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Andrea Juan's Antarctica Project

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Primera Brigada Aérea de El Palomar was the starting point for my journey to Antarctica. The Hercules still looks like a cargo military plane, with its bull's-eye window panes and its folding seats. The deafening engines were started and they kept roaring noisily during the five hour flight to Rio Gallegos in the Province of Santa Cruz. We commuted to another Hercules to fly to Marambio, in Antarctica. I felt enthusiastic and quite anxious.

Marambio is a base for the Argentine Air Force with resources to support scientific research activities. Besides lodging its own staff, it provides temporary accommodation for the scientists that will settle the different camps. Marambio is a busy place. The helicopters organize their trips to provide food supplies and the necessary elements to furnish the camps settled in different geographic latitudes according to the projects presented by the scientists. Sunlight is quite strong, the sun shines intensely and the air is clean and cool. The temperature inside the military base is 20° Celsius while it’s -6° Celsius outdoors. The winds sometimes blow at a speed of 130Km an hour and the weather is quite changeable so flights take place only under favorable conditions. There’s no clock: meteorology sets the time. There’s no money nor currency or business or stores. Drinking water is obtained through ice melting, with the help of an artificial pond: There’ s no running water. There’s the sea…

The soil is made of sedimentary rock full of sea fossils, fossilized shells and tree trunks which remind of the tropical area this was in the times of Gondwana, during the Mesozoic period, when Africa and America where the same continent. I’m awaiting snowfall so that I can start with my first video projection on the white snow. Due to climatic changes, the temperature in the peninsula is slowly rising. Glaciers crack and fall onto the sea – their melting process causes a rise in the water level. The temperature today reached 17° and it’s not likely to snow. The weather is changing; the sky turned gray.

There’s a telephone line and internet connection; communication with the rest of the world is fluent and updated except when a storm is approaching – in that case the antenna is deactivated to avoid the risk of permanent or prolonged isolation. We had several storms. Winds blow as fast as 180Kms an hour and the sky gets brightly grey. The lights are weird. Once the whirlwinds were over, it finally snowed!. After two days of confinement, the weather changed. The sky went clear and a white vastness surrounded the base.

We had our first video projection onto the snow. I set the sound equipment and the cannon in the heliport platform which, as a kind of suspended stage on piles, it’s some meters above the surface. We waited until midnight for darkness to be really thick (mid of February) and started our projection with the participation and help from scientists, journalists and military officers from Marambio base. Our bodies wrapped up in warm clothes – vibrated under the effect of music; one could only see their eyes excited by the images that moving between the ice and the snow.

I showed the videos.

After the first projection - which had been edited and produced in Buenos Aires– I was ready to leave, together with Silvana Fontana, my assistant and performer, to a base called Esperanza, to the north of the Antarctic Península. Moving up there took some time. The Twin Otter – an airplane that belongs to the Air Force which would fly us to the place – was unable to snow land on the glacier where Esperanza base is, due to the high temperatures caused by the melting of its surface –a phenomenon which causes cracks and small constant flows. The sun still shines strongly and the temperatures are high. We were able to leave Marambio aided by the team of helicopters. We made a 20 minute flight hovering over the peninsula and the ice remnants from the Larsen Ice Shelf.

We finally reached Esperanza. This is the place where military officers and their family live during a whole year. Each of these families is given a house, and the whole place turns into a small and idyllic community. There are also houses for scientist and teacher. The base is located on a bay surrounded by glaciers. A perfect setting. There’s a school and a museum. Children play with their snowmen and sleighs. Everybody works; children study. We are again awaiting a snowfall.

The sun shines bright, penguins migrate North, as they do every single year, though lately they have been running short of food due to the temperature variations. A fresh snowfall helped us with our job. Aided by the crew and a caterpillar snowmobile we went up the glacier where we carried out our performance called “Red” – recorded by a video and by photo shots. The idea of the action was to unfold a 50 meter red tulle piece and extend it over the glacier’s surface. The action of unfolding the material on the snow was performed by Silvana, dressed in red. A wound, blood, heat, pain, the human essence in contrast with the freezing scenario. The 120 meter high glacier slope had a perfect target for the second video projection. Night was falling earlier and this video-installation was programmed for 10pm. The community moved in the dark, led by their torches, towards the glacier base (2,000 meters far approx.) thus engraving their footprints in a kind of path, made visible with the next day’s morning light.

The projected image was 100 meters high and 60 meters wide. People started to walk up the glacier amid the light beams and the sound. They looked quite small at the top. After zigzagging in the snow, taking snapshots, playing with the snow and running while skipping colors, they started their descent. They were all part of the video installation which was projected on their orange garments, the same sunflowers and the same fire to be seen on the whiteness of the ice. The music was felt loudly as well as the saturated colors of the images. It was snowing and there was no wind; it was an astonishing night. During the following days we had to take images of the glaciers in their melting process so we just moved further inwards, between the coast and the glacier. We came across the surprising stalactites.

When we finished, we boarded icebreaker Almirante Irizar on our way back to Base Marambio with a previous stay in Júbany Base. The four day voyage in the iceboat was dramatic, icebergs went one way and the other in front of us and in all their shapes and sizes. Some even showed dwellers on their surface, as if they were summer isles. Leaden sunsets and moonlit nights in that Weddell Sea plentiful in its ice sculptures March 2005

Note: In January 2006 I was back to the Antarctic Peninsula to carry out the performance called Metano. This was developed during days of intense sunlight and others full of fog and blizzards.

By Andrea Juan

Homepage: Andrea Juan

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