Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery
Antarctica Angus McDonald Mawsonâ€™s Huts Foundation
“We dwelt on the fringe of an unspanned continent, where the chill breath of a vast, polar wilderness, quickening to the rushing might of eternal blizzards, surged to the northern seas. We had discovered an accursed country. We had found at the home of the blizzard” Sir Douglas Mawson 1912
“Inverted iceberg in sea ice” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 1
Introduction by Steven Alderton Director Lismore Regional Gallery Australia
Antarctica is an exhibition about the grandeur and eloquence of a pure and powerful landscape. It is about an experience shared by two artists almost 100 years apart. Angus McDonald has adeptly captured a magnetic moment on this Earth. In this world there are places of extremes, and Antarctica is a place of extreme beauty. McDonald’s images are about the harmony of a sometimes foreboding and unforgiving landscape, that is also serene and filled with a sense of quietude. Angus McDonald is not a spectator looking on at nature as object, rather, he immerses himself in the process of nature. He is part of the locale he encounters, bringing home the shared experience of this place in time. McDonald has narrated the picturesque and presented the experience of being enveloped within, and surrounded by, the landscape. You absorb the vast majestic spaces and power of the monumental and overpowering natural phenomena of Antarctica. As much as McDonald’s images participate in the foundation of the aesthetic of Antarctica, they are new interpretations of an ancient place. McDonald presents invigorating and fresh
works of a place that has been mediated by other authors, artists and our own perceptions. He has captured a place that is constantly changing. Antarctica possesses vivid, stark contrasts that can evoke a chilling emotive response, yet we warm to it and its other worldliness.
years in the life of this planet. There has been enormous changes in technology in that time, yet for Antarctica, 100 years is only a small amount of time. It is a pertinent reminder of the precariousness of this world, and our place in it.
It is hard not to consider Edmund Burke’s eighteenth century deliberations of the sublime and the beautiful when looking at these images, for here, there is the sublime and the beautiful. The beautiful in Antarctica can be tranquil and balanced. The sublime is astonishing, exalted, wild, and even brutal. The spectator is placated by the beautiful, and overwhelmed and sometimes intimidated by the sublime. The awe and splendour of the Edmund Burke formula presents as a major component of the Antarctic experience.
This exhibition would not have been possible without the partnership between Angus McDonald and The Mawson’s Huts Foundation. The Foundation are to be applauded for their tireless work in preserving the architecture, and spirit, of the Mawson’s Huts, and their association with Antarctica. Australia’s commitment to Antarctica and exploration lives on with the Foundation and expedition artist Angus McDonald.
Frank Hurley is one of Australia’s greatest photographers of the 20th Century. His Antarctic images of the 1911 expedition document the human condition – an indefatigable and yearning spirit of adventure for knowledge. Almost 100 years ago, before satellites, GPS and gortex these explorers braved the new world of Antarctica. Hurley’s images make for a fitting comparison with McDonald’s as we consider 100
Antarctica Angus McDonald One third of the proceeds from the exhibition and catalogue will be contributed to the Mawsonâ€™s Huts Foundation.
“Icescape I” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 6
“Icescape II” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 7
“Icescape III” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 8
“Icescape IV” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 9
“Icescape V” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 10
“Icescape VI” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 11
“Icescape VII” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 12
“Icescape VIII” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 13
“Icescape IX” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 14
“Icescape X” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 15
“Icescape XI” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 16
“Icescape XII” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 17
“Icescape XIII” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 18
The Silent South
Nothing I’ve ever seen can compare to the extremes of hard-edged beauty that Antarctica presents to you. It is pure there. It is fearful also; and very very still. These are words that I found repeated so often in the accounts and descriptions of people that have travelled there in the past. Even James Cook, who circumnavigated the continent more than once without finding landfall in the eighteenth century, was acutely aware of the unbridled potency that emanates from this vast, ice covered region. The Antarctic is not gentle or kind-: it is not mendacious and reckless either. It is just a place where the dynamics of the environment exist on an almost incomprehensible scale and the contrasts are extreme. The work I have put in this exhibition is mostly editioned photography. I took thousands of shots when I was away, along with numerous oil sketches and drawings, and made copious notes. It was not possible to make full-blown paintings in those conditions and my visit was too short. Initially, I took the shots as reference; to remind me of the elements that struck me most, and to conjure up once I had returned here to my studio, the sense I experienced when I was there. I took them to help me make the paintings and order my thoughts, but after returning, many of them began to resonate in their own right. The paintings are beginning now, almost six months after I returned. It is not something I can dive straight into because there is just too much to absorb and too many possibilities. I’ve included one in the exhibition, a large oil with an ice wall as its subject matter.
There is also a chair; hand made in American Oak by John Madden who I collaborate with on furniture. It is an authentic reproduction of Mawson’s campaign chair that he sat on to write his journals in those remote Baltic pine huts the AAE built on the edge of the continent during their 1911 expedition. The chair is still there, in Mawson’s den, just where he left in when he returned home from Antarctica in 1913. We have produced an edition of 20. It is a simple, beautifully considered design, and very evocative of the tribulations those men faced on a daily basis, when they lived at the end of the world almost a century ago. The photography deals with three elements: Ice, Landscape and Penguins; Emperor Penguins to be precise. I shot them at ground level to make them towering figures through the lens. They are big creatures anyway as far as penguins go; a metre high and weighing about 40 kilos. They have individual natures, each and every one, and I wanted to show this; or try to. The ice is a creature of its own, and is a dynamic, omnipresent part of Antarctica. It absorbs and reflects the light. It houses the marine and bird life. It literally engulfs the sound, so that on days when the gravity-fed katabatic winds that cascade like an avalanche down from the ice cap are absent, there is simply no sound left. The ice is constantly in flux, forming, breaking up, flung together under great pressure, and snowed on by blizzards. It is a mixture of seawater, fresh water from snow, and the frozen inland rivers of Antarctica that spawn icebergs which eventually degrade in the ocean as they drift towards warmer waters.
The sea ice manifests itself in unlimited mosaic patterns, which are always temporal because of the unceasingly evolving conditions. In certain light, it can reflect almost every colour imaginable; almost too many for our eyes to register. At other times, it is grey and squalid like asphalt. And the transformation from the monochromatic to the most dazzling colour can happen in an instant. Every shot I took in Antarctica is a moment in time that will never happen again. That is its wonder. The landscapes are about the sky. I’ve never seen such a complex arrangement of cloud patterns, drenched in the clarity of such brilliant and diffuse light. It is breathtaking. It is a big sky too, very big. And it never stands still. It is the air that goes on forever. I once entered St. Peters in Rome late in the afternoon when the shafts of sunlight blazed through the windows in the dome, illuminating the cavernous interior in divine and unearthly fashion. It occurred to me then, that if you were an Italian of the 17th century; a clerk, a farmer, a mother, and were entering that space for the first time with questions about the existence of God, you would be convinced immediately. You would reach that conclusion simply because no human could possibly have created that place. Of course one did; his name was Michelangelo. When I saw the skies in Antarctica I had the same thought. I’m not sure about God, but there is no way to feel anything but powerlessness, humility and fearful awe in the face of such momentous and eloquent stillness. Angus McDonald June 2007
“Repose” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 22
“Passeggiata” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 23
“Ivan, Trevor, Eduardo and Craig” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 125 x 84cm 24
“Emperor Ignatius” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 125 x 84cm 25
“Dream team” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 125 x 84cm 26
“ Winter’s over” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 125 x 84cm 27
“ What’s next ” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 125 x 84cm 28
“Emperor Rolfie” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 125 x 84cm 29
‘Iceberg wall” 2007 oil on canvas, Diptych, each panel 200 x 150cm 30
“On the sea ice near Dumont” 2006, 35mm, Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125cm 32
“Early morning leaving Dumont” 2006, 35mm Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 84 x 125 cm 33
“Leaving Dumont” 2006, Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 34 x 51cm 34
“Tabular iceberg” 2006, Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 34 x 51cm 35
“In iceberg alley, near the continent” 2006, Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 34 x 51cm 36
“Still” 2006, Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 34 x 51cm 37
“Clear water” 2006, Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 34 x 51cm 38
“Turret” 2006, Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 34 x 51cm 39
“Big skies“ 2006, Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 34 x 51cm 40
“Big skies” 2006, Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 34 x 51cm 41
“Twilight in the alley” 2006, Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 34 x 51cm 42
“Tabular berg near the continent” 2006, Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 34 x 51cm 43
“Early morning, day six” 2006, Type ‘C’ print, edition of 9, 51 x 34 cm 44
“ As I was making the piece, I was thinking all the time about the experiences these people would have encountered there a century ago; hardship, loneliness, the cold; the need to always plan and problem solve just to get through each day”. John Madden June 2007
Mawson's Chair, 45cm wide x 75cm deep x 85cm high, american oak hand rubbed with tung oil, canvas seat, Edition of 20 46
Mawson’s cubicle and chair, image Alasdair McGregor 1998 47
Sir Douglas Mawson 1882-1958
Douglas Mawson was born, near Bradford, Yorkshire on May 5, 1882, the second son of Robert and Margaret Mawson. The family moved to Australia when the lad was two and he completed his education at Sydney's Fort Street Model Public School. His headmaster noted the leadership and organisational skills which would hold Mawson the man in great stead: “If there is a corner of this planet of ours still unexplored, Douglas Mawson will be the organiser and leader of an expedition to unveil its secrets”. Douglas Mawson was 16 years old and the heroic era had just begun. Antarctica was to prove that unexplored place that Mawson would reveal for mankind. The young Mawson was handsome and strong. Standing six foot three inches, he never smoked and drank only occasionally. His physical characteristics were matched by the mental attributes: the years ahead would show him equipped with formidable character traits as well: charisma and ambition, mental toughness and unparalleled determination: both to succeed and to survive. He completed degrees in engineering and geology at the University of Sydney. After a geological expedition to the New Hebrides, he took up a position as a lecturer in Mineralogy and Petrology at the University of Adelaide in 1905, from where he embarked on exploratory trips in the Broken Hill region. The effect of ancient glaciers on the landscape attracted the interest of the young geologist and his interest in Antarctica was sparked.
Mawson met British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton as the explorer passed through Adelaide late in 1907 en-route to lead the British Antarctic Expedition (BAE). The young scientist offered his services to the expedition at no cost and travelled south. During that time he spent two years planning his own expedition which eventuated as the 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition. Led by 30 year old Mawson his three land based teams comprised 31 young men, mostly scientists with an average age of just 26. The AAE is regarded as one of the most significant expeditions in Antarctic history and the Cape Denison site where Mawson and his party of 18 men lived used the huts they built there as their base for two years. It is the only site representing Australian achievements of that time. It is unique in the Antarctic cultural heritage of the “heroic era” due to its relative authenticity. Whereas other Antarctic sites have been “cleaned-up” Cape Denison is an archaeological treasure trove with accommodation and laboratories, scientific and domestic objects, meat caches, masts and chains still remaining as Mawson and his men left them in when they departed for home in December 1913. The AAE also left behind a memorial cross erected in memory of Xavier Mertz and Belgrave Ninnis, two team members who perished during a sledging journey in 191213 that Mawson himself barely survived. Mawson and his team arrived back in Adelaide in February 1914. He was knighted in 1915 for his exploits and returned to the
Antarctic in 1929-31 to claim 42 per cent of the Antarctic as Australian territory. Mawson’s achievements are commemorated in Antarctica by a station named after him – the first permanent Australian station, established in 1954. He was one of the first honorary members of the Geological Society of Australia, and is commemorated in the Mawson Lecture and Medal for earth sciences, awarded biennially by the Australian Academy of Science (AAS). He has appeared on Australian postage stamps and featured on the front of the $100 note from 1984 to 1996. Mawson’s honours are legion. He was awarded the Royal Geographical Society's Antarctic Medal (1909) and Founder’s Medal (1915); the King’s Polar Medal (two bars); the Gold Medals of the American, Chicago and Paris Geographical Societies; the Bigsby Medal of the Geological Society of London (1919); and the Mueller Medal of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (ANZAAS) (1930). He was a foundation member of the Australian Academy of Science and president of ANZAAS from 1932-37. When Sir Douglas Mawson died, aged 76, on 14 October 1958, he was accorded a state funeral. The Australian Academy of Science obituary described him as ‘a man in whom scholarship, leadership and courage were generously combined to make a great Australian’. Chipping ice for domestic purposes during a blizzard, Frank Hurley
A desolate camp on the plateau, Frank Hurley 50
Raising the flag over the hut march, 1912, Frank Hurley 51
Frank Hurley by David Jensen AM, Chairman and CEO Mawson’s Huts Foundation
One of the first appointments Dr Douglas Mawson made when selecting personnel for the 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition was an ambitious young Sydney studio photographer who pleaded his case for inclusion after bribing his way into Mawson’s railway compartment on a journey from Sydney to the Southern Highlands.
Frank Hurley was there and thankfully there remains a wonderful collection of some of his work in the National Library which holds 11,000 items including photographs and diaries. The New South Wales State Library holds the AAE collection and kindly gave permission for the images in this exhibition to be displayed.
of the historic huts, the Foundation has included a guest artist and photographer in its expeditions.
James Francis Hurley’s initiative impressed Dr Mawson and it was the beginning of an illustrious life which reads like a compendium of 20th century history.
Just as Dr Mawson, who was later knighted for his leadership of the AAE, saw the need to record his historic expedition, The Mawson’s Huts Foundation has followed in ensuring its conservation work on the base the AAE established at Cape Denison is recorded on film and canvas.
Angus has also accepted an invitation from the Foundation to join the 2007-8 expedition which will give him eight weeks to walk in Hurley’s footsteps, stand in his icy darkroom in the main hut and capture the magic of the Cape Denison site – the birthplace of Australia’s Antarctic heritage.
Frank Hurley was a chronicler of some of the great themes of his age. From the last throws of imperial expansion in New Guinea, the Middle East and Antarctica, to the convulsions of modern warfare in two world conflicts and a burgeoning new area of mass entertainment, communication and travel.
In 2006 -7 Angus McDonald embraced that role but the winds and blizzards of Commonwealth Bay did not allow him to venture into the huts. He did however capture an amazing collection of images which are shown in this exhibition.
Since it was established in 1997 with the support of the Australian Government to raise funds for the conservation Trimming time in the main hut, Frank Hurley
Mawsonâ€™s ship the Aurora and Mertz Glacier, Frank Hurley 54
Xavier Mertz in an icy ravine near Cape Denison, Frank Hurley 55
Landing stores and equipment, Cape Denison, Frank Hurley Raising the wireless mast, Cape Denison, Frank Hurley 56
Magnetograph House, Frank Hurley Sledging on the plateau, Frank Hurley
Night watchman returning from his rounds, Frank Hurley 57
Mawson’s Huts Foundation
The Mawson’s Huts Foundation’s mission statement is to “conserve in perpetuity for the Australian people the unique, historical buildings known as Mawson’s Huts, base for one of the most significant expeditions in Antarctic history” Since 1997 it has organised and financed six major expeditions to Cape Denison to ensure the fragile wooden buildings remain as a vital reminder of this important part of Australia’s history. Working with the close and full co-operation of the Australian Antarctic Division of the Department of Environment and Water Resources, the Foundation has a long term care and maintenance programme. Under a series of Government approved works programmes, the expeditions have re clad the roof of the main hut which consists of the living quarters and the workshop area. The frame is made from Oregon and clad in tongue and groove Baltic Pine with little or no insulation material added. It has a distinctive pyramidal roof over a square plan with verandahs on three sides enclosed to provide storage and insulation space. Its survival in what is officially the windiest place in earth at sea level attests to the merit of Mawson’s design and its great strength of structure. The other structures consist of the Absolute Magnetic Hut which is now in ruins, with the roof lost, the walls largely collapsed and ice filled. Magnetograph House is still intact and largely ice free with a new roof courtesy of the Foundation’s 1997-98 expedition.
The Transit Hut, although still standing, is in poor condition with sections of the walls eroded. Also of great importance is the Memorial Cross erected in memory of expedition members Belgrave Ninnis and Xavier Mertz who perished in 1913. The cross arm which fell many years ago has also been restored by the Foundation to its original position. All original roof material laid by the AAE has been preserved with the new cladding using Baltic Opine of exactly the same dimension and from the same source in Finland, carefully placed over the old fabric. The Foundation continues to explore relationships with corporations and institutions to support the existing programme and to consider the initiation of new projects in coming years. As the AAE relied on its sponsors and supporters in 1911, the Foundation is also reliant on sponsors to ensure the success of its work. Mawson’s 1911-14 expedition had a budget of just over 48,000 sterling (the equivalent of just under $3 million Australian dollars in today’s terms). It was a remarkable achievement for a man who was more comfortable exploring than seeking sponsors. He convinced over 300 organisations and individuals to participate by donating cash, goods and services and the Foundation is continuing the tradition in this regard.
departure for Antarctica in December 1913 with additional support from the Australian Antarctic Division of the Department of Environment and Water Resources. However additional funding and sponsorships are required and funds are now being raised for the construction of a laboratory at Cape Denison to allow for specialist conservationists to recover and treat the thousands of artefacts including food, books, magazines, personal effects, equipment and clothing left behind on the departure of the AAE in December 1913. This project alone will take years as the task of recovering, examining, photographing, logging into a data date and then treating each item before replacing it in its original position as it was left almost 100 years ago, is tedious and slow. Several of Mawson’s original sponsors who helped build the huts are now engaged in the Foundation’s work to conserve these wonderful structures-a relationship with the Antarctic spanning nearly 100 years. The Foundation has set a goal of building a Trust Fund with a minimum of three million Australian dollars during the next two years. The proceeds from this exhibition will contribute to that.
The Australian Government recently announced a special $A1.3 million grant which will fund expeditions to Cape Denison for four years leading up the centenary of Mawson’s
Blizzard January 1998, image by Alasdair McGregor 58
I want to express my utmost appreciation to the Mawson’s Huts Foundation, and in particular, its chairman, David Jensen, for so generously providing me with the unique opportunity to make the journey to Antarctica last year. And I also want to acknowledge the five men I travelled with on that expedition, whose dedication and talent was a sight to behold, and whose excellent company I will always covet. Ian, Ted, Christian, Marty and Simon. Thank you. Angus McDonald Special thanks, Rebecca Hossack Mawson’s Huts Foundation Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery Mitchell Library of State Library of NSW Lismore Regional Gallery Steven Alderton Helen Punton John Madden Alasdair McGregor Steven Martin Michele Weekes GeoLINK Bond Imaging Art Passepartout Vision Graphics Ballina Art and Framing John Price of the Cotswold Gallery Australian Antarctic Division
Sincere thanks to Anna Nieuwenhuysen, and the Australian High Commission, London for its support. Map courtesy of The Geographical Journal 1911 Designed by Helen Punton 2007
Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery 2A Conway Street Fitzrovia London W1T 6BA telephone: +44 0 20 7436 4899 web:www.r-h-g.co.uk Mawson’s Huts Foundation web:www.mawsons-huts.org.au