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The Artists' Residency at the End of the World

Each year, the National Science Foundation accepts proposals for artists and writers hoping to chill out in Antarctica.

Imagine curing writer’s block by stepping out into frozen tundra, or finding inspiration for your next sculpture asleep in icy terrain. That’s where the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program (or, AAW) comes in, giving artists and writers of all mediums access to Antarctica. As stated on the NSF’s proposals page, the AAW is “specifically designed to increase the public’s understanding and appreciation of the Antarctic and human endeavors on the southernmost continent.” Boasting alumni like photographer Stuart Klipper, author Sara Wheeler, and filmmaker Werner Herzog, the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program offers artists a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This year’s deadline is fast approaching (June 1 of each year).

The moon shines over McMurdo Station in June, when there is 24-hour darkness during the winter. McMurdo station is one of the stations artists stay during their time in the AAW. Photograph by Andrew Smith. Photo courtesy of National Science Foundation.

Valentine Kass, program manager for the AAW, tells The Creators Project that since the beginning of the NSF’s work in Antarctica, they’ve been focused on funding both scientists and artists, “so that artists and writers can bring back their interpretation of the continent and the science being done there. We think that the artists and writers have a unique way of reaching the public, and Antarctica is obviously a place that most people never get to. Education has always been a big part of the mission of the NSF and the artists and writers are part of a way to interpret and get the general public interested and engaged with what’s happening on the ice.”

Canada Glacier from Lake Fryxell Side. Photo by and courtesy of Helen Glazer.

Kass adds, “This coming year we’re sending a composer working with a scientist who’s capturing the inaudible sounds of the movement of ice as part of climate change research. The composer has a way of taking scientific data and composing it into music. We’re also sending a woman who’s a graphic novelist.” The NSF provides logistic support for artists, but the artists don’t actually get any funding or salary. They get travel paid for from the US to Antarctica, they get lodging, and logistical support when they’re there, but they have to pay for and bring their own materials. There are no commercial flights available to Antarctica, so one could argue that the opportunity for a civilian to step foot on the land alone is a rare and priceless stipend.

Images of Helen Glazer’s upcoming 3D sculpture “Bird Ventifact.” Generated from a series of still photographs via photogrammetry, the image is then fabricated as objects on a CNC router. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Helen Glazer, relief sculpture artist, just returned from her stay in the AAW this past winter, and speaks about her application process, “I think my first application was in 2005. My first thought at the time was 'Antarctica? What would an artist do in Antarctica?' Isn’t it bleak and flat and white?” But after doing some research, Glazer found the geography of Antarctica to be much more varied and interesting. And though she wasn’t accepted until six applications (and ten years) later, Glazer thinks it's for the best, “I just kept applying, and meanwhile I started developing this way of making sculpture, I realized that you could capture this stuff and make 3D sculpture from digital information. The technology got to the point where I could do so much more with it than when I originally applied.” Glazer’s now working on Above, Below and Within the Ice, a series of sculptures aimed at documenting the interaction between the ice itself and the Antarctic landscape. She documented her journey and posted amazing pictures of landscapes, underwater shots, and mummified seals on her blog.

Sketchbook of images inspired by the history of Antarctic exploration and technology. “Long View Sketchbook page 008” by Michael Bartalos. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Michael Bartalos, graphic artist, participated in the AAW in 2008. His project The Long View is, in Bartalos’ words, “an ongoing series of artworks that addresses polar science and environment. The Long View focuses on the history of Antarctic exploration, contemporary science, and technology’s role in research.” He describes his experience in Antarctica as “disorienting in the most positive and exciting way. The landscape, weather, and isolation gave the sensation of being on another planet.” And he says his stay deeply influenced his work, “I developed a newfound interest in “empty” spaces. I’d never experienced vast expanses on that scale, which heightened my awareness of space, depth, and perception.”

Visit Helen Glazer’s site to keep up with her upcoming Antarctic work, and check in with Michael Bartalos’ Long View  project as it continues to grow. To learn more about the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, and to submit your own proposal, visit the NSF’s AAW page.

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