Peter James Smith Iceblink / 8 June - 25 June 2011
As a 2009/10 Antarctic New Zealand Artist Fellow I travelled to Antarctica for 10 days at Scott Base in January 2010. This exhibition results from the immediate and profound effect
of that experience — of darkness, history, artefacts, sublimity, death, heroism, and silence — and continues to shape ongoing work under the umbrella term ‘Iceblink’. This was a term that I became familiar with through George Forster’s iconic image, painted on Cook’s Second Voyage c.1773. It rests in the memory because of the riven angularity of the sea and ice, standing over the ships Resolution and Adventure depicted in the middle ground.
In travelogue mode: New Zealand’s Scott Base in the Antarctica is the logistical home to 80 scientists, engineers and environmental specialists in the summer season. It is located on
the Hut Peninsula of Ross Island embedded in the seaward edge of the Ross Iceshelf, a thick ﬂat ﬂange of ice that extends off the frozen landmass of the Antarctic continent out over the sea, occupying an area the size of France. The 1,000 strong American McMurdo Station is 40 minutes walk away at McMurdo Sound and looks like an Alaskan frontier town (endearingly referred to as Mactown).The whole environment is pristine, white, unpolluted and very cold (and is not warming up). It is a physically exhausting environment and in a sense intimidating: all across the landscape there are hidden dangers—from pressure ridges (ﬁssures in the ice sheet), from deep crevasses, from whiteout and from the wind chill factor of the biting wind. The sense of foreboding is increased by the presence of memorial crosses to the era of great exploration 100 years ago and the dark and heavy-hearted huts that those explorers built, provisioned and sought shelter in, over 100 years ago. Above all, the colossus of Erebus stands forever in the background, a constantly active volcano that is physically smouldering and historically dark.
This sense of history is ever-present. One can stand on Observation Hill near the base and look due south, towards the South Pole, in a line between the sublime shimmering summits of Black Island and White Island, just as Robert Falcon Scott’s men had done as they strained their eyes across the white horizon, waiting for his return in 1912 from his fatal race to the pole. The works in Iceblink call to this darkness, the cruel ironies of a lifeless land and a teeming sea, the glacial chasms and the dark huts where the smell of death is in the air. Here, history is compressed and darkened; time stands still.
The umbrella term ‘Iceblink’, used as a single word rather than ‘ice’ and ‘blink’ held separately, seems an appropriate label to cover several themes of my experience, both literally as a landscape phenomenon, and also in the emerging themes of the ephemeral, of layering, overlaying, morbidity, fracture, erasure, and, of course, the ﬂicker of light that so guided
scientiﬁc reasoning in the Enlightenment, and that same ﬂicker that lays capture to the photographic image.
Even so, there is a feeling of warmth in this environment and this history. In summer, the sun never sets, but the sun’s rays are often scattered by cloud and atmospheric crystals to give a sense of late afternoon at 1am. Dr Edward Wilson (doctor, zoologist, artist and explorer) accompanied Scott on his fatal Terra Nova Expedition (1910-12). His on-location watercolours
captured this warmth and the series of works Wilson’s Sunlight, 2011, in early 19th century period frames are physical objects in tribute to this legacy.