The 1st Antarctic Biennale: Mobilis in Mobile
Antarctica, 17 March – 28 March, 2017
Commissioner – Alexander Ponomarev
Co-Curator – Nadim Samman

Alexis Anastasiou (BR); Yto Barrada (MA); Julius von Bismarck (DE); Julian Charriere (FR/CH); Paul Rosero Contreras (EC); Gustav Duesing (DE); Zhang Enli (CN); Joaquin Fargas (AR); Sho Hasegawa (JP); Yasuaki Igarashi (JP); Katya Kovaleva (RU); Andrey Kuzkin (RU); Juliana Cerqueira Leite (US/BR); Alexander Ponomarev (RU); Shama Rahman (UK); Abdullah Al Saadi (UAE); Tomas Saraceno (AR); Lou Sheppard (CA)

Interdisciplinary Participants:
Elizabeth Barry (USA); Adrian Dannatt (UK); Barbara Imhof (AT); Wakana Kono (JP); Carlo Rizzo (IT); Alexander Sekatskii (RU), Jean de Pomereu (FR); Susmita Mohanty (IN); Hector Monsalve (AR); Miguel Petchkovsky (AG); Sergey Pisarev (RU); Nicholas Shapiro (US); Lisen Schultz (SE)

Video Program:
Adrian Balseca (EC); Yto Barrada (MA); Emmy Skensved+Gregoire Blunt (CA); Julian Charriere (FR/CH); Paul Rosero Contreras (EC); Marcel Dinahet (FR); Constant Dullaart (NE); Karin Ferrari (AT); Etienne de France (FR); Swetlana Heger (SE); Young Hae-Chang Heavy Industries (KR); Eli Maria Lundgaard (NO), Eva and Franco Mattes (IT); Jessica Sarah Rinland (UK)

In March 2017 an international group of 65 artists, scientists, architects and philosophers left the port of Ushuaia, Argentina – bound for the Antarctic Circle onboard the Akademik Sergei Vavilov (part of the Russian Institute of Oceanography’s scientific research fleet). The voyage covered approximately 2,000 nautical miles, and made landfall at twelve sites in the Antarctic archipelago over a period of two weeks before returning via Cape Horn. Anchors dropped at the bays of Neko, Paradise and Orne; Cuverville Island, the Errera Channel, the Lemaire Channel, Pleneau Island, Petermann Island, the Penola Strait, Deception Island.

At each location, installations, sculptures, exhibitions, and performances were realized. Mobility, site-specificity and ecological compatibility were key touchstones. Nothing was left behind and no audience was present – notwithstanding the participants themselves, and Antarctica’s native species. Actions included a landscape photography exhibition for penguins (they didn’t seem to get much out of it) and an underwater installation for whales. In total, over 20 artistic projects were carried out, including performances, installations, exhibitions and sound-art experiments by artists present.

In addition to land and sea interventions, the Vavilov served as a floating studio, photo lab, exhibition, performance and conference facility. Onboard activities included fifteen symposia, incorporating alternative histories of south polar enterprise, and a daily screening program featuring commissioned videos. The symposia series was entitled Antarctic Biennale Vision Club, convened by Nadim Samman and coordinated by Sofia Gavrilova. Throughout, discussions were focused on the question ‘What potential does the Antarctic Imaginary hold?’, and on future cross-disciplinary collaborations.

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According to the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, the southern continent is reserved exclusively for peaceful scientific research in the interests of all of humanity (with sovereign claims suspended). Owned by no individual or nation, but home in the summer months to approximately four thousand researchers, this legal and institutional framework (and its implementation) is the most successful example of international cooperation in modern history. This fact is even more impressive when one observes that the Antarctic Treaty was born at the height of the Cold War, when geopolitical tensions were most fraught.

The paramount status that the Antarctic Treaty accords to scientific enquiry, incorporating its proscription against the exploitation of natural resources, is justly celebrated as a model for international conservation initiatives. However, in a deeper sense – requiring further investigation – the treaty can be viewed as much more than this: It stands, we believe, as a foundational document for a new form of universal culture. Indeed, the Antarctic Treaty system suggests an incipient supranational identity based on cooperation and a sophisticated regard for ecology – whose relevance transcends whatever activities take place on the continent. This identity transcends (in legal principle) the defunct paradigms of the nation state, which brackets incommensurable ethnic and religious identities, incorporating a holistic view of the planet as a complex – unified – system (in practice).

The Antarctic Imaginary belongs to everyone, and yet control over the regime of images associated with it is centralized. For the most part, mimetic production is supplied by documentary photographers and filmmakers ‘embedded’ within scientific brigades, or else adhering to hegemonic interpretive frames. Thusly, what passes for Antarctic ‘cultural’ activity often assumes a subordinate role to the ‘useful’ research being carried out on bases, or the keynote messages issuing from them – via official media relations.If we are to realize Antarctica’s potential as a model for overcoming the malaise associated with contemporary international relations then artists must seize the means of south polar (image) production. It is only through intensified (and truly independent) artistic engagement with Antarctica that we may discover – through aesthetic experimentation – its otherwise inaccessible intellectual, social and political topography. This landscape, we contend, offers the most promising ground for harvesting radical theoretical and practical visions for life in the 21st Century. Artists are uniquely equipped to survey the terrain and to communicate its scope.

The Antarctic Biennale is, both literally and metaphorically, a vehicle for facilitating independent cultural production in the South Polar Region. It is a mechanism for expanding the Antarctic Imaginary through aesthetic exploration and interdisciplinary encounters that pursue ‘culture’ in an expanded field that is not only limited to art. It is a supranational initiative committed to the possibility of a universal community that encompasses not just people but the environment too. The theme for the first edition borrows Captain Nemo’s motto from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: ‘Mobilis in Mobile’, meaning ‘moving amidst mobility’. Traversing the Southern Ocean, passing through the Bransfield Straight, between craggy peaks and glaciers, down through the Lemaire Channel, and into the Arctic Circle, it is an expedition as festival. But the movements to which the title refers also encompass a trajectory through shifting currents in climate science, changes in ice-sheet cover, the continent’s geophysical dynamism, and biological upheaval. Lastly, the title embraces a movement – or vector – cutting across developments within various disciplinary spheres. The 1st Antarctic Biennale is a new paradigm for global celebration.