This week I’m cataloging three more discards that I retrieved from Antarctica to include
in my artwork. All three items are of a military nature, which may seem odd in light of
the Antarctic Treaty‘s banning of military activity on land or ice shelves below 60°S.
But while the Treaty prohibits military bases, maneuvers, and weapons-testing on
the continent, it does permit the use of military personnel and equipment for scientific research and other peaceful purposes. It’s an essential arrangement for the National Science Foundation which relies greatly on the military’s ability to provide logistical
support in extremely harsh environments.
I first clued into this in Christchurch where the New York Air National Guard’s 109th
Airlift Wing is tasked with flying to Antarctica under tricky and unpredictable conditions.
(And recently, earthquakes. Word is that the Christchurch-based airmen are all safe.)
Over at McMurdo Station, the U.S. military coordinates strategic and tactical airlift, emergency response, aeromedical evacuation, deep-field support, sealift duties, and
the handling of seaport access, bulk fuel supply, port cargo and a host of other trans-portation needs.
This ongoing support mission, called Operation Deep Freeze, began as a Navy-led undertaking in the mid-1950s which eventually aligned with scientific objectives intro-
duced under the Antarctic Treaty. Today ODF is carried out through the Joint Task Force – Support Forces Antarctica by the 13th Air Force and the U.S. Pacific Command.
Military personnel currently comprise about 10 percent of the 1,200 people working
out of McMurdo Station.
The cylindrical paperboard container above was found in the Dry Valleys by Marble Point camp manager Randall “Crunch” Noring. The container was empty but its label tells us
that it once held an M18 colored smoke grenade. Oddly enough, I acquired just such
a grenade elsewhere in the Dry Valleys to create a snug match. I’ll post the second half of the happy union tomorrow along with thoughts on what it might have been used for.
These days, all metal discards in Antarctica are collected, sorted, and shipped back to the States for recycling or re-use. U.S. research station residents dutifully sort their metal into three categories to facilitate the process: aluminum (mostly beverage cans), light metal (less than 1/4″ thick), and heavy metal (over 1/4″ thick). Aluminum and light metals are crushed into bales at McMurdo’s Waste Barn, while the heavy stock is loose-loaded onto a ship in big flatrack containers.
These protocols were put in place through the Antarctic Conservation Act of 1991 whose waste management regulations successfully reduced the impact of science research on the continent. I hope to convey the importance of these practices and show how Antarctica can be a model for managing waste in other environments by re-using these Antarctic discards in my artwork.
Littering is no longer permitted in Antarctica, so stray objects in the field are rare and tend to be decades old. The rare can is still of concern however, as aging metals disperse particles into the ecosystem. Their impact is particularly worrisome in sensitive biological environments such as the Dry Valleys where this can was found.
This week I’m posting more metal vessels to the blog’s Waste Stream Reclamation category where I catalog the discards I collected in Antarctica for use in my artwork.
Like many of my favorite finds, today’s item and the next two owe their transformed beauty to the continent’s punishing environment where they languished for decades.
This is an exceptionally tortured trio of cans, thoroughly stripped of labels by the
elements, rendering them Antarctica’s brand alone.
This vessel is one of my favorite Antarctic discards for its shape, color, material and texture. It’s also among the most mysterious. Any labels and markings are long gone, leaving only a threaded opening as a clue to its past life. I’ll venture to guess that it
was a fuel bottle, a standard piece of equipment past and present for use with liquid-
fuel stoves or motorized apparatus in the field.
This decades-old item was found at Marble Point by camp manager “Crunch” Noring
who’s contributed many other exquisite items to this project. Thank you once again sir!
This artfully rusted Cadbury tin was found and donated to the Long View Project by
Rae Spain, camp manager at Lake Hoare in Antarctica’s Dry Valleys. No identifying
marks remain apart from the script logo on the lid, but the artifact’s shape and size suggest it to be a can of Bourne-Vita, Cadbury’s malted drink product introduced
I consider it something of a companion piece to Sifta Sam, as both are Dry Valleys
discards made in England circa 1940s-50s. I’ll speculate that they both belonged
to the same research party, perhaps an early incarnation of the British Antarctic
Survey which has been the UK’s national Antarctic operator for over 60 years.
Intriguing also is the container’s hidden contents which rolls around with a dull thud.
I was briefly tempted to break the tape between lid and can to reveal the mystery,
but thoughts of encountering a congealed malt (or is it mold?) ball made me
reconsider. At least for now.
This week I resume posting the items I collected in Antarctica for use in my artwork.
All these found and donated objects are grouped under the “Waste Stream Reclama-
tion” category in the blog’s sidebar.
Today’s item is a weathered Sifta table salt container courtesy of “Crunch” Noring,
the Marble Point camp manager. Found underfoot at his Dry Valleys camp, this dis-
card is a remnant of the pre-Code of Conduct era when littering was common in
Antarctica. The packaging design suggests that the container dates from the 1940s,
when Sifta Salt and the fabulous Sifta Sam character (click the old salt for a close-
up!) were brand names of Palmer Mann and Co. Ltd. of Sandbach, Cheshire, UK.
The company is long defunct and very little information about it exists online, but
image reference indicates that the deteriorated area below Sifta Sam once read
“Jolly Good Salt.” This container is certainly the most delicate item in my collection
of discards. Its flaking label — or what’s left of it — appears to be just barely
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.