Artists in Antarctica reviewed in Polar Record


Bob Frame reviews Artists in Antarctica by Patrick Shepherd for Polar Record: 

‘Patrick Shepherd has edited a sumptuous collection of creativity by New Zealand artists from many disciplines, all of whom have participated in the various iterations of the artists and writers’ programs run by Antarctica New Zealand since 1997. Collectively, they stimulate responses about Antarctica that cannot arise in the biophysical sciences and provide an important lens on the continent. The spectrum of art, presented alphabetically by artist, ranges through painting, writing, and photography to various mixed media and sculptural forms, including ceramics, and to music and sound. The book is mostly a retrospective account, with the exception of work by Lloyd Jones written exclusively for the book. Each artist describes, sometimes rather like a diary entry, their motivations in seeking to visit Antarctica (frequently returning to childhood inspirations) and the extent to which creative work flowed easily (or, more often, rather slowly) on their return. This slow gestation appears common for those artists who do not produce their work directly when visiting.

In book form, the most immediately engaging artworks are the photographs, notably Laurence Aberhardt’s large format images in the style of Herbert Ponting and Frank Hurley; Anne Noble’s unsettling Piss Poles and Bitch in Slippers series that challenge the traditional Antarctic metaphors of masculinity; and Jae Hoon Lee’s digitally collaged landscapes. Conversely, the music is obviously less accessible, though internet resources take you to Shepherd’s own work (Katabatic and Cryosphere), to Gareth Farr’s Terra Incognita, and to Chris Cree-Brown’s Icescape. I was intrigued to know what Don McGlashan made of it in 2012, though he is not featured in the book, though his song “Shackleton” features on his 2022 album, “Bright November Morning.” And while the pages with musical notation intrigue, they do require a side journey to YouTube and Spotify for those lacking musical knowledge (which is, of course, no different than the challenge of mathematical equations or mass spectrometry figures in other literatures to those lacking science training).

In between the photographs and the music lie gems such as Corey Baker’s short film Antarctica: The First Dance, featuring Madeleine Graham, a Royal New Zealand Ballet soloist; Virginia King’s sculptures; and notable New Zealand poets and writers including Bill Manhire and Owen Marshall. Work by Martin Hill and Philippa Jones seems rather reminiscent of earlier environmental sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy. However, their 2014 work Anthropocene is almost the only mention of the new age, which, in a sense, unifies almost all the work presented. Painters are well represented, including the work of Nigel Brown, Denise Copland, Margaret Elliot, Dick Frizell, Kathryn Madill, and Grahame Sydney. While the 36 artists provide a rich and intriguing assemblage of work, one wonders what other New Zealand artists, such as Austin Deans, Dave Dobbyn, Margaret Mahy, Craig Potton, and Rebecca Priestley, created in response to their Antarctic experience, not to mention other artists from New Zealand who worked in Antarctica outside of the arts and community engagement program.

All the artists benefit greatly from the high production standards that make the book so enjoyable—and peeling back the dust cover, there is the added delight of discovering poems by Bernadette Hall and Owen Marshall. Massey University Press has, as with their other recent Antarctic offering, Colin Monteath’s Erebus: The Ice Dragon (2023), produced a beautiful book. Perhaps the publishers have found a niche for these more-than-just-a-coffee-table Antarctic titles.’

Read the full review here.