• Polar Aesthetics: Art of the Arctic and Antarctic

Binitie, Wayne, 2024, Thesis, Polar Aesthetics: Art of the Arctic and Antarctic PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

What hidden histories written in polar ice can contemporary art reveal?

Propelled by the urgency of addressing the climate crisis, my research identifies ice-core laboratories as important historical sites. It posits that an understanding of the narratives embedded in these sites can enable the production of contemporary artworks and that a material engagement with these works will lead to a better understanding of our past and present interactions with the world we live in. I explore the slow accumulation and rapid disappearance of ice sheets, glaciers and ice cores as experienced through my audio-visual exploration of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) ice-core laboratory.

Recorded interviews and oral testimony by climate scientists were also used as the basis for developing a sensory, material and atmospheric approach to writing and making. The BAS ice core laboratory holds an important collection of ice from both the Arctic and Antarctic polar regions. Dating back 800,000 years in geological time, the BAS ice cores contain vital information from the polar past, including changes in both temperature and concentration of atmospheric gases. (bas.ac.uk) Ice cores are cylinders drilled from an ice sheet or glacier that scientists use to measure and predict the direct correlation between accelerating global warming, rapid melting of glaciers and rising sea levels. Ice cores contain small bubbles of trapped ancient air that make popping sounds when dissolved in water. I have been conducting audio and film recordings of this released ancient air.

During this research, I created three integrated bodies of written and practical work. The first chapter explores the sublimation and deposition phase changes of polar water through my Vapour Series of sound installations. The second chapter explores the condensation and evaporation phase changes of polar water through my Liquid Series of painting and photography. The third and final chapter explores the freezing and melting phase changes of polar water through my Solid Series of glass sculptures. The work is informed by my real and imagined experience of the Arctic in southern Iceland and Rothera in northern Antarctica. I document and interpret how ideas of polar water, as experienced through contemporary artworks, contribute to our understanding of time, place and memory. These ideas are further refined through my central case study, Roni Horn’s Library of Water (2017).

The research examines the threat posed by the current climate crisis at the site at which its consequences are most clearly apparent – the polar waters of the Arctic north and the Antarctic south. The research examines notions of climate crisis through the work of critical theorists including Esther Leslie (liquid crystals) and Jane Bennett’s idea of the ‘vibrancy of matter’, or the ‘political ecology of things’. (Bennett, 2010) Bennett’s notion of the human and non-human has alerted me to the magnitude of the work conducted by the climate scientists at the British Antarctic Survey. Bennett’s idea of passive, inert or active forces, amplifies the magnetic stories and unnamed polar history they are yet to tell. The active participation of visitors during my exhibitions to date suggests that such histories are not vanishing points, but co-ordinates marking points where parallel lines emerge and converge.

Polar Aesthetics identifies the British Antarctic Survey ice-core laboratory as a vital yet critically under-explored repository of scientific and cultural data that reflects humanity’s engagement with, and intervention in, the polar regions. As a nexus of historical information, it facilitates the production of contemporary artworks at a time of accelerating climate crisis. My research makes an original contribution to knowledge of the laboratory and argues that material experiences of these artworks enable and encourage a deep consideration of the fragile glacial past, present and future.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W100 Fine Art
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Funders: AHRC [1948811]
Uncontrolled Keywords: Polar; Aesthetics; Art; Arctic; Antarctic
Date Deposited: 11 Mar 2024 16:35
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2024 11:13
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/5763
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