Video transcript: An artistic response to Antarctica

Transcript of book artist Rachel Hazell's filmed talk about Antarctica.

Hi there, I'm Rachel Hazell, a travelling bookbinder. I've had the good fortune to have been to Antarctica three times. I was there twice as artist-in-residence on expedition ships and once as Assistant Post Mistress and Penguin Monitor at Britain's southernmost post office.

[Question on screen] What was your experience in Antarctica like?

It was amazing to be there for such a long time to see the whole breeding cycle of the penguins and to live in a historic hut that has been there since 1944. It had no electricity and no running water.

[Question on screen] While you were there, did you get a sense of the explorers like Shackleton and Scott that had come to Antarctica before you?

Absolutely, yeah. And the immense respect of the fact that they didn't have, you know, Gortex jackets and plenty of chocolate rations and satellite telephones, propane gas heaters and things. Yeah, such an immense respect for those people that went out. They didn't know what they were going to find, they didn't know where they were going. They didn't know if they would find the ship that they'd come down on, whether it would be in one piece, whether they'd get back in time or anything like that.

One of my favourite books is Apsley Cherry-Garrard's 'The worst journey in the world'. He describes that they kept peace with each other and with God on their journey to Cape Crozier. I think that encapsulates it all, that they managed to do that because I don't think I quite managed it the whole time I was there!

My job was to be artist-in-residence and I was supposed to help the passengers mediate their experience of being in that incredible environment. I had a really hard time lifting my chin off the deck because it was just gobsmacking and I could hardly describe it to myself. I mean my eyes were just so wide open because it's just such an immense landscape.

So I tried to do little book works, small bookbinding projects so the passengers could take little notebooks and sketchbooks out onto the field when we made landings. And so they could just in a small way, record and document what they were seeing — the line of the landscape of the mountains or a few words about what the penguins sounded like or smelled like.

I was trying to make studies of how I could represent ice in paper. Do you want me to show you some?

I started off doing some notebooks. This is tissue paper and it's using a Japanese stab binding technique because I call myself a book artist rather than a traditional bookbinder. It's just a way to replicate the lines of corrosion and erosion that happen on the bottom of an iceberg as it tips over and rolls amongst the briny sea. So if it's fresh ice, it etches into it so you get these amazing lines.

I've always felt that there's so much of Antarctica that looks like a book. Whether it's from the crevasse fields that look like a white page with lines of writing on it — to me — or an ice cliff.

Here's a tissue paper ice cliff. It's just tissue paper and tracing paper and cotton rag paper just sewn with a normal sewing machine. I think it just gives a little bit of the lines and the shadows that you get on the edge of an ice cliff, maybe not as regularly as that.

I also started making wearable ice cliffs. It's actually lots of very small pages all sewn together with a kettle stitch, a traditional bookbinding stitch just using the whiteness of the paper in the same way as snow would catch and cast shadows and images you can imagine.

I just think that anybody that goes to Antarctica comes up with their own interpretation of it. You come up with your own reading and I'd like to be able to demonstrate a small part of that, or just a few words of what I think about it.

It was an incredible experience. A lot of people talk about the pull of the wide white land. It just gets inside you and you need to work out how you can get back or how you can write more about it. It gets underneath your skin.


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