“The ‘Reverse Biennale’: Humpback Choreography, Calving Soundtrack and a Philosophical Discourse with the Gentle Gentoos

by Susmita Mohanty

The Antarctic Biennale being the 1st cultural expedition to the icy continent, I wondered about the response of the Antarctic residents, its wildlife primarily, to our well-intentioned transgression. We were carrying with us an urban notion of culture and the arts. I was curious to see if it would be met with amusement, resistance or perhaps a display of counter-culture. Lo and behold, we were treated to a most thrilling “Reverse Biennale!” Take for instance, the awe-inspiring Antarctic soundtrack on Day-9 of our expedition – the extraordinary glacial groans and iceberg calving we listened to, while on Paradise Bay.

The Gentoo penguins we encountered on our various landings, turned out to be a rather discerning Biennale audience. Our resident philosopher, Professor Alexander Sekatsky addressed an august gathering of Gentoos in impeccable Russian on Petermann Island and told them a thing or two about contemplation. The Gentoos were pretty cosmopolitan. While we regarded them as wildlife and tried to keep our distance, they’d walk up to us, check us out, play with the artists’ gear, stroll through our photo exhibitions on the shore giving an impression of invited vernissage viewers. They seemed at ease with our antics. A couple of them walked along with Joaquin’s Glaciator, some wondered why was Andrej so keen on planting himself upsidedown in the snow, and one of them even decided to test the structural integrity of Gustav’s teepee. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Gentoos had some art critics amongst them.

My personal favorite was the mind-blowing performance art by the “Herrera Channel Humpback Whales Ensemble” on Day-8. These magnificent creatures greeted us with their astonishing choreography showing off their splendid pectoral and tail fins, each with its unique signature. They moved with amazing grace, slapping their tails and fins on the water, and spouted geysers from time to time. For special effects, the occasional blubbered performer would even jump out of the water, twirl and come splashing down, leaving us, in our tiny rafts, wide-eyed, open-jawed and a bit too stunned for a standing ovation.

Without further ado, I’d like to recommend that we consider our marvelous Antarctic artists and viewers, the whales, the seals, the penguins, integral to the “Antarctic Biennale Vision Club.”

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.

Susmita Mohanty is a spaceship designer and crossborder space entrepreneur. Susmita Mohanty is the co-founder and CEO of Earth2Orbit [E2O], her third venture and India’s first private space start-up.

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