Discovering an Antarctic world


This is the first of a series of blogs where we explore the people, the science, and the purpose of the Deep South National Science Challenge.  Lorraine Taylor takes a look at an Antarctic world sculpted by artist Gabby O’Connor.

“Oh wow, this is much better than the Antarctica exhibition you were going to take us to!”

This is fairly high praise from my 13-year-old son who is unenthusiastic about his mother’s holiday activities these days.  However, his comment also illustrates the success that Gabby O’Connor’s current art installment at Porirua’s Pataka art space is enjoying with the many young visitors who have attended.  I let him revel in the moment, watching the light bounce off the ice, the replica platelets as unique as snowflakes, and the continuous mesmerising video playing like a kaleidoscope in a large corner of the room, before I let him know this is indeed the Antarctica exhibit and unfortunately he might learn something this afternoon.

Studio Antarctica represents the biggest exhibition for Gabby O’Connor, a milestone in itself, and has been a dream in the making.  Gabby has long been intrigued by icebergs and Antarctica, and didn’t hesitate to accept an invitation to ‘take photos’ as part of research project led by NIWA’s Craig Stevens, a marine physicist studying wave action underneath Antarctic ice sheets.

This dream trip for Gabby, has catalysed new inspiration for Gabby, who has been invited back to Antarctica later this year.  As an artist, Gabby uses different tools than a scientist to document and capture her observations but shows that there are many synergies between art and science:  both the artist and the scientist look very closely at phenomena around us, inviting others to look closely, too.  Gabby herself says that for her art was a way of making sense of the world.  Art can provide a window to a world that might not be obvious to the viewer, and can also provide an entry point to scientific endeavours.

The exhibit provides an engaging window into the Antarctic world.  One installation allows the viewer to lie on the carpeted floor, looking up at the underside of an undulating ice sheet covered in platelets sculpted by the artist in surprising materials: packaging tape and plastic sleeves.  The artist’s use of light, silk and plastic and uncountable hours of creation, allows the viewer to imagine themselves floating under the ice, looking up at thousands of crystal like platelets.  On this occasion I lie beneath the large sculpture flanked by my son and a few of his friends.   We chat easily, about icebergs, sea ice and platelets, imagining Antarctica, and what scientists might be researching there. 

Despite his initial reluctance, my son is now fully engaged in the activity, at least for the moment, wooed by the artist who with her work invited him into another world and said, ‘hey, come look at this… look closely’.

Find out more

For more information about the Studio Antarctica Exhibition at Pataka

Hear more about Craig Stevens’ work in Antarctica

Listen to Gabby talk on Radio NZ about Antarctica, ice platelets and the opening of her exhibition – standing room only – in June

Take a look at Gabby’s online gallery

Read about Gabby’s Antarctic adventure in her blog.