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August 31, 2013

LV Sketchbook Page 059

2013-08-30 LV Sketchbook Page 059-Zipper Closed-500x320

The central element of my new sketchbook page is an abstraction of the constellation Pavo. Visible from Antarctica in the austral winter, Pavo is the 44th largest constellation in the sky and contains five stars with confirmed planets. It is named for Argos of Greek mythology who was transformed into a peacock by the goddess Juno upon his death to be eternally honored as a constellation. Pavo was first depicted in a star atlas in 1603 as part of Uranometria by German celestial cartographer Johann Bayer.

In my image, Pavo is flanked by neighboring constellations Triangulus Australe (originally called Triangulus Antarcticus) on the left and Indus on the right, over which a comet passes.

The zippered border represents the lifespan of our universe with a defined beginning and end. Astrophysicists at places such as the South Pole’s IceCube Neutrino Observatory have long gathered data that adds to our knowledge about the birth and expansion of the universe. But what of its long-term stability? Recent studies of the mass of the Higgs boson subatomic particle, whose discovery was announced at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider last year, suggest that the universe may in fact be fundamentally unstable and destined for a catastrophic end.

Should this be so, there is no need for immediate concern. The termination of our cosmos is projected to take place tens of billions of years in the future, well after our own sun burns out in 4.5 billion years.


Filed under: Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 3:30 am

July 30, 2013

LV Sketchbook Page 060

2013-07-30 LV Sketchbook Page 060-Black Hole + Hydra Const-500x333

My interest in space, time, and the ‘fabric of the cosmos’ has given rise to some new sketchbook pieces — in fabric. This image takes the skies of the southern hemisphere for its subject, depicting an abstraction of the constellation Hydra. It is the largest of the 88 modern constellations, having been listed by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century.

Hydra’s brightest star is Alphard (Alpha Hydrae), an orange giant represented by the shining orb on the right. Another of the constellation’s notable features is NGC 3314, a pair of galaxies that appear superimposed from Earth yet are separated from each other by millions of light years. NGC 3314 is pictured in the blue field on the upper left.

The centerpiece of my composition shows Hydra A, a galaxy cluster about 840 million light years from Earth. At the center of one of its galaxies lies a supermassive black hole that, while swallowing matter from its host galaxy, also generates large jets of material extending outward for hundreds of thousands of light years. These emissions, believed to be enriched by chemicals produced in galactic supernovae, contain significant amounts of iron and other elements, offering clues to where the complex chemicals that make up our world come from.

In my assemblage, the black hole is nestled securely in its galactic pocket, tethered to the fearful water-serpent.


Filed under: Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 11:50 pm

June 30, 2013

Antarctic Item 056

Antarctic Item 056-CC-Sat-500x384

This item is made of two large pieces of fabric. An orange field meets a black field in what feels like waterproof material. Whatever it is, it is incomplete. At some point the orange area was cut into with pinking shears, reducing its size. The excised segment, which might have provided clues to the item’s function, was lost by the time I acquired the remaining fabric.

What could this missing section have been? I imagine it was the bottom portion of a high-visibility tent cover which, once the tent was pitched, came into contact with the frosty Antarctic terrain. When the time came to strike the tent, the bottom edge of the cover was encased in layers of ice which had built up over a week of strong gales. The shelter’s occupants had no choice but to cut the protective cover free from its mooring, which they did with pinking shears as not to dull their more essential blades. With the tent cover remnant in tow, they continued hurriedly towards their destination ahead of the next impending storm.

Or at least that’s the way I imagine it.


Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 8:35 pm

May 30, 2013

Antarctic Item 055

Antarctic Item 055-CC-Sat-Sh-500x475

I’m continuing to post items by theme that I acquired in Antarctica for my project. Having recently posted a sequence of round metal objects, I’ll be focusing on folded fabric in the coming weeks.

Most of these pieces are mysteries; remnants of larger material which in turn comprised larger objects. Marks, colors, and textures provide clues to their function, but their exact age and history are up for speculation.


Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 8:25 pm

March 30, 2013

Antarctic Item 018

Antarctic Item 018-bottom+top-CC-Sat-500x253

These are two sides of the same dented lid. Its weathered surfaces suggest that it was exposed to the elements for many years. Otherwise, the lid’s story remains something of a mystery.

I’ll venture a guess, though. I imagine that the lid sealed a can of rations that Robert F. Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition took to the South Pole. Upon reaching their destination on 17 January 1912, they pitched tent and popped open the can. The lid, tossed to the side, rolled out of the shelter’s unsecured entryway onto the polar plateau. Propelled by frigid gusts, the disc raced across the ice for days, following the landscape’s contours and glaciers. Navigating the Trans-Antarctic mountain range and the Dry Valleys in a final descent towards the open sea, the lid suddenly encountered a fierce blizzard that drove it into a shallow pond, abruptly ending its voyage. For decades it hung suspended in the watery void, surrounded by microscopic creatures. The organisms on one side of the disc increasingly came to regard it as the sun, while the microbes on the other side increasingly saw it as the moon. Eventually it ceased to be an object at all; it was simply two ideas.

Or at least that’s the way I imagine it.

This and the last three Antarctic Items I featured were generously donated to the Long View project by “Crunch” Noring, the Marble Point camp manager. He retrieved them from the grounds of his Dry Valleys camp, home to numerous remnants from the pre-Code of Conduct era.


Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 8:20 pm

January 30, 2013

Antarctic Item 017

Antarctic Item 017-CC-500x431

This is yet another Antarctic artifact in my collection that resembles a makeshift ashtray. Its uneven cut suggests that it too was cut from a can. Unlike the previous ones however, it has no ash marks embedded in the base.

Why would this be? Well, I imagine it was fashioned by the the Nimrod Expedition as a back-up ashtray to replace their principal one should it ever be lost. The principal receptacle was slow to be lost however since it was dearly treasured by the party. As a result, the back-up became a gas tank cap for their motorcar. There it toiled until the beloved principal ashtray was finally misplaced. The back-up was ecstatic (to the extent that ashtrays can be) for it could finally show what it was cut out to be. However the team observed that by this time the back-up ashtray’s inner surface was saturated with all manners of petroleum and combustible by-products, eliminating any possibility of safe contact with live embers. In despair, the back-up released its grip on the gas tank, tossing itself into deep snow. This might have been a sad ending were it not for that it lay undisturbed for a full century, enabling it to harvest one of the more remarkably handsome coats of Antarctic rust. By the time it was unearthed in 2009, it was the envy of its oxidized peers across the continent.

Or at least that’s the way I imagine it.


Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 8:16 pm

November 30, 2012

Antarctic Item 016

Antarctic Item 016-CC-500x376

Like the previous object, Antarctic Item 016 lends itself to functioning as an ashtray. In all likelihood, it was.

Who used it? Well, I imagine Shackleton tapping his pipe into it at Cape Royds, splitting the rim at the upper left as he strategized his march to the Pole in 1909. The crack reminded him of ruptured ice, and being a touch superstitious, he brought the ashtray along on the journey to ward off such dangers. Nevertheless, ice crevasses continually hindered his team’s progress, swallowing one of their sledge-hauling ponies and nearly two of their men. Eventually Shackleton came to regard the split ashtray as a bad luck omen, discarding it on the return trek in the Dry Valleys. It was a wise move, assuring his team safe passage from there back to Cape Royds.

Or at least that’s the way I imagine it.


Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 8:13 pm

September 30, 2012

Antarctic Item 015

Antarctic Item 015-CC-500x394

I’m back to posting items that I acquired in Antarctica for my project. The process of photographing, cataloging, and assessing the objects is a key step to understanding them and configuring them into the artwork.

I tend to post batches by theme; the next few items will be metallic and round. By observing and comparing these seemingly similar artifacts in close succession, their unique character is revealed, suggesting varied origins and histories.

Antarctic Item 015 appears to be part of a can that was severed close to its end. It may have been devised as a crude ashtray, judging by its shape and smudges on the base. The red rust caking its rim suggests that it is decades old, dating from the days that smoking and exploration went hand in hand.


Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 8:11 pm

July 9, 2012

Long View Study No. 21 (Cape Royds)

lv-study-21-caperoyds-hanging-view2-0006-500x452

My series on Antarctic research stations continues with a salute to Ernest Shackleton’s Cape Royds hut, home base to his team’s 1907-09 British Antarctic Expedition, also known as the Nimrod Expedition. The Royds hut facilitated cutting-edge polar science of its day in the areas of geology, zoology, geography and meteorology. The scientific team’s director, Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David, led from here the first parties ever to reach the South Magnetic Pole and the summit of Mt. Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano. Royds was also the launch pad for Shackleton’s 1908 attempt for the South Geographic Pole. His team trekked to within 97 nautical miles (180.6 km / 112.2 mi) of their goal, the farthest south attained by any expedition at the time.

It was also at Royds that Shackleton’s men printed and bound Aurora Australis, the first book ever published in Antarctica. It consisted of of essays, poems and drawings printed on a hand press in an edition of about 25 completed copies whose wooden covers were fashioned from provisions cases. Such crates, in abundance, were repurposed by them for hut shelving and furniture as well.

My use of wood, letterpress makeready, typographic letterforms, and book / bookshelf structure in Long View Study No. 21 allude to the Shackleton team’s production of Aurora Australis and their resourcefulness. The collage’s central figure is Sir Ernest himself who edited the book, wrote its two prefaces, and contributed an ode to Mount Erebus under the pseudonym NEMO.

lv-study-21-caperoyds-4pic-composite-500x353

My piece functions either as a wall hanging or a free-standing artwork. A detached wooden element serves as a shelf embellishment in wall mode or as a bottom support in free-standing mode. In either case the right-hand ‘shelf unit’ is modifiable with extra shelves of varying lengths. The hinged ‘spine’ indicates the manner in which the complete string of Long View panels will connect to one another to form an accordion-fold structure.


May 30, 2012

Long View Study No. 20 (Bernardo O’Higgins)

This recent cut-paper composition takes Chile’s General Bernardo O’Higgins Antarctic Base for its theme. The artwork is part of my series on Antarctic research stations operating on the continent and its nearby islands. With these posts I’ll be examining the bases’ fields of study, their differing implementations of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, and their associative architecture, infrastructure, and role in the context of a changing planet.

2012-05-30-bartalos-lv-study-no-20-bernardo-oe28099higgins-500x382

Bernardo O’Higgins base is a year-round research facility near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Named for the leader of the Chilean military forces that won independence from Spain, O’Higgins is administered by the Chilean Army which provides logistical support, maintains the infrastructure, and assists in scientific work at the station. The base conducts research into ultraviolet measurements, hydrology, oceanography, and human physiology as affected by periods of darkness and light. It also supports studies of the magnetosphere which envelops and shields the planet from the solar wind.

Prominent on the site (and in the center of my artwork) is the German Antarctic Receiving Station (GARS), a satellite ground station enabling reception of high-resolution remote sensing data on the south polar region. The nine-meter parabolic antenna is a joint venture between the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Instituto Antarctico Chileno (INACH), Chile’s Antarctic research institute.

O’Higgins was established in 1948, making it one of the longest-running Antarctic bases of continuous operation. Interestingly it was built in the midst of a Gentoo penguin rookery which still exists. This perch, separated from the Antarctic continent by 50 meters of water at high tide, offers a unique opportunity to study the wildlife and ecology of the region. According to the most recently issued U.S. Antarctic Treaty Inspection Report: “The base keeps a log book documenting environmental impacts on a weekly basis. Penguin nests, eggs and chicks are monitored, as well as other birds in the vicinity of the base. All monitoring is visual; there is no tagging or touching of the birds.” The report however adds: “While base personnel said they attempt to maintain a distance from the nesting penguins to prevent any disturbance, many of the nests are on or near base facilities where people must pass during daily activities, and thus close human contact with these animals is unavoidable.”

bernardo-oe28099higgins-base500x323

O'Higgins and its surrounding penguins (click to enlarge).

O’Higgins Base made news this year when its seawaters were found to contain bacteria that are resistant to nearly all kinds of antibiotics. The research was led by Uppsala University‘s Björn Olsen and Jorge Hernández who detected higher concentrations of the superbugs nearer to the sewage outfalls of O’Higgins and two other Chilean bases. Linking the phenomenon to the quality of sewage treatment remains tenuous though, as Hernández noted that “Chile has provided its permanent bases with modern equipment for waste water treatment that is constantly improving.”

Scientists are now investigating wildlife for clues since the culprit bacteria were also found in gulls in France. Observations suggest that the bacteria may maintain their super-resilience long beyond their exposure to antibiotics, and that they may survive in the wild using animals as hosts.

That possibility is of concern at O’Higgins, situated as it is in a rookery. Penguins nearby have been checked and are deemed free of that bacteria which carry genes that make the ESBL enzyme capable of destroying penicillin, cephalosporins and related antibiotics. Other types of sea birds in proximity to the station are next to undergo testing. Whatever the outcome, the existence of these microorganisms in Antarctica indicates the troubling extent to which drug-resistant bacteria are proliferating on Earth.


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