Shaping perspectives of Antarctica : a study of the value and production of Antarctic visual art.
Type of content
Visual artists have been instrumental in extending human knowledge of Antarctica since the earliest days of recorded exploration of the far south. This thesis asks, in a contemporary context, what the value of visual artists working in Antarctica is, and what it is they contribute to knowledge and understandings of the continent. This is a qualitative study, international in scope, with a 21st century focus. The study directly addresses the absence of a contemporary international analysis in the Antarctic visual art literature and provides a visual arts perspective to Antarctic values scholarship that is otherwise missing.
Reflecting a pragmatic methodological approach, the study conforms largely to a constructivist paradigm whilst also drawing on elements of critical theory. The primary research methods were semi-structured interviews with Antarctic artists, cultural professionals, Antarctic researchers, representatives of Antarctic organisations and visitors to a contemporary Antarctic art exhibition, as well as an online survey open to the public. Hermeneutic analysis of the interview transcripts and survey responses identified key themes in the data. Textual analysis of a selection of Antarctic artworks complemented and extended the discussion and analysis of the key themes. Desk research enabled the collation of an international Antarctic artist chronology, substantially extending what is known about artists’ presence. There was a significant increase in the number and cultural diversity of artists after the turn of the 21st century but there has been a dramatic decline on both counts since 2017. This raises questions about who is constructing contemporary cultural understandings of Antarctica and what barriers exist to access. The thesis argues that the extremely low number of artists currently being supported to work in Antarctica will result in a significant void in Antarctic cultural representation, cultural heritage and knowledge if left unaddressed.
This thesis shows that, although there is overwhelming support for artists to work in Antarctica, there are certain values associated with human activity that define the context in which artists work. These values play a significant role in controlling access to the continent and they influence how artists and their work are regarded, with natural science tending to dominate Antarctic knowledge production. However, the findings of this study highlight the importance of multiple modes of inquiry. While artists can contribute significantly to science-based inquiry and associated education and outreach activities, I argue that they have much to contribute to other realms of knowledge and engagement with the continent. Artists have a role in exploring Antarctica as a cultural space and in critically examining the social, political and environmental dimensions in evidence. This research demonstrates that art can reflect, challenge or contribute to constructing cultural norms and values. It operates on an emotional and a cognitive level, creating a space for viewers to construct meanings, feel emotions and have their perceptions expanded or disrupted. Furthermore, the study confirms that as a repository of ideas and a form of communication art has value beyond its aesthetic appeal; art is a form of cultural memory, a valuable legacy, and a resource and source of knowledge for current and future generations.