If yesterday’s flag was battered, today’s is positively tattered. This wind-ravaged field marker is marvelously soft and delicate to the touch, a featherweight ghost of its former self. Much thanks to my friend Sharona Thompson, connoiseur of the worn and weathered, for this unique find from the windiest continent on Earth.
Ice drills are used for making the holes that support the field marker flags’ 10-foot bamboo poles. Placing flags and replacing worn ones are an ongoing, full-time activity.
The most notable marked trail extends between McMurdo Station and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Known as the South Pole Traverse, it covers 1,048 miles with 12 x 10 inch nylon banners staked every quarter mile for a total of 4,192 flags. The route is covered by tractor trains hauling heavy equipment, fuel, and, as mentioned in my third South Pole dispatch, around 100,000 pounds of solid waste annually.
For a thoroughly informative and entertaining account of establishing and flagging the Traverse, I recommend checking out ICE Letters by Tom Lyman, Safety Supervisor of the 2005-2006 South Pole Traverse Project.
Antarctica has no official flag since it’s not a nation nor ruled by any single government. But if there were to be a flag, I’d nominate this ‘ready-made’ for a few reasons: Field marker flags such as this abound on the Ice and practically represent the continent already. Design-wise, the frayed fabric effectively communicates the nature of the environment, while the blue hue suggests ice, water, and sky. And, its lack of insignia is apropos to Antarctica’s absence of a single ruling party.
Its day may yet come. In the meanwhile, field marker flags remain indispensable on the Ice in all their colors. Black ones signify danger. Red, green, and blue flags designate safe areas. Yellow flags mark al fresco pee stations. (Yes, that subject again.)
Field marker flags serve to increase camp visibility, especially in adverse weather. They also help identify wind speed and direction. But most often, they designate trails and paths. Tomorrow I’ll introduce the longest marked route in Antarctica along with the third flag in this series.
Big thanks to James Roemer at McMurdo’s carpentry shop for today’s item.
This week I’ll be featuring discarded flag fabric from Antarctica. Flags are ubiquitous on the Ice where a typical day offers encounters with any number of safety flags, warning flags, field flags, trail flags, military flags, and of course national flags including Old Glory itself.
The flag above was retired from service shortly before I brought it back to San Francisco. I’m told it flew over the main hut at Lake Hoare, which would make it the same one in my January 13 photo, re-posted here:
How will this flag figure into my project? Possibly in pieces, since its stripes were cut into by the time I got it. Initially dismaying, the missing chunk now inspires me to combine various fabrics and textures to invent hybrid Antarctic flags with new significance.
Much thanks to Jessy Jenkins at McMurdo’s Berg Field Center for procuring this very special artifact for me.
This diptych pays homage to Antarctic explorer Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David, director of scientific staff on Shackleton’s 1907-09 Nimrod Expedition. On that voyage, David led the first parties ever to reach the South Magnetic Pole and the summit of Mt. Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano.
He was also a participant in the Nimrod crew’s production of the book Aurora Australis.
His 35-page narrative account titled The Ascent of Mount Erebus is the edition’s single lengthiest contribution.
My artwork’s left side references David’s lifelong engagement with geological investigations. The right-hand panel’s images represent his alma mater New College Oxford, his ascent of Mt. Erebus, his epic voyage to the ice plateau and back, and his professorship at the University of Sydney till age 82.
In 1920 David was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire,
and later helped set up the Australian National Research Council and served as its first President. Clearly his accomplishments — and these are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ so to speak — are too numerous to fit into a mere diptych so I’ll be paying additional respects
in my final 12″ square panels.
This study measures 16″ wide x 9″ high. It was created in graphite and cut paper (using mostly found and recycled stock as usual) mounted on gessoed wood panels. It can be seen along with LV Study #5 at CUTTERS: An Exhibition of International Collage curated by James Gallagher at Cinders Gallery in Brooklyn from October 16 through November 15.
Photo © Australian Antarctic Division 2008
Lastly, I can’t close out this post without including David’s iconic self-portrait of himself (center) and his teammates Dr. Alistair Mackay (left) and Douglas Mawson raising the flag at the Magnetic South Pole on January 16, 1909. Their epic trek took over four months and 1,200 miles to complete. A thorough account of this journey replete with perils and close calls can be found in the Nimrod chapter of the Shackleton story here.
Back in March I posted a sketchbook page of imagined Antarctic life forms. Here’s a new generation of undiscovered microorganisms with added whimsy. They remind me of the inadvertently comical Myxosporea I found in an otherwise serious Crary Library book
here, fourth image down.
This study was created in graphite and cut paper (using mostly found and recycled stock
in keeping with the project’s theme) mounted on a gessoed 8″ x 8″ x 2″ wood panel.
I’m happy to announce its inclusion in CUTTERS: An Exhibition of International Collage curated by James Gallagher, opening Friday October 16 at Cinders Gallery in Brooklyn.