With the kind and timely encouragement of C_______, I am developing a proposal to travel under grant from the National Science Foundation to the Anarctic as part of the artists and writers program.
I recently received an encouraging letter from the NSF in reply my letter excerpted below. (Reading above, notice how quickly the blood drains out of any sentence even vaguely connected to a grant application.)
I would be thrilled for the opportunity to travel to the Antarctic, particularly on science ship, and have been researching possibilities for several years.
My primary focus is oil painting. The Polar regions interest me for the scientific history involving artists (I think of Shackleton's artist sealing the seams of the James Caird boat for the almost suicidal voyage to South Georgia with his precious oil paints), the highly specific knowledge that traditional painting can bring to an understanding of color in a region, and the poetic collision of remote eternity of the Antarctic and the new fact of its transformation, an Icarus of a continent, moving too close to the sun.
Elders among the Inupiaq have noticed changes in the color of the Arctic skies. I would be very curious to see if this might be true in the Antarctic, which might require accurate paintings as a baseline. (Photography has limitations in the recording of accurately perceived color. ) That suggests subtleties of shift of color in the atmosphere - (and) some scientists have used studies paintings from periods around considerable volcanic activity -such as the 1883 Krakatoa eruption -to estimate atmospheric changes (Munch's Scream paintings may be an example of this).
I gained a lot of interest in the subject from my father, was a NOAA meteorologist for many years in Alaska, starting just after WWII. An amateur painter, he often noticed the particular qualities of light from Russian, Scandinavian and other Arctic painters shared around the world in the same latitude. In the days of hand drawn weather charts, he told me that the more beautiful the drawing of the isobars, the more accurate the weather predictions, and idea which has served me well in painting in the idea of specificity as a course towards both beauty and intellectual seriousness.
I recently developed three or four works based on polar themes, in this case they were specifically non-observational; the images of ice and highly specific colors and surfaces was an associative source for memories of a friend who was an Inupiaq dancer - specializing in modern dance forms, and on half-remembered stories of goddesses like Sedna. These few works served as a way to reprocess my experiences of Alaska, which unfortunately never allowed much travel in the Arctic.
Some ideas I've tossed around include:
A series of color studies of sea ice in oils.
It may prove important to collect an accurate record of color in the Antarctic. Aside from the superior sensitivity of the human eye to most technology, in terms of recording accurate perception, I spoke with an artists' material's expert who pointed out that oil is the best suitable cold-weather color sketch material.
Large paintings which accurately describe the coastal spaces of Antarctica.
Another limitation of photography is the inability to compress our experienced space into the frame of photograph. Painting from careful observation can be far more evocative of the human experience of presence in specific space, and small photos, as well as small paintings based on photos, have not captured the awe that such a landscape inspires. I can only project from my limited experiences in coastal Alaska, but paintings add a powerful feeling of "this is here, now." I'm hoping to experiment with latter studio projects approaching the scale of Anselm Keifer's recent work.
Large format photography.
Large format photography also offers possibilities- in particular, I had considered an idea of reproducing images from the classic period of polar exploration by setting up modern scientists and team members, as well as indigenous peoples in the Arctic regions, in the posed positions of the original photographs, an idea kicked around with the director at the Coast Guard Museum here in Seattle.
Site-Specific Polar Sculptures
This is just the germ of an idea, but I thought of a kind of warning buoy, spherical, sealed, and made of a bronze alloy, designed as a kind of self-contained weather station, ideally with the ability to self-power through photo-voltaic cells integrated into its surface, inscribed with designs and even poems related to exploration, warning, hubris, etc, which is positioned at the North Pole, and alerts when it gets immersed in open water. An Antarctic version would follow as a twin. Like the Japanese floats of my youth which washed up on the shores of Alaska, or the Nike Shoes riding ocean currents, this giant float would travel freely with sea-ice and water, in areas susceptible to the effects of warming.
It would be an art-science object - a working instrument and a kinetic, permanent sculpture, intended to be lost, and eventually rediscovered, in a year, or a thousand. Like the Voyager plate, it could describe ourselves to future civilizations; its very existence is a warning.
I would welcome ideas from our ingenious contributors on technical, conceptual and practical considerations. I've worked up the float ideas as art piece more, and will be bothering the oceanographers at UW here in Seattle who have developed an impressive new generation of buoys and current monitors. I would also like a web component (the idea just struck me of little sensors position indicators, in cartoon snowman form, saying "I'm melting!" on a website when they hit 1 degree C water. OK, that's a little silly.)
The first trip would be reconnoitering, working up to a return to deploy the artworks.