The fire comes on when you open the door to this painting. The television has a 1 and a half inch screen.
'Rejection letters' in the foreground; 'Toy Snowmobile' to the right and 'Airfix Antarctic vacuum cleaner' on the wall behind it. The sledge boxes always have rope handles. I have replaced the handle here with the power cable flex.
Red sledge boxes are normally used to carry the radio equipment in. It's an important box as the radio is a sledge team's only connection with the outside world. A sledge team is usually made up of only two people and the main base will regularly contact them via the radio to check on the progress of the activity they are undertaking. Normally this will be some kind of scientific research. However this connection is also seen as important to moral. A team can spend a long time in some very isolated places, hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the base or any other form of civilisation. The radio operator on the main base will make routine evening calls to the various teams that might be out in the field. During this contact they are instructed to have a 'general chat' with the team with a view to keeping their spirits up and getting a handle on their mental state.
I made this model radio sledge box that sits inside a real one myself. Making model sledge boxes is quite a common activity on a British Antarctic base. It is traditional for the team that over winters on base to make presents for each other to celebrate the Antarctic mid winter's day; a sort of 'secret Santa' but in June instead of December. This activity is also seen as a morale booster for the small team of about 20 or so, isolated from the rest of the world in 24 hour darkness for several months. One of the most popular gifts to make is a model sledge complete with models of all the equipment that goes on board. This inevitably involves making a series of little colour coded sledge boxes one of which is painted bright red to represent the radio box.
Photo: Priscila Buschinelli
The electric bar fire was originally from my bedsit but I took it with me all the way to the Antarctic. Old, ugly, inefficient and not very homely; for me it was a symbol of the crappy low rent lifestyle that has been the result of my financially lack lustre artistic career. Along with this I also took a collection of my rejection letters from various other things I had applied for over the years. I felt they were somehow 'real' or literal symbols of my own personal disappointments. Failure is an important aspect of my relationship with art and landscape. It was even something I had made a feature of in my application to go to the Antarctic. As well as impending environmental disaster, in the UK, the Antarctic is synonymous with 'Scott' and 'Shackleton' both of whom led expeditions that ended in glorious failure. The letters were fed into the fire under the protective grill like feeding paper into a typewriter. Obviously an electric bar fire balanced precariously on a block of ice in the Antarctic has symbolic environmental connotations. I was trying to marry the short comings of the human race generally with my own personal failings. At the time I thought this work might chime with the current environmental artistic zeitgeist; expand my professional profile and further my artistic career. Naturally, it didn't. It was however an interesting documentation of that period of time as, like most people, my rejections today tend to come in the form of an email instead of being printed on combustible paper.
The television is a novelty Ipod viewer. It magnifies the screen of a 'Nano 3' Ipod slightly. In the box is a power adaptor for the Ipod.
Real television. There was no terrestrial signal in the Antarctic so it played nothing but snow! Photo-Fergal Buckley
(Film, 1 min 28 secs)
Burning my rejection letters just outside the 'British Antarctic Survey' base 'Rothera', Adelaide Island, Antarctica. This particular rejection letter appears to be my rejection from the 'BT New Contemporaries' exhibition in 1992. It was a long time ago but I remember this rejection quite well as it was particularly frustrating. It was quite a prestigious show for a new graduate to get into and I was even short listed. Sadly the panel of judges that included Marina Warner and Derick Jarmen gave me the boot! Photos: Fergal Buckley
Electric bar fire on the Polar ice cap... not working!
Burying my rejection letters. (film 1 min 20 secs)
I travelled in the Antarctic via plane and sledge and found a very remote spot to spend the night not far from a place called ‘Sly Blu’. I took the electric bar fire with me, there’s obviously no electricity but I had a car battery and an inverter to generate 240 volts. Unfortunately a bar fire draws far too many amps and predictably it didn’t work. The only way I managed to film it working successfully was on the main base where they have electricity. I borrowed as many extension leads as I could find and filmed it as far from the base as all the extension leads joined together would allow.
With no power at ‘Sky Blu’ I contented myself with burying some of the letters in the snow. British Antarctic Survey has a strict policy on not leaving anything in the pristine wilderness so after I filmed this I planned to dig them up again off camera. Between filming and digging them up I was distracted. When I turned back to dig them up; in the bright glaring sunlight on the totally white featureless landscape I had absolutely no idea where my hole was. Even the sky was white to the point where I could barely make out a horizon. It looked like a white sheet of paper in front of my face. The letters are unfortunately still there.
The snow doesn’t melt; some of it is hundreds of years old. Eventually the weight of fresh snow compacts it into ice. This is why some scientists take ice core samples. If you can date the ice, air bubbles trapped in it give an accurate record of the atmosphere at that specific time in history. This has allowed scientists to chart the increasing levels of pollution over the centuries and correlate this to increasing industrialisation and pollution.
My artwork generally is mostly temporary. This intervention in the landscape however has become 'part' of the landscape and permanent. For this I am truly sorry.