Symbiosis between Art and Polar Science

In the past, artists accompanied scientific expeditions to illustrate discoveries, landscapes, new species and more. Later, photographers began to integrate campaigns to inspire their work and later held exhibitions.

Antarctica is an inhospitable place, unappealing for mass tourism, with extreme conditions, where few people have access to scientific expeditions, which made these companions even more special and exclusive.

In Antarctica the formation of crystals within the ocean, due to the low temperatures, and on the underside of sea ice, had sparked a research about their formation process, as it was still mostly unknown These crystals influence processes of heat transfer to the ocean, the rate of ice growth, the strength of the ice and even how the thickness of the ice can be analyzed by remote sensing. For decades, scientists tried to analyze and understand the implications of these crystals on sea ice with various experiments to try to catalogue them at an individual scale. Designed for this propose, an art project was created to try to help respond to the scientific challenge.

The study was based on in-situ experiments over several weeks, on a small field of sea ice, through melting sea ice holes in McMurdo Sound in the Ross Sea, in two campaigns. Scientific measurements captured the water column hydrography, the nature of the ice crystal structure and the interaction between the two, seeking to better define heat transfer between ocean and ice. The artistic component involved the production of representative and non-representative art, such as paintings, sketches, video, and photographs, to follow the scientific line. A suitable lighting studio was developed using non-heat emitting light sources. Each crystal was sketched, and notes were made around its structure.

The second campaign, carried out in the following year, increased the number of crystals examined. The artistic analysis consisted of colored lighting that penetrated the crystals in different ways. Another experiment involved placing a fabric background on the photographs with a scale bar, allowing them to be measured. With this larger number of crystals measured, the artist tried to look for ways to efficiently capture the data and history of the crystals. From the similarities and differences, they tried to create individual and family portraits.

Figure (From the right to the left): Individual crystal from Data Days, watercolor landscape from Studio Antarctica, family portrait from Data Days exhibition. Image of 150 mm across.

Art and Polar Science can be united for the improvement of scientific analysis. Art could allow for a reassessment, a change of perspective of the researcher’s work, as well as a better way to get messages across to the public, in this case with a connection between large-scale and small-scale climate issues.


Source:Stevens C, O’Connor G, and Robinson N. The connections between art and science in Antarctica: Activating Science*Art. Polar Record

Author: Filipa Fernandes


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