Friday, February 6, 2009

Erika Blumenfeld Interview Part II

Today, we pick up where we left off yesterday, as Erika tells us more about The Polar Project.

JW:  The Polar Project touches on several intersecting issues.  Tell us more about the confluence of aesthetics and ecology in your work.

EB:  My main interest is the way the light changes over the course of a day, a season, or a year.  Lunar and solar cycles, atmospheric phenomena, and a location's effects on the amount of light we see are all the base material from which my thoughts and my work emerge.  In this way, I think it is easy to see the connection between my aesthetic and my interest in the environment, and The Polar Project certainly takes this connection to a different level.

I guess I reached a place in my studio where it seemed I could no longer continue my work as an artist without dealing in some capacity with the issues humanity is facing with regard to climate change.  We are at an interesting moment technologically – we have created incredible ways to see into our body and into our universe, and yet we have also created incredible ways in which to destroy the very root of our existence: our Earth.  The tragic relationship between what I refer to as the "beauty and the beast" of technology is one that I feel is worth reflecting on... if only to just see it.

My own work relies on technology in massive ways, and I'm placing a lot of emphasis on the cutting-edge technology I'll be using to create The Polar Project for a very specific reason.  But my work also relies on the absolute subtle and mysterious ways of nature itself, which stand entirely impartial to our observations, and do not rely on anything but their own essence.  It has always seemed to me that "art" and "science" start from the same base vantage point: the simple awe of natural phenomena.

JW:  What are some of the logistical hurdles you had to overcome to mount your expedition?

EB:  The biggest hurdles I had to overcome this first expedition to Antarctica were all due to the short timeframe I had to get ready for it.  I received official approval of the invitation to join the team on December 15, 2008, and needed to be in Cape Town for the flight to Antarctica on January 23, 2009.  With the year's major holidays right in between, it was a challenge to get everything done in time.  Also, just learning about the right things to bring to deal with the extreme environment here was quite a feat – every step of the preparation has been a whole journey in itself!

JW:  You use custom equipment to make your Light Recordings.  For The Polar Project you are going "full surround."  Tell us about some of the modifications and additions you had to make to your usual equipment, either because of the conditions in Antarctica or due to the scale and specifics of the project.

EB:  This trip is an opportunity for me to learn about this place, and mostly just be present with it – to experience it fully.  There is much that happens here that takes time to discover and unravel – the way the light travels inside of the landscape as it refracts, or how wind becomes like an object.  It's less about the equipment, per se, and more about the result of my time here.  that said, I am creating work here, and have brought all kinds of equipment so I can choose what feels most appropriate at the moment.  I've been doing Light Recordings with my hand-built devices, I've been shooting with my digital SLR, and I've been shooting HD video.  Soon I'll start recording environmental audio.  For the final project, the equipment system will be quite extensive to accomplish the full-surround and the length of time I'm proposing to record in these environments.  This system is still in development, and will be greatly advantaged from my time here in the field.

JW:  What other special cold weather, wind resistant equipment did you have to take?  I gather your outer gear is a bit on the large side. 

EB:  Lots and lots of layers!  Around the base I wear two layers, but outside I have forty pounds of gear I put on.  SANAE is one of the colder bases on the continent because it's so far away from the water and the winds just whip across the planes, so the idea is to have as much of your skin covered as possible.  For my camera equipment, I brought a special protective bag, and for extra protection (for my equipment or me) I brought lots of hand and feet warmers.  the best thing I bought was an extra base layer for my hands made from a special NASA-designed fabric that is quite thin, but reflects your own heat back to you.  They really work, and are great when you need to actually use your fingers to make adjustments on your camera.  I can wear them without any additional gloves for 10 to 15 minutes before I need to stick my hands in my pockets.

JW:  It is fairly cold here today in New York, in the 20ºs F.  It is summer down there, so what is the weather like?

EB:  The weather here where I am is still quite cold, even though it is austral summer.  The average temperature, taking wind chill into account, is about -20º F.

JW:  How long will you be on the ice and where and with whom will you be living and working while you are in Antarctica?

EB:  I will be on the ice until the end of February, and then I will be joining the South African research vessel, the SA Agulhas, for the two week boat journey back to Cape Town.  While on the ice, I'm staying at the SANAE IV Station, which is in the Dronning Maud Land area of Antarctica.  For part of my time at SANAE, I will be living at ICEPAC, which is ITASC's mobile base and about one kilometer away from the main base.  I will be working with Thomas Mulcaire, artist and Co-Founder of ITASC, Ntsikelelo Nshingila, aka 1stborn, musician and ITASC Expedition Leader, and Alfons Hug, curator and Director of Goethe Institut in Rio de Janeiro.

Tomorrow Erika goes into more detail about ITASC, their mobile base structure, ICEPAC, and some of its off-the-grid energy and other green systems.

Photo of tractor hauling deisel by Erika Blumenfeld, from her Polar Project expedition blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment