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>

Two Months until Antarctica

It would appear that despite my good intentions to write more frequently about my art I have been a complete failure!  What I realise is that I reserve this space for my contemporary art projects and practice and since my last post I have been busy with other projects that include teaching and exhibition design for kids, which, for the purpose of this blog I keep separate. I have also written a large number of applications for funding and projects that haven’t come to fruition, but are leading to other opportunities. The process of writing the proposals was a great way to organise my thoughts and current art practice trajectory. Nothing wasted; even proposals are recycled.

In May I was also lucky enough to attend an incredibly inspiring weekend workshop at the very majestic Lake Ohau Lodge hosted by NZARI [who are also funding the research trip in Antarctica] and Antarctica NZ. The weekend was attended by many esteemed Antarctic scientists who discussed their research generously, journalists/media who have an interest in science, and me. The aim was to consider how to better discuss and foreground the issues relating to Climate Change, Antarctica and us as citizens of not only NZ, but the world. It was eye opening and completely frightening but also positive – an incredible group of people that I felt privileged to be amongst. Listening to the Guardian newpaper’s series of podcasts The Biggest Story in the World helped give much of the information context. At the workshop I really felt like the odd one out, but also that I had something to offer the conversations as well. I know that my art/sci workshops with primary kids are very important as they are not the usual target audience of this information but they are incredibly receptive to it. One of the most important things that I communicate to the kids in the workshop [that us grown ups often forget] is how interconnected everything is – I am talking about earth systems here, not something wishy washy! So even though Antarctica is perceived as far away and an abstract concept, it is only one length of NZ [both islands] away in winter, and two lengths of NZ away in summer and the winds, weather and ocean currents effect us every day. Antarctica is in our back yard, but sea level rise and the swift melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet will effect the world. The workshop gave me great context and back ground for thinking around my trip to the ice.

All this happening in the background doesn’t mean that I haven’t been making and thinking about art. In fact it is quite the opposite as time races toward the departure date of October 16th 2015. My lists are epic at the moment. I have been painting and drawing quite a bit as a way of focusing my thoughts. I am also going to start testing some photographic techniques so that I can take decent photographs of the research that I will be observing. Clear shiny ice crystal clusters are going to be fun/tricky and interesting to document. I am also attending a first aid course this week as part of preparations, I will also renew my passport, get an Antarctic medical in the coming weeks, read, write lists, purchase more icebreaker items, plan and draw and paint some more. I also need to find somewhere to exhibit whatever-the-heck-giant-site-specific-installation [not blue and no triangles] I will make after my trip to the ice…if you have any ideas/contacts, let me know!


Ice Bound


Well, I acknowledge that it has been a rather long absence in this space and that I must get back in the habit of documenting all the behind the scenes goings ons like I used to.
There has been a lot going on…as always but one thing in particular that I couldn’t announce for a while, and then I had to get my head around it.

I AM GOING TO ANTARCTICA IN OCT/NOV 2015!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yes, that statement required all caps and as many exclamation marks that I could fit on a line. I have known for over a month but during that time I had to complete the Upstream art Trail project and a few other things. In the background, I have also been running kids workshops, doing family stuff and a little bit of research about what the heck I will be getting up to in Antarctica. I’ve also been experimenting with casually dropping that sentence into conversations.
I will be accompanying a research team that my long time collaborator Dr Craig Stevens [NIWA/University of Auckland] is part of. Apparently we will be 5 kms from Scott Base on sea ice, residing in 20 foot containers and eating a lot of couscous. Details of the research project are here: The title of the research is “Supercooled ice shelf cavity water and the influence on sea ice growth”. At this early stage, I am not even going to attempt to paraphrase the research as I won’t do it justice… yet. I need to study up and observe the actual science in action.
My role as part of the research team will be outreach. This means that after and possibly before I go to Antarctica I will try to talk to the public as often as I can about Antarctica. Schools workshops and an exhibition will be a focus. [about what and where will be TBC].
These are activities that I do already while talking about my art or whilst running art/sci project workshops, but only with second and third hand information. I can’t even imagine how transformational the trip down to the ice will be.
So in the mean time I am writing lots and lots of lists. What I’ll need to take with me, what might be interesting for me to research and hanging out in the library, painting with water colours and thinking about woolly hats.
I am also going to try and document more of all the above on this blog.

I will leave you with this advice I was given on how to acclimatise to Antarctic conditions, with thanks to Dr Craig Stevens:

” re: polar aclimatisation … if you’re serious…. dress up in ALL your clothes, find a big box to sit in, put a fan on blowing straight into your face and I’ll come round, scrape the frost out of yer freezer and throw it at you while simultaneously telling jokes, complaining about management and cooking you ANOTHER meal of cous cous, frozen veggie bag and mystery meat. It’ll be just like the real thing.”