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September 30, 2012

Antarctic Item 015

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.


March 30, 2012

Long View Study No. 19 (Halley I-V)

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My latest piece takes the first five iterations of the British Antarctic Survey‘s Halley Research Station for its subject. The base is located on the Brunt Ice Shelf of the Weddell Sea and is well known for its atmospheric studies. The first measurements of ozone depletion in the Antarctic stratosphere were taken here in 1985, leading to the international agreement on banning chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

Halley I was founded in 1956 for the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58 by an expedition from the Royal Society. Halley II, III, and IV were constructed over successive decades as the snow surface, rising about a meter a year, buried each of the bases over time.

My image’s vertical arrangement references the resulting stratification of architecture and ice which places Halley I at a depth of 56 meters (184 feet) in 2012, with the whole lot drifting towards the Weddell at the rate of around half a kilometer annually.

Halley V, still in use, was the first of these stations to be built on steel platforms supported by extendable legs to keep it above the accumulating snow for at least a while longer. Building on this idea, BAS introduced new structures mounted on skis to be moved by bulldozers to prevent them from being buried.

The newest step in this direction is the spectacular Halley VI station, which warrants an artwork and blog post of its own. Look for it here soon.

Long View Study No. 19 (Halley I-V) was created using wood, acrylic, graphite and cut paper. It’s the third artwork in my Antarctic research station series (Syowa and McMurdo being the first two).


Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities,Studies — mbartalos @ 11:36 pm

February 28, 2012

Antarctic Item 040

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Antarctic Item 040 comes from a McMurdo rubble pile. The artifact appears to be a conduit connector encrusted with a white sealing agent. While the device isn’t particularly attractive,
it presumably proved useful to scientific research. In this way it’s something of a metaphor
for McMurdo Station itself.

McMurdo is anything but beautiful. Its hodgepodge arrangement of utilitarian architecture describes practical demands and budgetary limitations. As such, it serves its purpose as a
polar research and transit hub but offers little in aesthetic splendor.

That is, until we zoom in closer. Looking beyond the white goo of the conduit fitting,
I marvel at its rust which at close range resembles brightly colored patches of lichen.
Similarly, much of McMurdo’s character resides in its inconspicuous textures, weathered
colors, and stray marks which speak to Antarctica’s environment and history. And that’s
what I look for in the discards I retrieve from the Ice to post here.


Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 10:29 pm

December 28, 2011

Antarctic Item 007

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Like the previously posted beer cans, this one was recovered from Antarctica’s Dry Valleys across the sound from McMurdo Station. It’s likely the oldest of the lot (note the steel lid,
pre-dating aluminum ends) and certainly the most weather-punished. Its rich textures and
varied colors demanded that both sides of the cylinder be photographed.

Traces of an indecipherable label design appear in the first view. If anyone recognizes its identity, please let me know.

Much thanks to Marble Point camp manager “Crunch” Noring for finding and donating these artifacts to the Long View Project.


Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 10:35 am

December 21, 2011

Antarctic Item 006

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This Heineken can appears to have been laying on its side at the mercy of the Antarctic elements for some time, rendering one half quite rusty and the other half thoroughly so.

Oxidation aside, its advanced age is also revealed by a pair of lid piercings. It wasn’t till the early 1960s that discardable pull-rings were introduced, replacing churchkeys as standard can-opening mechanisms.


Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 10:35 am

December 14, 2011

Antarctic Item 005

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Similar as this Bud can appears to the previous post, this one proves older on close inspection. In addition to having lost its red pigment, this one’s blue has faded too. Oxidation is more advanced here, particularly on the top and bottom. But the biggest clue is the fully-detachable pull-tab which was phased out in the 1970s. This can’s tab, regretfully, remains somewhere in Antarctica.


Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 10:34 am

December 7, 2011

Antarctic Item 004

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I’m back to cataloging more discards that I retrieved from Antarctica to include in my artwork. This month’s featured finds are beer cans.

This Bud can appears to be relatively new, judging by its condition and stay-on-tab design. Still, it languished long enough for the weather to have stripped it of its familiar red markings (red being the most fugitive of printing ink colors).

Resembling a half-completed printing job, the blue-and-white motif appropriately suggests the icy landscape in which the can underwent its transformation.


Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 10:34 am

November 10, 2011

Long View Installation I / Age of Wonder

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I’m pleased to be taking part in “Age of Wonder,” a group show around the theme of
art engaged with the natural world. My new sculpture, LV Installation I, marks my first exhibition of The Long View project, which has been in progress since 2009.

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Featuring four custom-built shelf units to create a semi-enclosed space, the installation juxtaposes discarded material I collected from Antarctica with a recent series of mixed-media art panels whose diagrammatic graphics reinvent visual codes of scientific and design theory. I’ve combined these objects and elements to create a sculptural narrative describing Antarctic science, history, and environment with the larger goal of examining humankind’s relationship with the natural world over time.

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Recycling is a central theme to the piece. I used wood to reference Ernest Shackleton’s repurposing of wooden crates to make Antarctic hut shelving and book covers a century
ago — an early instance of polar resourcefulness. In homage to Shackleton’s Aurora
Australis
, the book form appears on every scale of the installation, from the hinged
shelf pairs to the art panel ‘spreads,’ down to the small wooden faux-books between
and throughout.

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The well-produced exhibition catalog is authored by Bay Area art writer, critic, and
curator DeWitt Cheng, who wrote of the show:

[The artists] link human survival with the reuniting of reason and emotion, intellect
with spirituality. These artists, so fascinated with the natural world, point the way
toward genuine human stewardship of the planet.

The passage accurately describes what I strove for with this installation and hope to
achieve to a greater degree as the Long View Project progresses.

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Age of Wonder runs through December 31, 2011 at the Turtle Bay Museum in Redding CA.

Participating artists are Michael Bartalos, Tiffany Bozic, Mark Brest Van Kempen, Isabella Kirkland, Judith Selby Lang & Richard Lang, Carrie Lederer, Aline Mare & Olivia E. Sears,
Susan Middleton, Rick Prelinger & Megan Prelinger, and Gary Brewer who curated the show.


Filed under: Long View Art — mbartalos @ 7:22 pm
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