Straight back into it

I have been back from Antarctica for just over a week and it has been an interesting and busy time. My whole state of being while there was of sensory, intellectual and creative [over] stimulation. It was one of the most incredible experiences to date, both creatively and I think professionally. I am pretty sure I was smiling, buzzing and bouncing off the walls for most of it like a giant toddler. I didn’t really want to sleep, but keep working, and even when I tried I just lay there thinking about work. The 24 hour daylight probably helped too. Needless to say, when I got back I was exhausted. Even though there is no difference in time-zones between Wellington and the McMurdo area of Antarctica, I had some kind of jet-lag and being back in a world full of different weather, animals, plants, people and food options was another kind of sensory overload and I had to shut down.

I have also been trying to work out how to deliver and present and process all of the data that I collected while on the ice. I literally have thousands of photographs of both scenery, field camp work as well as artwork created. There are also 500ish video files to be logged and their usefulness determined and I also kept a diary. Not a confessional, but more containing lists of the things that happened that I don’t want to forget.

Anyhow, I haven’t fully resolved how I will do this yet. It is possible that I will drip feed blog entries chronologically after I have dealt with the 1000’s of gb data collected. In some ways, I wonder if all of it belongs in its own separate place but I am not completely sure that if that will work either. The trip to Antarctica and the data collected in isolation is one thing but I know that the legacy of the experience as well as how the data is processed is going to cross pollinate all the other work that I do in ways I can’t control. Sorry, thinking out loud here, but I do need to be strategic about how I disseminate the data/ documentation and new artworks. What I don’t want to do is dilute their power or value by rushing anything.

However, this week I am straight back into it and I have been busy doing preparation for a mural project that I am involved in at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington. I have worked with two groups of high school kids to develop some murals that will be on display for at least a year on the concourse.

Here a a few pics and the video of the painting preparation. The actual action of painting a 5m wall with brightly coloured paint has been some kind of therapy for me. Such a simple thing to do but you get to use your whole body and I love how intense colour stimulates my retina.

The time-lapse video should be here on my vimeo page.


In the meantime, I am preparing some talks that will form part of the outreach responsibilities from my time in Antarctica. This is something that I realise that I am mostly comfortable doing, and the fact that I am still excited and buzzing from the experience should be capitalised on.

So here is my to-do list:

  • Preparing a talk for a symposium in Auckland next week that forms part of the exhibition project that I am working early next year.
  • Preparing another talk for the  SCANZ – Science Communicators Association of NZ annual conference
  • Thinking about developing another couple of talks.
  • Logging and reviewing all of the video files that will be hopefully used for an online course at Victoria University next year.
  • Preparing and strategising for the big TEMP project early next year. There is a large education/outreach/community collaboration component that needs to be refined and organised.
  • Sourcing materials for the above.
  • Organising and retouching photographs from the work that I did in the K131 Field Camp in Antarctica. There is lots of dust, water droplets, a cracked surface and seal snot to remove.
  • Keep pushing future projects as after the end of March 2016 I have nothing on the agenda.
  • Paint a couple of murals.
  • Spend time with family.


I am definitely not winding down as the year comes to a close and really when I think about it my work and life are very intertwined, so even if I didn’t have that massive list above, I would be painting and drawing from the photographs taken on the ice. It is the perfect way to analyse and make new observations from images that would otherwise be hanging out in deep storage.




A whole lot of awesome

Here are a few pics (from my phone) from the last 24 days in Antarctica. 

It was seriously the best and most inspiring experience to date. And yes, I walked around grinning like a maniac for all of it…and I made a lot of work and maybe even did some science. More pictures to follow from the real cameras. Below is just a stop-gap.  Still need to decompress and get from Christchurch to Wellington.


No sleep till Antarctica

  Image: test photocopies of paintings and photographs 2015

Well, that isn’t exactly true but I have just said goodbye to the kids and my love and have my bags brimming with all sorts of useful/warm stuff and I will be catching a plane today.

So, really, it is the first travel day where we are flying from Wellington to Christchurch where we will be issued our cold weather gear. Dinner and a catch up are scheduled and hopefully a tiny amount of sleep before we head to the Antarctic Centre by 6am for the 9am flight [on a Hercules!!!] to Antarctica.

I haven’t been sleeping so much this week, excited, restless and waking early as my daily to-do lists have been epic. I have been mostly sorting out provisions and details for the kids and a few extra just in case items for the trip. Almost a month is a long time for the kids to be without their mum, but hopefully they will slip into this new routine and do well without me.

I am sitting in my office now and have just realised that the only thing that I have forgotten to pack is my blue tooth speaker. So my Antarctica dance parties-for-one will have to use my laptop speakers or headphones. For me, I am impressed that it was just this one thing…I might realise that there are more things missing once I get unpacked and set up at the base but I am sure I can make do with my gaffa tape, hot glue gun and cable ties . [as long as the chocolate doesn’t run out!!]

This weekend I should be attending Antarctica Field Training which has been a kind of fantasy for me. Over 10 years ago I made a work about building a snow cave and did a lot of research around the different ways we can use our hands to build spaces and survive under extreme pressure. It is going to be interesting to put this long considered theory into practice. I am also going to learn to ride a skidoo!

Next week we will create our field camp that is about 20kms from Scott base on sea ice and is made up of a series of shipping containers. At some point during that week I will actually start to make some work. Unfortunately, I will have very limited, if any, internet access so I will be very quiet on the social media front. Expect a barrage in November though!

Some plans that I have for my own work on the ice are:

Documenting everything I can with everything that I have – i.e. video, photo, sound, drawing, painting and writing. I don’t necessarily know how this is going to be used. I am thinking of it as a collecting data that I will then process and turn into something at a later date.

Trying to understand – Much of the above will be in order to try and understand the work that the scientists are doing, the research, the physical space, environment, climate and headspace of a field camp in Antarctica and trying to reconcile my reading about Antarctica with the real thing.

Studio Antarctica –   I will have some dedicated space to make work and I hope to set it up as a temporary remote exhibition of work created toward the end. This will be another documentation exercise.

Site responsive work – I am planning on doing some discrete site specific installations within the shipping container field camp.

Have some new ideas for some new work – no pressure or anything, but I do have a major project looming for Feb/March in Auckland.

Seeing how many photographs I can take and being flexible with my expectations.

I know the photographic tally is going to make me laugh at some point. I’ll let you all know where I get to at the end. I also may run out of time to do everything on my list which is bigger than this. The experience is everything though and I will be carrying it with me beyond my time on the ice.

Ok, I didn’t realise I had so much to say, but I better sign off now.

If I do get a chance to use the internet on the ice – it might just be on twitter.

You can find/follow me at::: o_gabbyo

Otherwise there will be a flood of interestingness from November 10 when I am scheduled to be back in Wellington.

One week till Antarctica

And not enough time to write a blog post. Here are some pictures instead :::



So, as I type [and think] that line above, I gulp and feel a bit nervous and excited and then some all at once. I feel no apprehension though as the opportunity to go to the Ice is a privilege far greater than that silly feeling.

Really, I just can’t believe that the year has happened so fast and it is nearly time to pack some bags, board a few planes and then live on sea ice for a few weeks – i.e. put into practice what has been pure theory and speculation for so long.

My biggest fear is running out of paper for drawing and painting which makes me laugh too. I am not limited in the amount of equipment I can take which is refreshing, but having no limits is not always the best for me. I am very good at over packing with the thought of needing something “just in case”, but in reality, this is probably the best thinking for this kind of trip where there are no shops or places nearby to get something to solve a problem and where you have to improvise regularly. Gaffa tape, cable ties, hot glue gun, sewing kit, rope, baby wipes and wire are things that I regularly think will solve many tricky situations. I just hope I don’t forget anything – but I think as long as I refer to my now epic lists, I’ll be ok.

Coffee and dark chocolate are pretty high on that list too.

I now have a new passport with an appropriately serious and also funny photo. There are only a few things that I need to purchase for the trip – extra batteries for my camera and go pro, a neoprene face mask for skidoo travels, some more paper, a couple more paint brushes and one more light from Bunnings.

In ten days, I will need to have all my equipment packed to be shipped down in advance and will be left with just sketch books to tide me over until I depart. This will be a bit weird as I have been very busy and focussed on painting and photographing and have had a good daily routine with these activities. I suppose some time apart from these will give me a chance to miss it enough to fuel productivity later.

Speaking of productivity, this is what I have been up to most recently:

IMG_9375 IMG_4004 _DSC0197 _DSC0201

Lighting magic

Coloured gel combos on the flashes make the sticky tape ice platelet sculptures all the more alluring. I will definitely be trying this with the real ice in Antarctica.  Can’t wait!  

7 weeks until Antarctica

FullSizeRender.jpg IMG_3351.JPG

Last week I moved a box of stuff into a temporary office at NIWA so that I can make preparations for K131 to Antarctica. The plan is to test some photographic techniques/set ups for documenting ice crystals and ice crystal clusters. Getting good documentation of these beautiful structures will hopefully help the scientists to understand the process and cycle of sea ice formation and break up a little better. Worse case scenario, I get some really nice pictures, best case, I contribute to real science which is a very exciting thought to me.

Day one began with security, health and safety inductions, cake at morning tea to celebrate a very expensive piece of equipment surviving Cook Strait and not crashing into rocks over the weekend and a bit of work.

As I won’t be able to make real ice crystals that join together, I have been looking into creating substitutes  – which suits my training and interest in materials and sculpture.

Over the past weeks, I tested some pva – the test failed in the short term, but it might come good in the coming weeks. I poured some pva onto some plastic sheets to wait for it to dry clear…but after a week, it was still milky and not translucent enough. So, onto plan b which involved raiding the stationary supplies – clear packaging tape and clear binder pockets and I started to create a material that resembled ice [for photographic purposes] as closely as possible. Layers of tape complete with air pockets and layering and dust particles were created and then cut into crystalline shapes and joined together like a 3D puzzle. I tested a few different ways of joining as well as photographing  them – different coloured backgrounds [black worked best] and colour vs black and white photography, settling on B+W as more detail could be seen. The photos above are the best results from the first day – bare in mind, they are from my iPhone with a little processing on a simple photographic app to increase contrast, but that is all.

Later in the week I began to test out some time lapse documentation of my fake ice platelet sculptures on a lazy susan using a few different cameras and lighting combinations.

Below are the links to these lovely experiments. Yes, I am having a lot of fun and it is to be continued!

Before I forget, over the past couple of weeks, I have also had my Antarctic medical as well as attended a first aid course. There is still a bit to organise, but all is moving in the right direction.

<p><a href=”″>wednesday test 2 – Large</a> from <a href=””>Gabby O'Connor</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

<p><a href=”″>Thursday Test</a> from <a href=””>Gabby O'Connor</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


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