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May 10, 2010

Long View Study No. 9 (The AA Five)


“Long View Study #9 (The AA Five)” is the latest study for my Long View Project series whose theme is waste management and recycling in Antarctica.

“AA” refers to Aurora Australis whose covers were fashioned from wooden provision cases in 1908 to create the first book edition ever published in Antarctica. “Five” refers to the five major figures behind this effort: Ernest Shackleton who edited the edition, illustrator George Marsten, printers Frank Wild and Ernest Joyce, and Bernard Day who bound the books. AA’s production marks an early instance of recycling on the continent and exemplifies the resourcefulness and creativity inherent to Antarctic scientific and artistic endeavors today.

The imagery draws from my 2009 visit to Shackleton’s hut where the edition was created over winter a century earlier. Shackleton devised the project to ensure that “the spectre know as ‘polar ennui’ never made its appearance,” as he put it.

I’m using found wood, paper, wire, hardware, and a leaf to reference the explorers’ workspace environment, their team efforts, and their fondness for tobacco. References to their fondness for whiskey to follow in future artworks.

The piece measures 7″ wide x 12″ high and is currently on exhibit in REFRAME: Making Sense of Waste at ARC Gallery in San Francisco through May 30.

Filed under: Aurora Australis Book,Studies — mbartalos @ 11:25 pm

May 5, 2010

Long View Study No. 8 (Plan 1)

Spring greetings from San Francisco! I’m back from abroad and excited to see my Extreme Mammals graphics on display at the museum and its retail spaces. Enjoy the EM show and my images, up through September 12.

In Long View Project news: I have three new Antarctic-related works to share this week. Today’s featured piece is “LV Study No. 8 (Plan 1),” inspired by Lake Vostok, a body of water situated 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) beneath Russia’s Vostok Station at the center of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. This largest of Antarctica’s subglacial lakes was revealed by airborne ice-penetrating radar imagery in 1973, and preliminary ice-core drilling suggests that its depths harbor microbes that evolved uniquely to survive the most oxygen-rich natural lake environment on Earth.

The challenge to scientists is not in reaching these depths, but in probing the lake without contaminating its ecosystems. Presently, ice core drills are stopped 100 meters (300 feet) short of reaching liquid water to prevent the apparatus’s anti-freeze compound of freon and aviation fuel from tainting it. Russian scientists are reportedly devising a solution to safely access the water by next year.

I’ve referenced Lake Vostok in previous artworks, but the environmental issues related to the research are particularly relevant to the Long View Project. I’m curious to learn about the technology being developed for this specific mission; its eventual implementation; its ultimate dependability. Will it be fabulously successful in the long term, or might supposed safeguards fail with disastrous consequences? (And who isn’t asking such questions in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster?)


My artwork, subtitled Plan 1 (план 1), imagines the inception of the Vostok exploration project by Russian researchers. This schematic would have served to indicate their position relative to the recently-discovered lake beneath their station. Depth (глубина) and active life forms are speculated upon, and a lake bed research base is proposed. Exact coordinates and reliability of mail service yet unknown (неизвестный).

I’m fascinated by the notion of science fiction eventually giving way to science fact, and I enjoy following exploratory endeavors as technology progresses. Perhaps that’s why I find the Lake Vostok project continually engaging and return to it for inspiration and perspec-
tive time and again.

Long View Study No. 8 (Plan 1) measures 8.25″ x 10.25″ and was created with cut found paper, graphite, and a Russian postage stamp. The piece will be on view and available at Space Odyssey: Southern Exposure’s Annual Fundraiser and Art Auction this Saturday evening, May 6 at SoEx, 3030 20th Street in San Francisco. Hope to see you there!

Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities,Environment,Studies — mbartalos @ 1:56 am

October 11, 2009

Long View Study No. 6-7

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
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.

Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,Studies — mbartalos @ 10:43 pm

August 14, 2009

LV Sketchbook Page 025


The 1988 Madrid Protocol, as I mentioned yesterday, calls for all Antarctic Treaty countries to remove their old trash as well as their newly generated waste from the continent. Twenty years on, cleaning up the old stuff remains the taller order because of irreversible early waste management practices.

One such practice involved bulldozing rubbish out onto sea ice during winter to have it sink when the ice broke up in spring. “Sea-icing,” as it was called, had its heyday from 1955 (when McMurdo Station was built) to 1981 (when sea-icing was discontinued). During this period, scores of fuel drums, machinery and scrap metal accumulated off McMurdo’s shores. Open burning, untreated sewage, oil and chemical spills, and coastal landfills also contributed high concentrations of hydrocarbons, PCBs, and other toxic chemicals to the water and bottom sediments.

View across Winter Quarters Bay towards McMurdo Station in January 2009, with Scott's Discovery Hut at left.

The primary dumping ground during those decades was Winter Quarters Bay, seen here in January ’09 with a view towards McMurdo. Robert Falcon Scott had used this natural harbor to anchor his ship Discovery for two winters during his 1901-04 expedition. During their stay, he and his crew built the historic Discovery Hut seen at left.

Winter Quarters Bay would never be that clean again. By the 1990s, the cove was deemed one of the most polluted spots on Earth. (“Testing Tainted Waters.”)

Despite the clean-ups, contamination still exists and is likely to remain for some time. One reason is that hydrocarbons break down at very slow rates in Antarctic temperatures. Another factor is the cost and logistics of retrieving vast quantities of sunken trash. According to a 2001 New Zealand sponsored study, researchers revealed 15 vehicles, 26 shipping containers, and 603 fuel drums among approximately 1,000 items strewn across the Winter Quarters seabed. In addition, a 2005 survey determined that the act of decontaminating the bay risked creating greater adverse environmental impact than leaving the waste where it is. (“Contaminants Measured Near McMurdo.”)

On a positive note, the bay’s contaminants appear to be localized thanks to a shoal that prevents the toxins from spreading into open water beyond. I imagine Captain Scott cheering for that. And toasting the Madrid Protocol. And flipping over conscientious waste management. And high-fiving Shackleton over the ban on sea-icing.

This could be good sketch material. In the meanwhile, today’s drawing/collage juxtaposes stacks of stuff in Scott’s hut with stacks of stuff submerged outside his door to illuminate the proximity and continuity between them. More artwork to follow on this theme.

Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,Environment,Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 11:37 pm

August 13, 2009

Long View Studies 3 & 4


These two compositions allude to a time when open burning of garbage was common in Antarctica. The practice lasted well into the 1980s alongside proliferating dumps, sea-bound sewage, contaminant fuel and lubricant spills, and casual littering (providing for most of the found items showcased on this site).

1988, however, marked a turning point in attitudes to waste disposal on the Ice. Extensive clean-up efforts initiated at McMurdo Station led to the removal and return of major trash dumps to the U.S., to the prohibition of shoreline dumping, and to the enforcement of new sewage and grey water discharge protocols. Incineration and hazmat handling were also rethought and refined with environmental awareness in mind.

By 1998, the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (also known as the Madrid Protocol) was ratified by all countries operating in Antarctica, expressing a joint commitment to protecting the continent’s natural resources. It specifies that newly generated waste be routinely removed from Antarctica and that waste from previous decades be dealt with as well. The clean-up of that earlier waste has proven to be the greater challenge, which I’ll speak of tomorrow.

Both these artworks are small, about 2.75″ square, created in cut paper, graphite and gesso on bark paper. Study #4 was recently featured in the Dime Bag 3 exhibit at Giant Robot New York. More on the show here and a flickr set here.

Filed under: Environment,Studies — mbartalos @ 10:52 pm

July 4, 2009

Fourth of July in Antarctica

Happy Independence Day! Midwinter festivities are under way at McMurdo Station
as reported in the Antarctic Sun’s Around the Continent-Research Station Updates
July 2 entry. Celebrations include the annual Midwinter Dinner, dance, photo exhibi-
tion, outdoor run (brrr), and the Fourth of July carnival. Sounds like a blast, minus
the blast of fireworks.


Here’s McMurdo as it appears in the darkness of the Austral winter, which lasts from
late April until August. There are 153 residents at the station now, mostly doing
maintenance, repairs, and preparation for the nearly 1,100 people expected for the
summer research season. The photograph was taken on May 6 by James Walker /
National Science Foundation.

Filed under: Antarctic Research Facilities — mbartalos @ 2:52 pm

March 25, 2009

LV Sketchbook Page 004


The subject of this ‘sister image’ to yesterday’s post is whaling.

The first Antarctic whaling station was established in 1904 at South Georgia island. By the mid-20th century, several of the eight whale species that populate Antarctic waters had been hunted to the edge of extinction. They’re now gradually recovering thanks to international regulation of commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean, though their numbers aren’t nearly that of a hundred years ago.

At the other end of the world by contrast, whale hunting has been central to the Inupiat people’s subsistence for over a millennium. I’m currently marveling over thewhalehunt.org, a unique photo-documentary of an Inupiat whale hunt in Barrow, Alaska. Its extraordinary approach to storytelling and brilliant interface was created by Jonathan Harris, with stunning photography by Andrew Moore. Not to be missed.

Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,Environment,Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 11:14 pm

February 15, 2009

Christchurch > Lyttelton > San Francisco

Greetings from San Francisco where I’m back with family, back in the studio, and back to the Long View Project blog. Apologies for the less frequent updates while I settle in and await arrival of the material I collected and shipped home from Antarctica to incorporate into my artwork. It’s taking a while since the boxes are coming by sea. Once they arrive though, I look forward to sharing the creative process with you here. That process — the actual assembly of the artwork — will initiate the second phase of the Long View Project as described in my introductory post a couple months back.

In the meanwhile, an update from where I last left off, high above Antarctica en route back to New Zealand:


After enjoying a month of Antarctica’s 24/7 summertime daylight (the better to enjoy these amazing views by)…


…it felt odd to be greeted by darkness in Christchurch.


I used my first full day here to visit the nearby port of Lyttelton with fellow artist grantee Judit Hersko. Lyttelton interested us as the launching point for early 20th-century British Antarctic expeditions. This view is from the Timeball Station, an historic 1876 landmark once crucial for navigation. The castle-like structure’s timeball, partially seen at the upper right of the photograph, was used to signal exact Greenwich time to the harbor’s vessels until 1934 when radio signals took over.


Beyond the pier in the center lies Quail Island where Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton trained their sled dogs and ponies before setting off on their voyages. The island is the plug of the ancient volcano forming Lyttelton Harbor.


Down the hill on Gladstone Quay, the Lyttelton Historical Museum features local history, oceanography and, of course, Antarctic exploration exhibits. In its former incarnation as the Seamen’s Institute, the building provided shelter to mariners including some of Robert Scott’s Terra Nova expedition crew.


Robert Scott’s dog, Deek, guards over his master, framed at lower left. Born in Siberia and trained on Quail Island, Deek was a favorite among Scott’s dozens of Samoyed sledge dogs. He survived the Terra Nova expedition (which Scott himself didn’t) and returned to New Zealand to live out his days as companion to the mayor of Christchurch.


Pony snow shoes from the same expedition of 1910-13 on display with oats for feed, found at Hut Point in 1964.


Given all the Terra Nova memorabilia on display, one could be forgiven for calling it “the Scott Museum,” as one past visitor described it to me. However the Lyttleton Museum’s exhibits do include artifacts from James Cook’s, Ernest Shackleton’s, and Richard Evelyn Byrd’s exploits too. The collection was definitely worth the visit.


The following day I returned to Christchurch’s Canterbury Museum which readers may remember from December 28 and again on the 31st. Except this time I was back by appointment specifically to see the collection’s copy of Aurora Australis housed in the museum’s Documentary Research Centre. This was a thrill because each of the original edition’s approximately 25 hand-bound copies is unique — notably the wooden covers cut from provisions cases. Much thanks to Natalie Cadenhead, the Canterbury’s Curator of Antarctic History for showing me both this and the museum’s South Polar Times collection — an added treat.

I traveled on to San Francisco the next day, having accomplished all I’d hoped to, and so much more.

Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,New Zealand — mbartalos @ 11:38 pm

January 24, 2009

Scott’s Discovery Hut, Part 2: The South Polar Times

Robert Scott’s Discovery team suffered during their two years at Hut Point. There was snow blindness, frostbite, and Shackleton himself was sent home with a debilitating case of scurvy midway through the expedition. But in spite of the suffering, or perhaps because of it, the men devised ways to entertain themselves throughout the ordeal, especially throughout the dark winter months.

Among these diversions was a play called “Ticket of Leave” staged in the frigid Discovery Hut. A brief account of the production can be found here along with an amusing photo of the troupe in costume, including the two “ladies” of the play. The hut was subsequently dubbed the ‘Royal Terror Theatre.’

A production of an entirely different kind was that of The South Polar Times, a newsletter edited by Shackleton during May–August 1902, preceding his affliction. This one really piqued my interest as a creation at the crossroads of art and science.


There was no printing press; the ‘publication’ consisted of a single typewritten copy passed hand-to-hand. The pages contained news, poetry, puzzles, scientific essays on geological, climatic, and biological topics, and not-so-scientific musings on the taste of penguin meat. Items were profusely illustrated with drawings, paintings, satirical cartoons, charts, maps,
and detailed zoological diagrams pasted into place to create pleasing layouts.

The page on the right, above, is titled “Events of the Month,” recounting the outset of the Discovery expedition. Among the entries: “April 6. An exciting seal chase;” “April 11. His Majesty the King became Patron of the Expedition;” “April 13. Windmill collapsed;” “April 18. Meteorological observations begun on the floe.”


The entire crew was invited to contribute words and pictures, and talent was evident among them. Most prominent is the art of Dr. Edward Adrian Wilson, the expedition’s junior surgeon, zoologist and official artist. His whale illustrations above are among 200 colored sketches of the Antarctic landscape and animal life he completed during the expedition, and he would return with Scott on the Terra Nova Expedition to render many more. Look for more on Wilson in the Crary Library post I have planned for the next day or two.


Left, Charles Royds, Royal Navy officer and First Lieutenant of the RRS Discovery who Cape Royds was named after. As of this writing, it’s unclear who drew these fabulous caricatures and most of the rest of the art — with the exception of Wilson’s recognizable style. I’ll be investigating art credits for the SPT in the weeks to come and will report my findings here.


‘Cutlets’ was the nickname of Reginald Koettlitz, the expedition’s chief surgeon and doctor.


Shackleton’s editorship of The South Polar Times was a natural; he had a fondness for literature and poetry, and enjoyed composing verse under his nom de plume, “NEMO.” The SPT‘s success quite likely gave him the impetus to plan the printing of Aurora Australis for his Nimrod party’s winter-over at Cape Royds in 1908.

Although not originally intended for publication, a collected South Polar Times was eventually compiled on the Discovery’s return home. The 3-volume anthology was printed in limited editions by Smith, Elder and Co. of London, 1907-1914. The first two volumes were issued in 250 numbered copies each, and the third in 350 numbered copies.

In the preface to volume 1, Robert Falcon Scott writes:
“The owner of these volumes will possess an exact reproduction of the original ‘South Polar Times’ which appeared month by month during the winters of 1902-3, produced as they were for the sole edification of our small company of explorers in the ‘Discovery’, then held fast in the Antarctic Ice. No attempt has been made to re-edit the text or to supply explanatory notes, and therefore it would be unfair to those who were responsible for it to omit mention of the circumstances under which the original volumes came into being. In March 1902 we were busily preparing for our first Antarctic winter as we watched the sun sinking towards its long rest. We knew that daylight would shortly disappear for four whole months, and our thoughts turned naturally to the long dark period before us and the means by which we could lighten its monotony. And so it was in this month that we met in council around the ward-room table to discuss the first Antarctic Journal; then and there we christened it, suggested its general lines, and appointed Mr. Shackleton as editor to guide its destiny. Our Journal, we decided, should give instruction as well as amusement; we looked to our scientific experts to write luminously on their special subjects, and to record the scientific events of general interest, while for lighter matter we agreed that the cloak of anonymity should encourage the indulgence of any shy vein of sentiment or humour that might exist among us. Above all, the ‘South Polar Times’, as we had determined to call it, was to be open to all; the men as well as the officers were to be invited to contribute to its pages.”

Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,McMurdo — mbartalos @ 11:59 pm

Scott’s Discovery Hut, Part 1


Hut Point is a short stroll around the harbor basin from McMurdo. Its summit is marked by
Vince’s Cross, a memorial to a lost crew member of Robert Scott’s Discovery expedition of 1901-04. I’ve been out there a couple times now, enjoying the light at different times of day. Even in a single visit, one vantage point can appear like twilight…


…while another offers broad daylight — which in fact it is, around the clock throughout the Antarctic summer.


At the foot of the windswept hill sits Robert Scott’s Discovery hut, the earliest of Ross Island’s three historical heritage sites. This was Scott’s base for his first attempt to reach the South Pole. Although he and his party members Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson didn’t make it that far, they did set a new record (82 degrees latitude) for southernmost travel at the time.


The Discovery ship’s crew erected the prefabricated hut in February 1902. It wasn’t entirely successful. Its Australian outback-style design was ill-suited to the elements and a lack of insulation kept most of the party living on the icebound ship just offshore.


Still, it served as space for storage, social gatherings, and scientific work. It was home to early advances in the study of earth sciences (notably understanding the Southern Hemisphere’s weather patterns), and of geology and zoology in the McMurdo Dry Valleys and the Cape Crozier Emperor Penguin colony. It was also from here that Scott’s discoveries of King Edward VII Land and the Polar Plateau via the western mountains route were launched.


The hut and much of its contents are still coated with black greasy soot generated from seal blubber burnt for heat, light and food. Heating the space must have been an uphill battle; it feels colder inside than outside.


Both Scott and Shackleton re-used the hut on later expeditions as a staging post, rendezvous point, and safe refuge. The date on this crate, for example, reveals activity eight years later by Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition based at Cape Evans. Items were swapped between huts up until 1917, after which they lay dormant and literally froze in time. Seal blubber hangs preserved on hooks, garments hang from clotheslines and artifacts still line the shelves, similar to (but sparser than) Shackleton’s Nimrod hut that I visited a few days back.


Like Shackleton’s hut, Scott’s Discovery hut is maintained by the Antarctic Heritage Trust as part of the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project. All four sites under the Trust’s care are listed in the World Monuments Fund 2008 Watch List of the World’s 100 Most Endangered Sites, and hold Antarctic Specially Protected Area status under the Antarctic Treaty System.

Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,McMurdo — mbartalos @ 11:24 pm
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