A field trip or 'Jolly' up onto the icecap to visit three huts for survival training took me to Rumdoodle, Fang and Hendo. All three are simply tiny boxes plonked and tied down in spectacular scenery with comforts like beds, stoves, toilets, food, heaters, radios and other treats to keep people alive and happy. We rode quads across the blue ice, over snowdrifts and sastrugi following arrows on GPS units and the cane lines or marked routes to avoid crevasses or 'slots' as they call them here. An exhilarating trip to say the least and we even found a few pretty ice flowers.
I am in MacRobinson Land named after the boss of the chocolate company who kindly bought us the Cherry Ripe and Old Gold chocolate bars. Mr. Mac kindly gave Mr. Douglas Mawson 20,000 Pounds to help fund the BANZARE expedition of 1929 in order to map this area of coast. Mapping this continent is an ongoing chore as it literally grows or shrinks each day.
Here in White-Chocolate Land I share the living quarters or Red Shed with 15 other expeditioneers – Peter, Tubby, Glenn, Matt, Gunny, Nathan, Dave, Doug, Buckshot, Fridge, Aaron, Jeremy, Lee, Tom and last but certainly not least Jaz our chef. Everyone has settled into the unusual and artificial station life and we all peer out the window watching the sea freeze over and turn into a hard shiny extension of this icy continent. When it does freeze to the maximum extent the continent literally doubles in size to something like 30 million square kilometers.
To get from the Red Shed to my studio in the brown Wombat building is at times demanding. A blizzard will quash visibility and require me to put on an extra layer of clothing as well as holding onto the 'blizz line' which is a rope connecting one building to another. In this climate even 25 meters is a long way to navigate. People have been lost and even died only a few meters from safety down here. Once I do waddle, stumble or fly over to the studio I find myself attempting to shrink Antarctica to a manageable scale. Domesticating the Ice. I sew and paint the vast landscape outside with a desire to know it better.
Antarctica reduces us with its sublimity, gob smacking us and physically slapping us about in order to remind us of the small part we play in the universe. The 'diminutive effect' that environmental psychologists talk about is another name for this conceptual slimming that we encounter in the midst of grand expansive nature.
As it belittles us I do the same to Antarctica. I play with or reverse this 'diminutive effect' by creating tiny paintings about an awesome brutal majestic space just outside my window. I know I am a tiny speck and I am happy with that fact but if Antarctica shrinks me it is only fair that I shrink it right back with the hope of understanding it and attempting to see this white void-land in human terms. Antarctica reminds me I am human and very mortal and I try to humanize it by making it bite size.
Besides making art in the studio I also eat chocolate and brew up coffee with cardamom to ease the odd bout of disquiet bought about by this isolation. Will exotic spices from warmer climes do the trick? I guess not but it is worth a try. Looking out the window I see a hostile beauty that is oddly inviting due to its chilled purity but I am not able to survive very long at all outside this cocoon called Mawson station. Home sweet home this place is definitely not.
There is understandably a lot of homesickness on Antarctic stations, in fact I believe an Argentinean doctor once burnt down some buildings in order to be extracted from the Ice as he did not wish to stay for the long winter period. Here an artificial home feeling or lets call it a haven mood has formed in order to psychologically prepare everyone for the months of isolation ahead. No human would be here without the massive life line support systems from other continents to keep us all animated for periods of time down here. If technology zooms ahead and makes some kind of self-support possible in Antarctica then maybe humans could actually call it home but until then I am in some kind of comfortable limbo or I am just 'doing a winter' like many have done before me. The first wintering over on Antarctica was in 1899 by a group of ten young men. They stayed in a tiny hut at Cape Adare and had a very unpleasant time I have read. Nine managed to return home. I have been to this hut and I am very thankful that Mawson station is a hi-tech village paradise in comparison.
A quote from the poet Wallace Stevens makes sense down here on the blizzard days - 'the nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.' Another quote from a travel book I just picked up mentions a saying from the Maasai world that could make homesickness and dislocation thoughts totally defunct. 'You are never far from home as long as you are alive' so my cunning plan is to stay alive and what is that weird glossy green goo swirling about in the night sky?
Night Aurora - Photographer Jeremy Wills