Empty white gallery walls, empty white landscape, empty white page: each can be an intimidating space when it comes to making new work. For photographer Anne Noble, it’s not immaculate white space, but the man-made marks that already exist in the South Pole environment that are meaningful. Rather than re-framing archetypal images of a sublime white landscape, a ‘pre-imagined’ space, she began to catalogue the signs of human presence there: trucks and heavy machinery, roads and basic infrastructure.
In 2002 Noble travelled to Antarctica as part of the Antarctica New Zealand/Creative New Zealand Arts Fellowship programme. The Whiteout series (2002–2007), imaging Antarctic light and space from within dense fog on the sea ice, began the artist’s engagement with the place. Returning in 2008 on a US National Science Foundation Grant, she was posted at McMurdo Station, a research base on Ross Island. When uncharacteristically fine weather slowed the continuation of her earlier project, the study of whiteness, her attention turned instead to colour, to Antarctica’s ‘human palette’.
‘Antarctic Inventory’, the grid on the gallery’s long left-hand wall, traces the practice of ascribing women’s names to trucks, tractors, excavators and other heavy machinery, a military tradition which has a long history in the South Pole. ‘Brenda’, ‘Hot Lips’, ‘Misty’ and ‘Hazel’ are among the bullish vehicles that navigate and work the white landscape. During the 1990s a crane named ‘Bitch in Slippers’—which gives this exhibition its name—had infamously halted this practice, even causing it to be banned for a time before re-surfacing. For Noble it offered a singular perspective on the community of workers at the Pole, an unscripted visual tradition through which their austere and inhospitable surroundings are personalised and literally coloured.
Spoolhenge is another large-scale human mark, a growing monument maintained by the local workers. Reels of hosing (used for transporting fuel and hot water ice drilling) arrive wound around giant spools; when empty they are added to the assemblage, an ongoing act of public sculpture. Covering the entire end wall and opening onto a distant horizon, the image counters the gallery’s enclosed nature. The text work adjacent, Lloyd Jones’ chant ‘Dear Misty’, extends the space in a different way, treating it as a page, the platform for a voice. Sarah Maxey’s hand-lettering gives the words their own form, with the whole text becoming a monument in parallel to Spoolhenge.
Photographer, writer and designer have worked collaboratively on this exhibition, each bringing to the space a new sense of how the Antarctic landscape exists physically, as a lived environment, and as a living place in our imagination.
Image above: Anne Noble, Spoolhenge #3 (2008), South Pole.
The artists gratefully acknowledge the generous support of the following organisations
Anne Noble and Lloyd Jones discuss their Antarctic collaboration, Saturday 25 February, 2pm