Why I took pic­ture frames and toy pen­guins to South Pole

The Wharf - - What’s On - Laura En­field

Most peo­ple pre­pare for a trip to icy-cov­ered Antarc­tica, the cold­est, windi­est, dri­est place in the world, by pre­par­ing cold weather gear and sci­en­tific equip­ment.

Chris Do­browol­ski packed a crate of 30 faux gold pic­ture frames he bought at car boot sales in Es­sex.

The 47-year-old had been sent to join the Bri­tish Antarc­tic Sur­vey (BAS) for three and a half months as artist in res­i­dence and ar­rived on Christ­mas Eve. He spent six weeks craft­ing the frames into a 12ft long sledge, held to­gether with string and bits of leather, strong enough to carry quar­ter of a ton of equip­ment.

“I was re­ally sur­prised it held to­gether,” said the Colch­ester res­i­dent who grew up in Brain­tree.

But it did and, once it had passed the rig­or­ous safety checks, he was al­lowed to take it out on ad­ven­tures to the South Pole and the BAS Sky Blu op­er­at­ing sta­tion.

“When he said it had passed I re­alised it had be­come a real sledge. But then I re­alised I had to be­come the real thing too and learn how to ride it and do crevasse res­cue.”

He also took a pock­et­ful of chil­dren’s toys in­clud­ing a pen­guin, huskies and an al­ba­tross and pho­tographed them dwarfed by the vast land­scape.

“The Antarc­tic is a bit like the moon,” said Chris. “It’s this in­ac­ces­si­ble place that peo­ple imag­ine in a mys­ti­cal light and it has this way of au­then­ti­cat­ing re­ally ba­nal ob­jects.

“I took these pre­tend Antarc­tic toys to the real Antarc­tic and pho­tographed them and they came back as real, pre­tend Antarc­tic ob­jects.”

Fol­low­ing so far? If not, never fear as Chris will be ex­plain­ing prop­erly and telling more tales of his time on the con­ti­nent at his show Antarc­tica which he brings to Shoreditch Town Hall on May 4-6.

The show is il­lus­trated with slides that con­vey his ef­forts to re­late to the cold­est con­ti­nent on earth – and his at­tempt to jus­tify his ex­is­tence there while every­one around him tried to save the planet.

‘The toys came back as real, pre­tend Antarc­tic ob­jects’

You can ex­pect to hear tales of him fend­ing off an­gry fur seals as he rolled oil drums down a jetty and about the joys of camp­ing on ice.

“You have two flags. One where you are go­ing to cut and let the snow melt to get drink­ing wa­ter and then an­other one 20 yards away which is the pee flag and is red so you don’t start melt­ing your frozen pee to drink.”

He saw an ad­vert for the project in a copy of the Artists

News­let­ter but it was not the spirit of ad­ven­ture that in­spired him to ap­ply.

“I had been tak­ing part in man­age­ment train­ing work­shops and talked about be­ing an artist and why I had no money. I de­cided I was a pro­fes­sional fail­ure.

“In Eng­land when we think of Antarc­tica we think of Scott and Shack­le­ton, it’s an en­tire con­ti­nent syn­ony­mous with losers and fail­ures so I de­cided to ap­ply.”

He was sent on a week-long res­i­den­tial course to pre­pare but said his big­gest chal­lenge was not an­noy­ing the sci­en­tists, med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, re­searchers and crew mem­bers he was liv­ing along­side.

“You are go­ing to some­one’s work­place for three months so you have to learn not to be ir­ri­tat­ing. I got quite good at mak­ing them laugh and know­ing when to shut up.”

Chris Do­browol­ski with his “pic­ture” frame sled

Artist Chris Do­browol­ski

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