A conversation about the importance of place, relationships, and art found in the great beyond. Date: July 2015
Name: Adele Jackson DOB: January 1972 Place of Birth: United Kingdom Current Location: Huddersfield. West Yorkshire. United Kingdom
Q: If you had to describe your work in three words what would they be and why? A: Personal – I engage artistically with world in ways that have meaning to me
People – my practice often, but not always, involves engaging with other people. My work often represents people’s stories or human relationships with the world
Place – my work is rooted in places and is created in response to or as an engagement with places. Increasingly my work is concerned with nature and the natural environment.
Q: As an artist and photographer, you note that our (collective) personal connections with global environments serve as a recurrent theme in your work, how do you tackle the complex relationships between art, people and the environment visually? And have you been surprised by any of the interactions you’ve had with others as you try to express your own views and ideas? A: Sometimes my work is visual and textual; sometimes it takes the form or action, interaction and engagement. Sometimes these combine. When I’m making objects the materials I use and the form of the objects I create can vary greatly. I would say that a concept or idea guides the choice of materials for articulating the idea.
I’m currently working on a collaborative project inspired by the Antarctic Treaty. The treaty is an international agreement that protects Antarctica as a place of peace and collaborative scientific research. The treaty covers the area below 60 degrees southern latitude: an imaginary circular line around the world. I’m creating a series of sculptural books which each have a circular element within their design. Each book will explore an aspect of the treaty or the environment protected by the treaty. Artist/singer/songwriter, Lucy Bergman, is writing and performing new work inspired by the same.
Over the past two years I’ve been collecting quotes from the conversations I’ve had with people whilst in Antarctica. The stories, experiences and personal opinions people have shared capture human relationships with the Antarctic environment. These words will be stitched into the fabric of an Antarctic expedition jacket.
Closer to home I’m the co-founder and leader of Art Hike, a space and time created for artists to meet other artists to walk and talk in inspiring places. The art is in the act of organizing, meeting, conversation and sharing the experience of and in the landscape. The whole of Art Hike is participatory in nature. There is often an invitation to collectively make and leave a creative trace in the landscape using found raw materials. Art Hike deepens a sense of connection between people and with place.
Q: More recently, you state that you’ve been developing work that explores the ‘hydrosphere’ or the global water system. What led you to this special interest? A: I was working on a proposal for a residency opportunity with one of the national Antarctic science research programs and I started developing ideas around the scientific research of climatology, meteorology oceanography, and glaciology. I became more interested in how water changes, travels and cycles around the globe. The name ‘hydrosphere’ is conceptually inspiring: I’m beguiled by the dynamics of the whole global water system. I’m also interested in human relationships with water across the globe: from the ice core climate research in Antarctica to cotton farm irrigation in the former Russian states. It’s an absolutely massive subject, a lifetime’s worth of work in this one idea.
Q: In January 2014, you took your first voyage as expedition photographer on board the Norwegian polar expedition ship, MS FRAM to Antarctica. What inspired your decision to make such a remarkable journey to such a distant and remote location? A: Antarctica is a unique and remarkable place that totally captivates me. The lure of the continent is perhaps amplified because so very few people, and far fewer artists, actually get to see let alone work there. Antarctica has no indigenous population and there are no permanent residents: only scientists working at research stations. My fascination started 20 years ago when a chance meeting with an Antarctic scientist introduced me to the exquisite natural beauty of the ice, skies and mountains and seas. The more I learned about Antarctica, the more I wanted to know and the more I wanted to work there. I explored many avenues open to artists before I was finally offered the chance to work as an expedition photographer.
Q: Antarctica has a very unique natural and geo-political environment as well as rich artistic and scientific work that takes place there. You note that you were doing specific research about the role and artwork of artists who’ve worked there? What did you find? Any surprises? A: Artists were important members of the crew on board the earliest exploration ships. They drew and painted the topography of the lands that were “discovered” and the flora and fauna found there. The art contributed to future navigation, territorial claims and sharing information useful to science and exploitation of resources.
A couple of centuries later in the early days of black and white glass-plate photography both artists and photographers were often part of Antarctic expedition teams. The photographer would document the voyage and expedition activities and the artist would often record in color the detail of life in the Antarctic, environmental conditions and the natural history specimens. The work of both would be an important documentary record of the expedition. On return home their work would bring to life the experiences and discoveries for audiences and sponsors. Lecture tours, filmmaking and publishing were important means of information sharing, promotion and further fundraising.
Later in the twentieth century some of the Antarctic Treaty signatory countries established artist and writers’ residencies to complement their national Antarctic science programs. The rationale for these residencies is in part recognition of the value that art has in reaching and inspiring new audiences outside of science communities.
Interestingly the combination of photography and art over the past 100 years has in some cases inadvertently recorded localized instances of climate change. There have been cases where photographs and art images created years ago can be compared with those created now to bear witness to the melting of the ice.
Q: Tell me about crossing the infamous Drake Passage as you headed south from Argentina. What was it like to know you would not see land again until Antarctica? A: There is no landmass to break the force of the ocean currents, wind and waves between Argentina and Antarctica, so the conditions can get fierce. Waves can reach 15 meters. They reached 8 meters the last time I travelled. Personally, I find it exhilarating when the ship crashes through the waves. It helps to be confident with the ship’s seaworthiness and the officers and crew in control!
I’ve worked on the Norwegian ship three times now and have been seasick every time: but the pain is certainly worth the reward that lies ahead. I love the crossing: Albatross and Petrels glide and swoop alongside the ship; they are so impressive in their seemingly effortless flight. There’s an incredible sense of excitement and anticipation when the air temperature suddenly drops and you know the ice is getting closer.
Q: In looking at your Tumblr journal, it seems as though the Antarctic Convergence had a profound effect on you. Can you describe what this is and how it prepared you for reaching Antarctica? A: Where the warm air and water from the north meets the cold from the south they mix together and create a thick blanket of fog that is many miles deep. This is called the Antarctic Convergence. It’s like a protective cloak and you know that when it lifts you’ll be close to Antarctica. There’s a calming, soothing stillness as the ship passes through the convergence. I experience the convergence as a meditative space: a space for reflection and gratitude. It’s a rare privilege to see and touch Antarctica and quiet moments to acknowledge appreciation of that privilege heighten the experience of travelling to Antarctica all the more.
Q: I am loving your Antarctic Circles: a collection of bound books of watercolor paintings and text inspired by your daily observations, feelings and experiences whilst in Antarctica. What was like to both make and complete your own bespoke artist logbooks just as courageous explorers before you had done as they also had ventured into the unknown. What thoughts, feelings, sights and experiences did you capture in these during the expedition. A: Working as expedition photographer there is a lot to do in very limited time, so keeping a detailed journal everyday just isn’t possible. I carry a field notes book with me and use it to both jot down my daily itinerary and job list as well as note observations of both the things I see and the way I feel; sometimes I write notes days after the actual experience. The Antarctic Circles journal is a creative interpretation of a ship’s log or expedition diary. Each entry I’ve written is a poetic reflection rather than a factual description. I try to capture in a collection of words a sense of memory, experience and place to represent each day. The circle of watercolor on each page represents the color of the sea, clouds or ice seen on each day of the voyage. The text entries include references to the sea crossing, the first landing, wildlife encounters, sailing between icebergs and climbing glaciers: “weddell smile careful tred shared steps” / “promise passage remember hope dreams” / “blue giving beauty”
Q: You returned to Antarctica a second time earlier this year? What prompted a second voyage and how was this trip different for you? A: I want to learn about, experience and get to know Antarctica more intimately. I would love to work there regularly. My second voyage was later in the season than my first voyage had been so I got to see the wildlife at a different stage of their lifecycle. We visited places I hadn’t been to previously so my geographic understanding of the peninsula area grew a little. One of the most moving experiences was visiting the grave of the heroic explorer, Ernest Shackleton, on the anniversary of the day he was laid to rest.
Q: During this trip you were working on prototypes for a new project titled Antarctic Color Wheel. With titles like Deep Drake, Jade Ice Jewel, Ancient Breath, Ice Cave, Heart of the Glacier, Ship Surge, Snow Algae, and Weddell Coat: Ice Shadow – this is obviously reflective of not only what you are seeing but also feeling. Can you describe this project and how you see it evolving? A: Many people imagine Antarctica as a white empty colorless continent. In fact Antarctica, especially the peninsula area is teeming with life and color. The Antarctic Color Wheel is a record of the colors I’ve seen, much like a paint industry color chart. I try to evoke and convey something of the source of the color and the feeling, memory and experience of place through names I give to the colors I recreate.
Q: If you had to describe your work now in three words, after traveling to Antarctica, would they be different? If so, what would they be and why? A: The same three words hold true but I’m entirely open to the words changing and evolving as my work develops in new directions.
Q: Who (artists, philosophers, writers) are you drawing inspirations from these days: artistically speaking? A: For some time I identified with the work of UK-based artist collective Encounters; I never cease to be inspired by Andy Goldsworthy; and I’m Jeremy Deller’s number one fan.
I’m reading a lot about historic Antarctic expeditions and explorers, in part to prepare for my role working with UKAHT but also to inspire some of the content for the sculptural books. ‘No Horizon Is So Far’, Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen is an inspirational story of the first two women to cross Antarctica on foot.
Q: Ok, last question: In November, you will be heading back to Antarctica for a much longer trip, what will you be doing there and what projects do you have planned for this expedition? A: To really understand a place it’s good to work and live there for a stretch of time. My dream has always been to work a whole summer season in Antarctica where, for a short time, Antarctica becomes my home. I’m fortunate that later this year I’ll be working for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust helping to run Port Lockroy their flagship heritage operation in Antarctica.
Port Lockroy was the UK’s first permanent base to be established on the peninsula back in the 1940s. It was closed for 30 years until the 1990s when UKAHT restored the site as a museum, post office and shop. It is now the most visited destination in Antarctica. On average two passenger ships visit each day, with a total of around 18,000 visitors each summer. I’ll be living on the island for five months with a team of three other people: together we'll run the site, welcome visitors and monitor a penguin colony that shares our island home. The proceeds from the shop and post office are invested in Antarctic heritage conservation and education work, so the work we’re doing will make a significant contribution to the preservation of the UK’s Antarctic cultural heritage.
The role is a demanding one and so there will be little, if any, time for art making whilst living there. The experience of living and working in Antarctica is likely to inspire and inform creative ideas and possibly artwork later down the line, but if and how this will happen I just don’t know. My priority whilst working there is the successful running the Port Lockroy site.
Images all courtesy of the artist (from top to bottom): The Antarctic Treaty reimagined as a protective circle of words (in progress); Antarctic Circles sculptural book; Art Hike 20: Yorkshire Sculpture Park, June 2013 – stood alongside Red Slate Line by Richard Long; Iceberg; MS Fram sailing through the Antarctic Convergence; Antarctic Logbook; Shackleton’s grave, Grytviken. 5 March 2015; Antarctic Color Wheel; Boat shed and Bransfield House, Goudier Island, Port Lockory; The Artist on Peterman Island, Antarctic Peninsula, January 2014