Why I took picture frames and toy penguins to South Pole
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