“About the Antarctic Biennale”

by Jean de Pomereu

Some questions:

More than just a place, Antarctica is an ideal that first began to inspire artists, writers and cartographers long before the continent was first sighted in 1820. Ever since its earliest exploration, painters and draughtsmen have  taken part in expeditions to document and record the process of geographic and scientific discovery. More recently, Antarctica has served as a stage for some extraordinary installations and performances. Never before the 1º Antarctic Biennale, however, have so many creative minds taken part in an Antarctic expedition whose sole purpose is artistic and cultural.

Among its stated intentions, this 1º Antarctic Biennale sought to further develop Antarctica’s cultural potential, to push back the boundaries of art, and to imagine the future of a global community. What it offered us was a kaleidoscope of creative propositions that, for the most part, extended far beyond documentation and sublime representation. Whether shipborne or deployed along Antarctica’s coastline, these propositions were frequently inspired, often beautiful, always engaging, and sometimes un-practicable.

© Frederick Bernas
© Frederick Bernas

For me, however, beyond the visual and intellectual impact of individual artistic propositions, the 1º Antarctic Biennale’s most powerful and enriching dimension was as a collective act of artistic resilience in the face of Antarctica’s crushing grandeur. This spirit of resistance was what led me to ask if the Biennale’s most precious contribution was not its (perhaps unintended) demonstration of the relative futility of art on the most unhuman of Earthly environments? Indeed, whether this futility was not the most compelling reason for pursuing and repeating the Antarctic Biennale again and again? Or whether it might be worthwhile to think of the Biennale as a contemporary act of artistic sacrifice that is valuable precisely because of its blessed insolence?

On the other hand… Instead of bringing artistic ideas conceived and assembled outside of Antarctica, then performing them in Antarctica, should the next Biennale be the first to banish all artistic performances and expressions in the Antarctic? An even more topsy-turvy biennale… One from which art is absent (and photography forbidden?) but during which artistic minds are inspired by the southern continent so that they can return to their studio in the habitable world and create works fecundated by Antarctica? A journey of inspiration and cross-pollination: an extension from thirty minutes to twelve days of Julien Charriere’s Paradisiac non-happening.

A quote from Roland Huntford:
“These are landscapes of the mind, you see….”

This text was first published in the Antarctic Biennale Vision Club (ABVC) book. The ABVC is an initiative which unites key representatives from the cultural sphere, members of the academic community and entrepreneurs experienced in new technology development. It discusses longterm scenarios for humanity and its relationship with our planet, focusing on three “shared spaces”: Antarctica, the depths of our oceans, and Outer Space.

Jean De Pomereu’ is skills and experiences span historical research, photography, publishing, and journalism. He holds a Masters in Polar Studies and a PhD in Historical Geography. Recently, he co-edit and publish the first platinum-palladium prints and portfolios made from the original Antarctic negatives of Frank Hurley, Herbert Ponting, and Captain Scott. These represent unique contributions to the preservation and contextualization of early Antarctic photography.

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