I recently met the artist Rachel Hazell, a book artist whose work I admire (website here). I’m particularly drawn to her Antarctic bookworks, informed by her experiences of visiting and living there. I more or less doorstepped her on her last trip to London and she kindly answered my nosy questions:
What was your initial attraction to Antarctica?
I was in South America, taking photographs of glaciers. A friend said I should apply for an artist’s residency. I did a semicircumnavigation of Antarctica, from South America to New Zealand. We did landings at Cape Evans and Cape Royds, where Scott and Shackleton’s huts are. It was very, very moving. Scott’s hut had damage from over the winter. Ice had backed up on the walls. Snow was melting on to it. Scott’s hut had a more sombre atmosphere. Shackleton’s hut felt warmer or cheerier. I don’t know if I just imagined that, knowing what happened.
Do you feel that bookworks fit well with the Antarctic landscape or did you feel you were working in opposition with your medium to generate the forms you wanted?
I saw books and paper in Antarctica. I would like to take it further. I would like to write a book on the paperiness of Antarctica. I’ll give you an example. The crevasse lines on a snow field look like a page of notepaper with writing on. The striations where a glacier has ground lines into a sea bed look like the pages of a book. It might not seem an obvious link because ice is wet, but paper comes from water. The creation of paper is a very wet process.
Do you aim for a figurative representation or a more symbolic depiction?
I’m still trying. I do want them to be quite figurative. When I got back from Antarctica, I could hardly sleep. It wasn’t just jetlag. I would look back over old physical geography textbooks and learn about glacier tongues and so on. We may not have an indigenous language in Antarctica, so we don’t have 50 words for snow or whatever, but the descriptions we do have are very graphic: growlers; bergy bits; porridge!
What are your thoughts on people visiting Antarctica? 30 000 tourists went last year.
The numbers are down by 8000 from the year before. I hope that they can be ambassadors for the continent when they get back. It’s a delicate ecosystem. IATTO [International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators] does a great job.
Have you read Scott’s Journals?
Yes, I read them as a teenager, and biographies that portrayed him as a hero. I read about Cherry-Garrard; by Sara Wheeler. But I also read Huntford, a reevaluation. What comes across to me is that for Amundsen, it was about the competition and reaching the pole. That was it. But with Scott, there was so much more. He’s passed so much knowledge and data to us that we’re still using – it’s just priceless what he’s left us.
Antarctic paperworks are not over. At the moment, I’m focusing on being a bookbinder closer to home. The Sun Valley Art Gallery, Idaho, will exhibit my Antarctic work soon.