This is a blog of ongoing projects starting with: 1) Antarctica -Dec. 2006 - February 2007 2) Work made from the experience 2008 3) Nevada Feb. - Oct. 2008

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Over the frozen Sound to open sea.


Simon Cantrel has just returned from 2 weeks at Sky Blu. He slept in the Igloo all the time and came back with these photos.


Photo Anne Brodie

Monday, January 29, 2007


Fossil Bluff is an historic hut established in the 60's. It sits on a moraine heap on the edge of Alexander Island, overlooking the frozen George V1 Sound with the mountains of the peninsula in the background. The mountains that rise from the back of the hut are composed of layers of sedimentary rock in which there are many fossils; plants, ferns, shells etc. Aircraft used to be able to land close to the hut on the snow, but climate change has melted part of the glacier into a lake and there is now a half hour walk to get to the hut from the nearest place you can park a skidoo.

The hut itself is very cosy with an oil fired Rayburn and four bunks with sheets and Duvets!!! If the weather is good, which it was when I arrived, you can lie out on the sun deck and get a tan. When I arrived I was greeted by Hamish, who I had last seen at Rabid working on ice soundings and Jade, a marine biologist. They greeted me with freshly baked sausage rolls. Heaven after the privations of Sky Blu. People are sent to Fossil Bluff for a bit of a holiday as there are not many Twin Otter flights coming through and time is your own in between weather scheds.

There wasn't a cloud in the sky and there was no wind, so in the early evening Hamish took me on a two hour walk to Benemnite valley to look for fossils. On our return we ate dinner did the 9.00 pm sched. on the radio then the 3 of us set off up the mountain to climb Pyramid the 2,500 ' peak behind the hut. We did a big circuit in the glorious early morning light, getting back to the hut around 3.00 am. In the Antarctic you go when the weather is good. In the week I was there this, my day of arrival, turned out to the only really fine day we had.

The day before I left, on my own, I climbed Sphinx, the smaller peak overlooking the ski-way and the turquoise melt pools on the frozen Sound. I also made a small work in stone, mirroring the shape of the melt pools, but without sunlight it was hardly visible.


On January 17th I fly with Nico to Fossil Bluff. For an hour and a half we fly at 12 metres above the ice. No landmark anywhere. In the midst of all this are sledge Quebec, two people and a tent, drilling ice cores. We give them a bit of a fright as we zoom over their heads.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


The landscape of the Interior of Antarctica is absolute. It is so all encompassing and beautiful it can reduce you to tears. The two weeks I spent here were exhausting both physically and mentally, often dealing with quite difficult personalities in stressful circumstances. However, whenever I think back to that time, my heart misses a beat and tears come to my eyes because the landscape itself was so much bigger and deeper than the insane preoccupations of us human beings.

On my first evening at Sky Blu, standing on the top of Lanzarotti Nunatac, looking out on that ethereal space it was very clear to me this was an untouched and untouchable land. Both empty and full at the same time; complete in itself. Any mark made by man is like pissing in the wind - irrelevant and gone in the next moment. Even the collective idiocy of the industrialised world, which seems to be producing widespread glacial retreat on the ice-shelves and the Antarctic Peninsula, will in the history of 900,000 years of the build-up of the interior ice cap, no doubt be just a minor blip along with all the other catastrophical blips recorded among the layers of ice during those hundreds of thousands of years.

When I first applied to come to Antarctica with BAS, my instinct was that I needed to experience one of the most extreme places on Earth, so it could act as a kind of bench mark of the macrocosm with which I could compare and link my findings in the microcosm: flow patterns and processes in the body. Having been here, I feel that instinct was right. I needed this experience to enter my very bones; to act as a baseline for further research.

The Antarctic ice cap is the place where global climate is born. It also stores within its emptiness the history of the last 900,000 years of the planet. The echo-recordings of the ice cap which scientists out in the field are making by flying straight lines low over the ice cap with echo-sounding equipment attached to the undersides of the wings, give long computer drawings which are similar to echocardiogram readings of our hearts. If you know what to look for, an echocardiogram can give doctors the health history of a patient. in the same way glaciologists are trying to find ways of reading these echrecorded drawings to give us an insight into the history of the planet. These drawings are like a heartbeat of the Earth and ultimately that is where my interest as an artist lies. As yet I only have a vague idea as to what form any works will take. I have got to know a number of these scientists personally and some have expressed an interest in working with me on ways to make these drawings visible and intelligible. That is my plan for the future.

In the mean time, as a way of being in this place I have made marks in the snow and ice. Visible for at most a day. Like pissing in the wind.

'Touching Ice', a fingerprint made by brushing snow off the blue ice with a dustpan and brush.

'Ice Line', a blue ice runway made by people over the last decade or so and renewed by myself and five others from 15th - 17th January 2007.

'Wind Vortex', A drawing made by skidoo on fresh snow and photographed from the adjoining Nunatak

The snow never settles here for long because of the wind vortices created by the effect of the Nunatacs on the prevailing northerly winds. Hence there is permanent blue ice here at Sky Blu, even the surface of which could be many centuries old and which allows for an ice runway. I Had an idea to make a simple line drawing of the wind. Back at Rothera, Crispin helped me to put the drawing onto a GPS matching the co-ordinates of the map. In theory I should have been able to lash the GPS to the handlebars of the Skidoo, drive to the end of the runway under Lanzarotti Nunatac, and then pick up the arrow on the GPS screen and follow it around the drawing.
However it needed:
1) A fresh fall of snow.
2) No wind.
3) No flights as all the skidoos would be in use.
4) A fine afternoon with sun, so that the work would show up enough to be photographed.

By a miracle all of this came together on 14th January. So I headed for the end of the runway with Skidoo, cameras, GPS, warm clothing and crampons. The first spiral began to fit nicely under Lanzarotti, however there must have been an 80 m. discrepency in the map as the larger spiral began to head up the hill towards the crevassed area, so from there on I had to ad-lib it by eye making it smaller than intended. I then parked the skidoo back down the runway and walked into the drawing, then up onto the ice slopes of the Nunataks where I photographed the work.
The following day there was a wind blowing and Nico flew in. When he landed he asked who had made the drawing and offered to photograph it on his way out from the air. Half an hour later he was airborne, but the drawing had gone with the wind.


Anne Brodie and I planned to make a double igloo as a collaboration. We intended to have an entrance into the smaller of the two, then a connecting passage into a larger one which would be open to the sky and act as a cloud/sky chamber. In the end there was only time to build one. Adam, one of the Mechs was keen to help and in the end the three of us made the structure with Morag, a glaciologist helping at the end. The snow was wind driven and hard - perfect for the job, and we used a wood saw to cut the blocks, shaping them into wedges as we placed them. Anne went on to build a lace igloo structure with the off-cuts.

I had once seen a film of several Inuit making one in just over an hour, ours took three days mostly at odd moments or late into the evening after the flights. It was made as a spiral and we left the top open to the sky for a while to film and photograph drifting clouds. Then we filled it in and had a party with 8 of us inside. Later Jamie, Adam and myself slept a night in it. It was certainly no colder than a tent, but more beautiful. People have been sleeping in it ever since.

We had requested to have a digital projector flown in, so we could project and film moving images onto the interior. It arrived the day I flew to Fossil Bluff, so Anne remained and made a short film sequence of me sawing the blocks, projected very faintly onto the interior of the blocks themselves: very beautiful.

Friday, January 26, 2007


With 10 minutes notice, I grabbed a sleeping bag and climbed onto the twin Otter with Mark as Pilot and we were off. Over the Nunataks and then the endless sea of ice with hardly a ripple or blemish. So endless that even at 600' you can see the curve of the earth and sky and ice blur into one another. After a while a blip comes up on the radar screen and Mark points out that those are the Ellsworths.

Half an hour from landing there is a feint line on the horizon which grows clearer as we approach. A band of cloud obscures the tops, but as we approach we duck underneath and the mountains appear white and etheral. Vincent off to the left the highest mountain in Antarctica at around 18,000 '.
In a moment we are down on the ice, greeted by Hugh and Hamish, and being served tea and home baked bread in their Melon tent. Then unload, refuel and off back to Sky Blu. I have a go at flying the plane. Piece of cake so long as I don't have to land it.


The melon hut, is a fibre glass and foam hut, in the shape of a melon, roughly 15' x 9'. It has a stove which runs on the dregs of Avtar - aviation fuel, taken from the bottoms of emptied barrels. A pan sits on this stove permanently melting snow. There are a few shelves and boxes of food with a freezer (boxes in the snow) outside. Cooking is on primus stoves which are a pain to light, fumey and are responsible for the most of the sooty dirt which accumulates on your skin. Water is at a premium and hot water more so, so there is minimal washing. If you want to wash yourself there are baby wipes or a quick roll in the snow on a sunny windless day. The loo is a flag in the ground or an ice pit in a pyramid tent - commonly referred to as the Turdicle. As no germs can survive in Antarctica, no one gets ill, and you only realise that you stink to high heaven when you return to base!
There is a table and some seating inside. Liz sleeps in here so she can do the early morning weather report on the radio. The rest of us are in tents outside.
Anything that protrudes from the ice, causes snowdrifts. As a result, after two years the melon was drifted in and we had to climb down 3 ' to get in. To prevent it disappearing altogether it needed moving which 10 of us did on a no fly day, 6" at a time with a winch and wood beam levers.
Sky blu is basically a fuel depot. It is the hub from which glacial science parties working on echorecordings, ice cores etc are
kept supplied with fuel and food. There are small sledge parties much deeper into the interior at Pine Island (beyond the Ellsworths) and Rabid on the Rutford ice stream north of the Ellsworths. three or four people will be out here for two or three months and need to be kept supplied when the weather allows. To get one barrel of fuel to these places takes 7 barrels and all the fuel is depoted at Sky blu, supplied mostly by the 4 prop Dash 7 which is able to land with wheels on the blue ice. The runway is kept scoured mostly by the ferocious winds.

So if you are at Sky Blu you must help with the miriad tasks. Making art is one thing, but you can't do that and watch others slave away at often very physical jobs - you have to help. Also this is what it takes to be here and that is part of the experience of being in Antarctica and must inevitably enter any art you do. A plane gets you here and takes you out, if you don't refuel it and keep the runway clear then they might just leave you here! you can question the need for any of it, but if you are simply here, then use of fuel alone is contributing to climate change.


hourly Met observations - wind speed and direction, temperature, dew point, visibility, cloud cover in Octas with cloud heights etc etc. These have to be given over the radio at the appointed time and are vital information for pilots. There is not much leeway for error. The weather in Antarctica is incredibly complex and unpredictable. you can have dense low cloud at Sky Blu and clear Skies 2 miles away at Sky High. So despite satellite pictures this is still needed.

Red Bags full of snow have to be laid out and taken in on the 900 m. runway everyday to mark drifts and workable areas.

When a plane comes in, you need to have down on the apron: The Fire sledge connected to a running Skidoo, the fuel pump sledge + however many full drums the pilot wants to fuel up. These have to be dug out of the snow drifts, attached by a special rope attachment on a skidoo and dragged individually over to the apron. The pilot may also be taking scientific instruments out into the field and if these are depoted here they must be dragged out too. Everything is heavy.

When the plane lands and the props are turned off, two people fuel the aircraft, breaking open each drum, testing it for any water, then pumping it by hose into the plane. Meanwhile two metal ramps are connected to the rear door of the plane and fuel drums rolled down them onto the ice. these have to be dragged away by skidoo and stacked in the depot, using a metal leaver to stand them upright. Any food or other equipment is unloaded and stashed and anything needed to go is loaded including waste material and empty drums. if a skidoo breaks down it may have to be heaved up the ramp by muscle power, into the plane to be returned to base for repairs. skidoos are very heavy and loading and unloading them onto planes is dangerous. On a bad day you can have four flights in and out. we sometimes prayed for bad weather.

Sometimes the weather turns bad so pilot and crew will have to stay over, other times it is a quick turn around and they are off. If you are lucky you might swop with a co pilot and be off to the Ellsworths with ten minutes notice, as I was.

Lastly there is runway clearing. While we were there it snowed heavily, which was good for me as I was able to make a large drawing with a skidoo, but it drifted up the runway sometimes to a depth of 18". With 900 m of runway to clear we did it in around 3 days, working in shifts around the clock. If the wind dropped, as it did, we were simply blowing snow from one bit to another and piling up bigger drifts. If we had left it for a week or two it may have cleared itself, but then they needed to get the Dash in with more fuel. So hour after hour we toiled with two very inadequate machines, getting both tired and very cold.

We all take it in turns to cook, and at 8.30 pm it is time for our half hour radio chat with base when we can hear all the gossip and put in requests for food, materials etc.