The first version of Antarctica was performed as long ago as 2010 but was changed /edited into a new show in 2015 and toured 2016. There have been one off performances since, the last being in 2021.
My sold out show at Colchester Arts centre. November 2015
Matt Trueman Review Culture Wars, 29.11.2010
Perhaps the last place on earth you’d expect to have its own artist in residence is Antarctica. It is the coldest, windiest, driest and iciest of all the continents; a place so near inhospitable that even the notion of residence there – artist or otherwise – seems inconceivable. The average temperature rests at around -56°C. On it’s coast, wind speeds can hit 198 mph and, of course, for six months of the year, it sees no sunlight whatsoever. Such obstacles, however, did not deter Chris Dobrowolski from applying for the position with the British Antarctic Survey and, in this chirpy performance lecture, he recounts his time there. Not only does he paint a vivid picture of a lifestyle that seems extraordinary to those of us perched just off the New Kings Road, he grapples with his own isolated position whilst there as the only person of an artistic bent on an entire continent.
Having previously explored unusual forms of transport (previous works include a plane constructed from newspaper and a hovercraft made of recycled bottles), the main thrust of Dobrowolski’s proposal was to build a functioning sledge from picture frames. In addition, Dobrowolski aimed to contrast everyday representations of Antarctic life – particularly assorted toys and knick-knacks – with the realities. What emerges – apart from some of the most surreal holiday snaps you’ll ever see – is a multifaceted work that interrogates the nature and purpose of art at the same time as embracing the all-sorts it takes to make a world.
Take Dave, the plumber deposited on Bird Island for a two-year stint alone amongst thousands of aggressive, randy fur-seals and a handful of cannibalistic ducks. This is, as Dobrowolski tells it, an ecology in which corpses are consumed, the stench of which (death and excrement) hits you half a mile off-shore. On the plus side, there’s a well-stocked DVD library.
We meet trawlermen and scientists, HR managers and projector enthusiasts and yet – charmingly, optimistically and heartwarmingly – Dobrowolski brings a shared humanity to the fore. Our ability to connect and communicate, to share a joke even when faced with such astounding surroundings and hardships seems phenomenal.
Throughout, Dobrowolski positions himself as amicable failure, nearer Dave Gorman than Kim Noble, and in many ways Antarctica is a celebration of difficulties overcome and attempts failed. It embraces defeat, pointlessness and hapless co-incidence. Imagine schlepping approximately 10,000 miles to build a sledge out of picture frames, for example, only to discover that bored Antarctic engineers pass their time fashioning picture frames out of, you guessed it, dismantled sledges.
Photo: Helen Murray
Lou ClementEntertainment Focus Antarctica, Presented By Chris Dobrowolski Review, 2015. Dobrowolski shares his experiences from his travels in the Polar region.
I’m at the Brighton Dome for the sold-out Antarctica show and I’m not entirely sure what to expect. I know it’s about the experiences of Artist Chris Dobrowolski during his travels in the Polar region, and in the event description there is mention of Ladybird books and gold picture frames. By the end of the show, I wonder if the description was intentionally vague. I realise that much of what I know about Antarctica has been learnt through watching BBC wildlife programs or school history lessons on the failed expedition led by Captain Scott.
I also know Doctors visit Mount Everest to learn about caring for patients at low oxygen levels and Scientists model alien environments based on knowledge of the inhospitable deserts of Antarctica. So, extreme environments have their place in science, in medicine, but what about art?
Dobrowolski specialises in failure. It is a theme of his art that he is keen to highlight and celebrate. His artwork includes building vehicles from unlikely objects and then trying to travel in them. His boat sank and his plane crashed but rather than dampen his spirits these projects, we are told, are key to being an artist. Artists learn how to fail as part of their process. This is what inspired Dobrowolski’s proposal to travel to Antarctica, following in the snow prints of Captain Scott. While he was there he planned to compare the icy reality to images and objects he had collected and he also planned to build a sleigh from gold picture frames. The idea was intriguing and charming, it was also brave.
Gold picture frame sledge at Sky Blu, Antarctica. Photo: Ian Potten
Dobrowolski packed his ladybird books, plastic toys and recycled pictures frames, he travelled to the southernmost tip of the Earth to create art on the icy planes of Antarctica. The evening began with a slide show, which was like viewing someone’s holiday snaps. The pictures led to a narrative that was entertaining because it was fearless. There was so much that could go wrong, whether it was sepsis from the bite of a seal or falling down a crevice, the depth of a thirty story building. Here was a man with sea sickness stuck on a boat for four weeks longer than he expected. If he didn’t tell his tale with humour it would have been miserable. But humour and vitality is what Dobrowolski brought to his pictures and videos of the distant sub-zero continent. Dobrowolski related stories of the scientists and crew he met and the stories he told were studded with coincidence and chance happenings; in these moments life mimicked art.
I thought it was lovely that it was his friends and his 30p purchase at a boot sale which inspired him. He seemed light hearted when describing failure in past projects, but he was keen that he met his brief – that he succeed in building a replica sleigh from gold picture frames. Dobrowolski’s show charted his three month adventure in Antarctica. I was laughing at the pitfalls and successes of the life of a modern artist. I think this is what this was, I’m still not sure. The photos he showed included dioramas and whaling re-enactments (with plastic toys). There was an excellent impression of a Russian scientist, there were shots of bloody seal carcasses being eaten by the world’s only carnivorous ducks. It was eclectic. Antarctica is an environmentally protected region and it’s a tourist destination, it’s a cemetery for the most adventurous explorers. But through the viewpoint and adventures of Dobrowolski, it’s a silent, beautiful and harsh environment. For me, he removed the mythical status of the region. The show finished with a film in which the gilt-edged picture frame sleigh disappeared into the distance. I’m not sure I know how to interpret that, but I did enjoy it and I was entertained.
16 milimetre projector on the Rothera British Antarctic survey base. I use a similar one in the show.
In 2010 'Antarctica' was performed at the 'Sacred' festival- 'Chelsea Theatre' ; 'Sampled' live art festival - Cambridge Junction Theatre, Lakeside theatre Colchester; 'Hatch' festival Nottingham. It was also performed a year later in the 'Hebden Bridge Arts Festival' , Badgast, Scheveningen and 'Het Reedershuis' Vlaardingen- both in Holland.
In 2015 'Antarctica' was given an arts council grant to develop the show and toured to the following venues in 2016.