Antarctica

Erika Blumenfeld

ARTIST STATEMENT

As long as I can remember, I have been in awe of our natural world. The extraordinary complexity of the universe, our planetary system and our habitable natural environment is the vantage point from which I begin making my work. By adopting a somewhat scientific methodology, my photographic and artistic inquiries have led me to follow a non-traditional studio practice and career. My “studio” is almost always outdoors, often under the starry sky, and increasingly in collaboration with scientists and research institutions. My work has led me to investigate the physics of atmospheric and astronomic phenomena as well as the simple beauties and complex afflictions of our environment and ecologies.

Viewed over time, my artistic process has woven these diverse interests into distinct patterns. For an early series of botanical studies, I used a photographic process I developed, the Lunatype, which transformed glass plate negatives into mirror positives. Concurrently, I documented the environment in traditional black-and-white photographs, looking at rhythms between nature’s architecture and light. Breaking from conventional photography, I began a series of reductive works, called Light Recordings. In this continuing series, light is both my medium and subject, and I use self-built cameras to directly record the incremental changes of solar and lunar light over time. This led to an interest in Living Light and two artist-in-residences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to document bioluminescence, the single-celled organisms that glow in our oceans.

An artist-in-residence at the McDonald Observatory allowed me to produce my first video piece documenting the waxing and waning of lunar light through an altered telescope. Under those clear, dark skies, I reflected on how far from nature humans have strayed . . . so few people today experience the wonders of remote landscapes. In the poignancy of this realization, I initiated The Polar Project, the mission of which is to capture the natural environment of the polar regions, preserve their image for future generations and inspire awareness of the peril they face with increased climate disruption. (See below for more about The Polar Project.)

My growing concern for the injustices against our environment has led me to photojournalism through which I document the ecological and human impact caused by anthropogenic environmental negligence and climate disruption. Currently, as all these interests weave more closely, I am making artworks about the aftermath of the recent wildfires in the U.S. Southwest, photographing and collecting the charred remains of trees, grasses, pinecones and needles, dirt and animal bones. The resulting series of Wildfire Paintings, photographs and installations are both eulogy to the incinerated flora and fauna as well as forensic evidence of the impact of climate disruption. – Erika Blumenfeld

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www.erikablumenfeld.com

THE POLAR PROJECT

In 2008, Blumenfeld was a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship for this project conceived at the McDonald Observatory. In January 2009, during her fellowship year, she was invited to join a six-week expedition to Antarctica as the artist-in-residence and official team member of ITASC (Interpolar Transnational Art Science Constellation) and the ICEPAC experiment, and the guest of the South African National Antarctic Program. Writes Blumenfeld:

"The point at which the wonder of natural phenomena begins to awaken the mind and imagination is the point at which art, science and humanity meet, and The Polar Project’s vision is to harmonize these perspectives. I believe that the Arctic and Antarctica are a part of our cultural and world heritage, and The Polar Project’s mission is to capture the natural environment of these precious regions to preserve their image and voice for future generations and to inspire awareness and change now."

For more about the project and to see more photographs, please go to

www.erikablumenfeld.com/the_polar_project/
www.icepac.org/about-icepac/

Untitled (20 February 2009, 15:35:27 GMT), Antarctica Vol. 1 (Early Sea Ice), 2009
Digital pigment print, 22x17 inches, Edition of 20 (One of a suite of 8 photographs housed in an embossed hand-made portfolio box) The Early Sea Ice volume depicts the Southern Ocean beginning to freeze at the edge of the Antarctic ice shelf. These images mark the moment in Antarctica’s seasonal change between the waning austral summer and the quickly approaching autumn. The sea portrayed here froze overnight, beginning its yearly transition back to the thick ice that encompasses the continent in winter. As the temperature of the ocean begins to drop, the surface water, which has less salinity, freezes first. Since the ocean is never still, the newly forming ice knocks about gently on the surface waves, bumping into other bits of forming ice. The persistence of the motion means that the ice plates are always colliding into one another, eroding each other’s edges. This results in their round shape, called pancake ice. By winter, the sea ice where these images were taken would be around five feet thick.
Untitled (21 February 2009, 12:51:23 GMT), Antarctica Vol. 1 (Early Sea Ice), 2009
Digital pigment print, 22x17 inches, Edition of 20 (One of a suite of 8 photographs housed in an embossed hand-made portfolio box)
Untitled (16 February 2009, 17:01:30 GMT), Antarctica Vol. 2 (Land Ice), 2009
Digital pigment print, 22x17 inches, Edition of 20 (One of a suite of 8 photographs housed in an embossed hand-made portfolio box) The Land Ice volume depicts various formations of surface ice that occur on the continent of Antarctica as a result of the incredible force of the wind. Catabatic winds blow out from the elevated ice sheets toward the sea. The buildup of high density cold air, combined with high elevation brings enormous gravitational energy, which propels the winds to incredible speed, sometimes surpassing even hurricane force. The winds carve a deep incurvation at the base of the rock mountains as they blow around them, forming ice walls that are upwards of fifty feet high. These images were taken inside the wind scoop at the base of Vesleskarvet, a nunatak at the northeastern edge of the Ahlmann Ridge Range in the Queen Maud Land area of Antarctica. They portray the rippling and bubbling of the frozen lake on the floor of the wind scoop, as well as the wind’s carving of the surface of the towering ice walls.
Untitled (16 February 2009, 17:39:57 GMT), Antarctica Vol. 2 (Land Ice), 2009
Digital pigment print, 22x17 inches, Edition of 20 (One of a suite of 8 photographs housed in an embossed hand-made portfolio box)
Untitled (16 February 2009, 17:10:14 GMT), Antarctica Vol. 2 (Land Ice), 2009
Digital pigment print, 22x17 inches, Edition of 20 (One of a suite of 8 photographs housed in an embossed hand-made portfolio box)
Untitled (16 February 2009, 17:01:18 GMT), Antarctica Vol. 2 (Land Ice), 2009
Digital pigment print, 22x17 inches, Edition of 20 (One of a suite of 8 photographs housed in an embossed hand-made portfolio box)
Untitled (31 January 2009, 21:13:04 GMT), Antarctica Vol. 2 (Land Ice), 2009
Digital pigment print, 22x17 inches, Edition of 20 (One of a suite of 8 photographs housed in an embossed hand-made portfolio box)
Untitled (16 February 2009, 16:56:48 GMT), Antarctica Vol. 2 (Land Ice), 2009
Digital pigment print, 22x17 inches, Edition of 20(One of a suite of 8 photographs housed in an embossed hand-made portfolio box)
Untitled (16 February 2009, 17:02:10 GMT), Antarctica Vol. 2 (Land Ice), 2009
Digital pigment print, 22x17 inches, Edition of 20 (One of a suite of 8 photographs housed in an embossed hand-made portfolio box)
Untitled (16 February 2009, 17:54:11 GMT), 2009
Digital pigment print, 40x60 inches, Edition of 3 In January 2009, Blumenfeld was invited to Antarctica for a six-week artist-in-residence. Living and working on Earth’s southernmost continent amidst the vast ice fields, luminous glaciers, ancient rock-mountains, and the ice-covered sea, Blumenfeld created several new bodies of photo and video based works. The images depict the natural phenomena of the Antarctic landscape, and portrays rarely seen details and patterns of Antarctica’s ephemeral nature.
Untitled (07 February 2009, 23:39:34 GMT), Antarctica Vol. 3 (Ice Horizons), 2009
Digital pigment print, 22x17 inches, Edition of 20 (One of a suite of 8 photographs housed in an embossed hand-made portfolio box)
Untitled (05 February 2009, 00:19:00 GMT), Antarctica Vol. 3 (Ice Horizons), 2009
Digital pigment print, 22x17 inches, Edition of 20 (One of a suite of 8 photographs housed in an embossed hand-made portfolio box) The Ice Horizons volume portrays the brilliant color phenomena that occur when sunlight interacts with the vast Antarctic ice fields. These images depict the fields of ice on the northeastern periphery of the Ahlmann Ridge Range in the Queen Maud Land area of Antarctica. This immense body of ice, which extends toward the edge of the horizon in every direction, can be thousands of feet thick. With ice particulate blowing constantly in the wind across the snow and ice covered ground, virtually everything in this landscape is a refracting surface, waiting to scatter and bend light. Antarctica literally holds light within it. As sunlight moves slowly throughout the environment here, it shimmers across and beneath the ice and snow, illuminating the horizon with vibrant color combinations.
Untitled (18 February 2009, 20:07:31 GMT), Antarctica Vol. 3 (Ice Horizons), 2009
Digital pigment print, 22x17 inches, Edition of 20 (One of a suite of 8 photographs housed in an embossed hand-made portfolio box)
Untitled (19 February 2009, 02:27:13 GMT), Antarctica Vol. 3 (Ice Horizons), 2009
Digital pigment print, 22x17 inches, Edition of 20 (One of a suite of 8 photographs housed in an embossed hand-made portfolio box)
Video still: Apparent Horizons Antarctica (a vision in four parts) Part 1, 2009
Four-monitor video installation, Dimensions variable, Edition of 3 Blumenfeld's first video work from Antarctica, Apparent Horizons Antarctica (a vision in four parts), is a multi-panel video installation documents four aspects of the environmental phenomena that occur in this wondrous frozen landscape. These moving images depict the intense colors that appear as light refracts throughout the icy landscape, the incredible force of the wind, the ocean beginning to freeze, and the radiance of snow particulate glistening in the strong sunlight. The piece brings the viewer a rare glimpse of the remote Antarctic landscape at a time when it’s climate is rapidly changing.
Video still: Apparent Horizons Antarctica (a vision in four parts) Part 2, 2009
Four-monitor video installation, Dimensions variable, Edition of 3
Video still: Apparent Horizons Antarctica (a vision in four parts) Part 4, 2009
Four-monitor video installation, Dimensions variable, Edition of 3
Antarctic Expedition, 2009
The ITASC team on an evening excursion to what is known as Crystal Palace, the deep ice moat carved by the strong winds of Antarctica that surrounds the nunatak (rock mountain) that the South African base station, SANAE IV, sits atop. At this time of year, the sun did not yet set, but hovered low in the sky during the evening hours.
Antarctic Expedition, 2009
The black geodesic dome in this image is called ICEPAC, which stands for ITASC Catabatic Experimental Platform for Antarctic Culture, and was a 2007-2008 IPY funded project. ICEPAC is a mobile, rapid-deployment research station conceived of by my expedition teammates, artist Thomas Mulcaire (South Africa/Brazil) and musician Ntsikelelo Ntshingila (Swaziland), designed by architect Pol Taylor (ARQZE, Chili) and built by Sets and Devices in Cape Town. This mobile base was both our dwelling on the ice and a cultural platform for the first exhibition in Antarctica, curated by Alfons Hug (Director of the Goethe Institute, Rio de Janeiro). The base is powered entirely by the wind turbine and solar panels you see in the image, with the other equipment being our weather station.

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