On March 17, 2017, a fleet of artists and “interdisciplinary participants” left the shores of Argentina for the Antarctic. Their expedition marks the maiden voyage of the first-ever Antarctic Biennale: “a travelling platform for dialogue between artists, researchers, and thinkers.”
Setting sail from the Argentine city of Ushuaia (“the southernmost city on our planet,” according to the Antarctic Biennale’s website), approximately 100 artists, scientists, and philosophers are currently aboard the Akademik Sergey Vavilov research ship. The unlikely crew will stop at 13 “historic and natural sites,” from Drake Passage to Deception Island, Half Moon Island to Cape Horn. The journey, in all its cross-disciplinary components, constitutes the first edition of the Antarctic Biennale.
Quite literally at the helm of this expedition, 59-year-old Alexander Ponomarev (“Captain Pono”) is a Ukrainian artist, engineer, and submariner. Following his participation in the 2007, 2009, and 2012 editions of the Venice Biennale, he successfully spearheaded the creation of the Antarctic Pavilion in 2014 to become the historic Italian event’s first “supranational pavilion.” With the support of UNESCO, Ponomarev subsequently organized the Antarctic Biennale to embark three years later.
This exceptional voyage explores virgin territory for the art world. Adjusting the Venetian tradition of artists representing countries, the Antarctic Biennale isolates art in a region that is, by law, not owned by any one nation or people, and therefore without culture as we know it. Overseeing the unprecedented installation of site-specific artworks in the world’s most remote geographic location, the project removes art from its common cultural context and tests the durability of materials in extreme weather.
“The works can sustain harsh conditions; the weather affects installations and performances, and our weather-focused works of art are designed to interact with wind, water and ice. Severe climate makes us understand the importance of the weather and climate issues better,” Ponomarev told The Art Newspaper. “So much art today is social, social, social; political, political, political. This biennale must be about space.”
These artistic interventions are designed to be short-lived, however. “Mobility, site specificity, ecological compatibility, artistic expressiveness and conceptual acuity will condition these interventions,” the project’s website explains, but “all installations created during the expedition will be dismantled and loaded back on the ship, for their lives to continue in the world’s leading museums and art centers.”
The Antarctic Biennale is additionally comprised of performance pieces, seminars, and art shows hosted aboard the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, a 117-meter-long Finnish ship which is itself “conceived of as a floating studio, conference and exhibition space.” Forged in 1988, the vessel was recently refurbished to become “modern, comfortable, safe, and ice-strengthened,” complete with a presentation room, multimedia room, a library, and a lounge.
Come March 28, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov will return to civilization, but the Antarctic Biennale remains a traveling event “in progress.” In the upcoming 57th edition of the Venice Biennale in May 2017, 15 carefully-selected artists will showcase their work in the Antarctic Pavilion. Of those 15 exhibitors, two chosen participants will join the next expedition.