Universes in Universe

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Antarctic Pavilion

Curatorial text by Alfons Hug

In Antiquity, philosophers believed that for reasons of symmetry the southern hemisphere must contain a counterweight to the landmass of the northern hemisphere. Mercator's 16th century maps also claim the presence of a "large southern continent" (Terra Australis Incognita), which was regarded as a tropical paradise.

The intensive search for the real Antarctic during the 19th century was guided by the conviction that contact with the end of the world would unearth new insights for the human spirit. Not until 1820 did the Baltic German captain Fabian Bellingshausen (who was in Russian service) and the American seal hunter Nathaniel Palmer both finally discover the white continent at the same time.

Even so, highly respected contemporary personalities, including Edgar Allan Poe, still subscribed to the superstitious belief that there was an opening in the globe at the South Pole through which travelers could reach a civilized world, which they suspected within the Earth's crust.

Today, 4000 scientists committed to peaceful research from all over the world (1000 in the winter) work in 80 stations scattered all over the Antarctic, which is about as big as Brazil and Europe together (almost 14 million square kilometers). The sparse tourism is still ecologically defensible – so far.

The Antarctic Treaty (1959), which was signed at the peak of the Cold War and froze all territorial demands until further notice, was an exemplary agreement which still maintains a key status in global environmental and peace policy today.

The Antarctic is therefore the only continent with no military weapons, no economic exploitation, and no land ownership; not even the plentiful mineral resources may be exploited: utopian conditions indeed. While the rest of the world wears itself out in endless conflicts, a destructive exploitation of resources, and ownership claims of all kinds, the Antarctic, that classic no-man's-land, has a higher calling: it belongs to no one and therefore to everyone.

Its natural cycles are certainly very closely interwoven with our own, and its fragile ecosystem reacts sensitively even to disturbances caused in other areas of the world. It functions as the Earth's "measuring instrument."

Although affected by the environmental sins committed by the rest of the world, the southern continent is largely still in a state of sublime innocence. It is the land before the Fall, perhaps the final great promise to mankind since the Tropics lost some of their paradisiacal beauty. The icy ground of this mythical region resembles an enormous archive in which the climatic history of the Earth is stored. The Antarctic is frozen time.

This zero point of culture is well suited for intellectual and artistic reflections on the world: emptiness, silence and seclusion, but also purity, clarity, peace and spirituality are some the existential categories that will be discussed in the transcendental Antarctic. The artists begin where the scientists and their measurements cannot reach, thus allowing a new and fresh perspective on this neuralgic point of the Earth.

The artists will also have to come to terms with the colour white, which was regarded by the impressionists as a non-colour, yet in the eyes of Kandinsky was an "insurmountable, indestructible, almost infinite cold wall," a silence that can suddenly be understood. "It is a void that is juvenile or, more precisely, a void that is before the beginning, before birth" (Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art).

And just as the "white cube" of the modern art galleries, in its complete neutrality, mercilessly reveals the weaknesses of a work of art, so the naked, white expanse of the Antarctic exposes the inadequacies of human activity.

The installation ICEPAC was produced by the Interpolar Transnational Art Science Constellation (ITASC) which is a network of artists and institutions working collaboratively with scientists in Antarctica.

ICEPAC is an entirely solar and wind powered sculpture and has a black polyester webbing skin which acts as a solar collector, transferring surface heat produced through the absorbtion of the near-24 hour Antarctic summer sun into the interior of the station. In addition to traditional crystalline photovoltaic panels, the ICEPAC crew is testing prototype thin-film photovoltaic panels during the current expedition with a view to eventually covering ICEPAC with a flexible photovolatic skin which will provide the station with all its energy and heat requirement. ICEPAC is a mobile living and working climate controlled base which is used to facilitate the production of artworks in Antarctica.

Erika Blumenfeld (USA), Adam Hyde (New Zealand), Rebecca Mattos (Brazil), Thomas Mulcaire (South Africa), Siphiwe Ngwenya (South Africa), Ntsikelelo Ntshingila (South Africa), Amanda Rodrigues Alves (Brazil), Pol Taylor (Chile)

Curator: Alfons Hug


© Text: Alfons Hug
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