Friday, October 31, 2008

A flag returns to me after 22 years

In 1986, I designed a flag. It flew at the Karen McKerron Gallery in Johannesburg for the duration of my second solo exhibition. Karen came up with this great idea that everyone who exhibited in her space that year should create a flag that would in some way encapsulate the energy and content of that particular body of work and time. At the end of the year, the twelve or so flags would then be auctioned off at a special celebratory event. 

In 1986, I was fresh out of university, newly-wed, an earnest 26-year old mother-of-one making intense work about intense things. The political situation in my home country was in a state of profound dis-ease and demanded my response. Amongst my image titles from that time were At the still point of the turning world is the dance A slow unravelling Somewhere between intuition and reason  Even in the unfallen Adam was all of the fallen man  Eroded to Beauty... The work asked questions rather than made statements or suggested answers. It was on the edge of abstract, challenging - even provocative - in its own quiet, meditative way. I was exploring the nature of paradox, reading T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Joseph Campbell, Bertrand Russell, Freud, Jung... 

Just before coming back down to Antarctica, my Uncle Jonnon ('Masters Squash' entry) told me he had a surprise object for me in his suitcase. I was amazed and delighted when he handed me the very flag I've just been talking about - 22 years later! (22 is a number of some significance in my life, so that part was unsurprising.) What was a little odd was that I'd mentioned the flag to a friend just days before, having not thought about it for well over a decade. A benevolent family friend bought the flag at that auction in 1986 - Roger Keene is his name - and upon learning that Jonnon was planning to come across to New Zealand to play squash, felt prompted to return the flag to me. At the time, he had no idea I was coming back to Antarctica, or that flags had grown in significance for me over the years.  

Today, whilst various team members were carrying out a range of tasks in the lab or outside in the Dive Jamesway (the closest of seven dive holes to our camp), Sam and I mounted five flags onto bamboo poles and set them flying on the roof of our shelter. This is an annual camp tradition. Here are a couple of pics of me setting up and unfurling the 1986 flag (thank you, Roger)... 

We're in contact with several primary schools during this coming season, answering their questions about life and work in an Antarctic field camp and sharing some of our experiences with them in their faraway classrooms in NZ and the US. Three of these schools gave us special flags to bring down and fly in camp this season - Macandrew School on the Otago Peninsula, Dunedin and elementary schools in Tennessee and Yorktown Heights, NY.

The wind is making its presence felt tonight - it's not quite catabatic, but enough to create a very different atmosphere inside the Jamesway. Last time I was here, I wrote the following poem after a wild-yet-strangely-comforting night when, snuggled up in our sleeping bags, we settled down to sleep as the catabatic winds roared down the Taylor Dry Valley, across our camp and out towards the sea ice. 


The wind is visiting 
New Harbor for once 
the chill and light 
of midnight bow down
and listen.

We shelter inside 
the Jamesway. Outside
five flags are live skins
shocked into action
by some ancient command.

They brace themselves 
and beat like drums
that thrum and thrum
and thrum till sleep


  1. Hello Flags ... and I have one of your flags here in Cambridge. Flying. And the wind on my wall, challenged. What a wonderful reconnection. A book to read when you get home is "The Whale and the Supercomputer" - about snow and ice and Inupiat and climate change in the Arctic. I am starting from the beginning again. It all comes down to listening. XOXOX

  2. Hello darling sister - I hope you found my last messages to you on this site? It's such a great way to keep in touch. Thanks soooo much for accompanying me down here. You in your Northern climes, me in my South. We must bring our worlds together - we will. I trust the timing of things, and know you do, too. Heaps of love to you, CXXXX