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Dispatches from our Man at the Antarctic Biennale: seasickness hits

by Adrian Dannatt  |  05.04.2017
Dispatches from our Man at the Antarctic Biennale: seasickness hits
Adrian Dannatt, keeping his eyes on the horizon (Image: Nick Shapiro)
Saturday 18th March: Woah! Impossible to sleep—tossing and being turned, the Gods moving me around despite myself, whole room shifting as if my own personal earthquake. The small cabin like a womb where you twist suspended in amniotic fluid but in this case a Yummy Mummy still jogging late term throwing you this way and that.  8AM breakfast with sparkly Nick Shapiro here to represent Tomás Saraceno, had three year grant tracking fracking, worse polluted atmosphere in rural Pennsylvania than in London. Liked his line “on the fringe of the boom”, rather as I always feel myself. Social activist who was ten days on Francesca von Habsburg family yacht in Solomon Islands—he does not even like going to restaurants because of having to deal with staff so found all this worrying. Likewise he tried to stay discrete about his famed father Michael, longtime director of the High in Atlanta.

Down to evil basement for first day of presentations; Jean de Pomereu as photographic artist originally drawn to Antarctic entirely by aesthetics, the minimalism and purity, platinum prints from his 'Topography of Absence' series. His photographs of Lita Albuquerque ‘Stellar Axis’ blue spheres very like Yves Klein I had just seen back at Fundación PROA. ‘Land Art’ is no longer supported in Antarctica, takes up far too many resources, and British ‘Artist in Antarctic’ program stopped recently.

The lack of windows and static images make me feel ultra queasy. I have refused to wear anti-seasickness patch or take pills, foolishly determined to ‘gain my sea legs’ like an old salt. Instead I go pale as a floe, cold sweat at my brow, only just make it out of door and heave up two rich full bagfuls. Paper bags everywhere, thank God. Actually feels good, all the pleasure of being a bulimic teenage girl again not caring what you eat as will come up again soon. Comic scene of earnest lectures with half the audience staggering out, loudly puking and groaning. Would be embarrassed they can hear me but feel too ill to care. Like Ayahuasca, our early 90s downtown NY ceremonies, the plastic buckets, this is a literal initiation into the Antarctic, you have to pass through the threshold, the blank space of Drake’s Passage to arrive here, puking your guts out is the price to be paid. Like a zombie movie, you are talking to someone and then they are taken, weird glazed look, swaying off white as ice itself. This must be what Pon-Pon means quoting Captain Nemo,“Mobilis in mobile!” Very much “motion in motion.” Ugh.

Managed to go back down to Presentation Room for Juliana Cerqueira Leite—from Brazil but lived everywhere ever since—“work about movement” and as she says this stuff literally flying round room. She will be installing her own motion stabilised chairs with CCTV image of the horizon from camera mounted in front. Inner-ear causes seasickness. Everyone here with sick bags clasped next to them, can hear the sound of the waves smashing our sides so deep in ship hold.

Lunch wisely advised to have white rice. Back down at 2.30 “we’ve lost a few people—so down to two.” Julius von Bismarck superb figure with proper Prussian frisson, shaved head and gigantic facial hair resembling Edward Lear’s ‘Old Man with a beard.’  Pays workers in jungle to spray landscape white and then paint it green again by hand, very like absurdist artist Bartlebooth in Perec’s ‘Life, A User’s Manual’ and Keynesian economics to boost employment by digging hole then fill it up.Whipping the sea—trying to punish nature—in German Romanticism mode and even suitably Teutonic outfit. Began to feel ill again when he showed rotating platform he’d spent a week living on in circular motion, torture to watch here.

Very serious scientist Sergey Poranov—three years of his life drifting on ice, just as Bismarck a week fighting gravity on his spinning platform. Photo of Orthodox Russian priest leading mass in tent and “Ski team of the Indian Navy, yes, I say that again”. Every time he’s been in Arctic the ice was thinner and thinner but not totally convinced that will disappear in near future, in honesty one cannot predict. Rousing quote by Pynchon, “You wait…everyone has an Antarctic.” I am certainly feeling mine right now. Back hastily to my cabin and even when lying down… chilling tingling in fingers, Cold Turkey sweats. My stupid battle to be strong—vomit again, twice strongly directly into loo. Chopped lettuce afloat. Hear tea being announced but fall asleep into weirdest fever dreams.

Forced myself up onto the deck, very front of the boat and much better, the thick fog moving in, joined in bracing spray by Arizona—Copenhagen ‘philosopher’ Dehlia Hannah; her university much supported by Walton Foundation so they have to be careful not to mention Walmart in any bad environmental context. Her fascinating project ‘The Year Without Winter’ a reverse version of the ‘year without summer’ 1816, due to massive volcano, when Frankenstein was written. Down for dinner and Charrière rightly pleased he has achieved one of his ambitions, Venice Biennale before 30, also wanted MoMA and I told him he could just post them a document, about this ambition even, and they are obliged to keep it in their archive, as Ray Johnson did, works they now proudly display. He accused me of being ‘Machiavellian.’ Surely an obligation for every artist? He too had also been on Francesca Habsburg boat trip to hide art treasure, already been on four sea voyages of over two weeks, damn him. Delicious duck leg and polenta I decided to risk.

We all spoke of the real liberation having no internet, emails, phone and no need to carry cash or cards, just sign your room number like a Bemelmans fantasy of hotel life. The bar cocktail tonight is ‘All’s Swell That Ends Swell’ and a poster on ‘Dancing The Drake Shake’, this massive funnel between South America and Antarctic which can “get a little lumpy—the weather is good there—which means, as always, a storm.” Wearily threw myself from side to side of the corridor heading to Bedfordshire.

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