversary of the crash I was been stitching the Mt Erebus portion of my Ross Island piece, honouring and grieving for those who were lost and who they left behind.

Mt Bird


Tim Jones said...


Bronwyn Lloyd said...

Beautiful post Meliors and beautiful blanket topography.
I saw your fantastic blind embossed fossils in the show at Artspost last week, but there were so many school kids outside the Art Gallery that I couldn't get in to see your Waikato Art Award piece, darn it!