Sunday, December 31, 2006

Walking around McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Antarctic New Year's Eve: McMurdo Mosh Pit and 12 Raisins for the Kiwi Station

Moshing in McMurdo. That's how one prepares for New Year's Eve in Antarctica. The community here gathered all afternoon before a truck bed-turned-stage and listened to scientists-turned-punk rockers pound on guitars, dance and sing. It's all part of the annual Icestock Festival.

Afterwards, we went to the "Galley" for our New Year's dinner before heading out next door to New Zealand's Antarctic Base to bring in 2007. At dinner we asked for grapes, it's a Cuban thing: Eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight in the New Year. They had none, so we settled for a couple of scoops of raisins. We'll bring them with us to the Kiwi Camp, gobble them down in about an hour and a half. Half a day earlier than we would have at home, on the other side of the globe.

December 31, 2006 10:37 p.m.

It was too cold to walk to the Kiwi Station, so JC and I brought in 2007 here at the American Station instead. Improvisation ensued, we toasted the New Year with Penguin plastic cups... HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Arriving in Antarctica

On the morning of December 28th, 2006, we departed Christchurch, New Zealand in a US Air Force C-17 jet. Five hours later we landed in the McMurdo Station, the largest of three National Science Foundation/United States Antarctic Program bases in the continent.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gearing up in New Zealand

In a few hours we will leave New Zealand and head south to Antarctica. We’ll board a US Air Force plane with some National Science Foundation sponsored scientists and leave Christchurch, the city that has served as the launching pad of many Antarctic expeditions. Five hours later, we’ll land in U.S. McMurdo Station --near the camp used by the legendary Antarctic explorers, Scott and Shackleton.

Scott left Christchurch in his expedition to the South Pole, arriving only to find disillusionment and a Norwegian flag flying there. Amundsen had beaten him by a month, becoming the first to reach the South Pole. On their return trip, Scott and his men died of hypothermia, trapped inside their tents. Not far from our hotel here on Cathedral Square stands a statue honoring the Englishman's courage, it was sculpted by his widow.

Earlier today we were at the United States Antarctic Program Clothes Distribution Center trying on our garb, clothes strange to a Miamian’s touch: parkas, boots, thermal underwear, goggles, gloves, mitts, and other extreme weather outfits the team had put together for us. Stranger yet, was how easy this journey has been made for us especially when I compare it to the journey of those who opened that last frontier to us and the suffering they endured.

An exhibit at a local historical museum here in Christchurch chronicles the various expeditions to the South Pole: Starting with Captain Cook, who sailed through icebergs in the South Seas in an attempt to prove or disprove the existence of an Antarctic continent, but never found it. Ending with Shackleton, who firmly set foot across the continent and came 97 miles from being the first to reach the South Pole, before being forced to return. He got farther then than is his first attempt when an accident temporarily disabled him and knocked him off Scott expedition. Shackleton's third expedition was to traverse the Antarctic continent, but that too failed. His ship, the Endurance, was caught in an ice floe and eventually crushed by the ice. Their two year saga through ice and sea ended with no casualties, but a lot of improvisation and courage.

In a few days, I will put on an extra heavy layer of that clothing I tried on today and get on an airplane and fly to the South Pole where I will create some temporary art installations. These installations will focus on our relationship to each other and our planet—how we see ourselves and deal with the environment, climate change, the passage of time.

One piece will honor those who came before us. This one is meant to stay there permanently: In the airplane, I am bringing a portrait I am painting of Shackleton. I will hang the painting in the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station, built in no small part because of the perseverence of men like him. Through this piece, conceptually, I aim to finally bring him to a place that so eluded him in life.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Australian Pines

My journey to Antarctica takes me through Australia first, the sixth continent I visit. I am traveling with my life-partner, Juan Carlos “JC” Espinosa, who is going to collaborate with me on the installations we create in Antarctica from December 28th, 2006 to January 12th, 2007. JC and I thought to spend Christmas in the land down under, before bringing in the New Year in the southernmost continent.

We left Miami on the afternoon of the 19th of December, stopping in Los Angeles for a 10:30 pm departure across the Pacific. Hungry, the ocean ate December 20th somewhere along that 14 and a half hour flight. We landed in Sydney on the morning of the 21st.

As we drove out of the Sydney Airport and to our hotel, I noticed the trees of my youth lining Joyce Drive. Their prickly pinecones would make us tip toe over the blanket of brown needle leaves they would deposit beneath them on the Bear Cut and “El Farito” beaches of Key Biscayne. Every now and then the eroding sand would make one of them topple, exposing a shallow root ball that stood like a wall against the shoreline. I grew up watching these Australian pines, having family picnics beneath them, burning bonfires after football games near them; thinking they were the most natural backdrop to my Miami landscape.

On August 24, 1992, Hurricane Andrew leveled the Australian pine forests on Key Biscayne, tearing the invasive exotics from their roots and sparing the more adapted natives from destruction. It wasn’t until then I realized that these pines really didn’t belong there. Along with Melaleucas (which also lined Joyce Drive on the road from the airport), Australian pines were planted all over South Florida to “drain the swamps” and make room for development. It took a category five hurricane to undo what man did; it was nature’s way of giving native plants an opportunity to recreate their original environment.

The Australian pines that greeted me on Joyce Drive, however, weren’t planted for the same reasons as those in Florida. This tree-lined highway was landscaped not with exotics, but with Australian natives. Doing so was a right step towards conservation (more adaptable natives used less resources and provide natural habitats for local species).

It turns out that what was familiar, what I took for granted, what was customary wasn’t quite right. Planting and keeping Australian pines all over Florida was a shortsighted landscaping choice, unless one was trying to undo Miami’s natural ecosystems. Sadly, as individuals and as a society, we continue to be shortsighted in our thinking, and self-destructive in our actions. In our everyday lives, we ignore the consequences and perpetuate bad choices simply because they are familiar, customary or easy. One can’t rationalize doing bad just because it’s habitual. It is my hope that as the causes (and consequences) of global warming and other environmental catastrophes become more evident, we begin to rethink and break our bad habits.

Our work in Antarctica is to explore our interconnectedness to one another and to our planet. It’s about trying to find more balance in the way we coexist with nature. This simple story of the Australian pine serves to frame the discourse. It also served as an invitation to engage in creative pursuits as I explore the local culture and history, a kind gesture traveling always brings me.

Our first night was spent at the Sydney Opera House, where we took in a local holiday show. The audience –mostly local families with their children, just like those anywhere -- was asked on four separate occasions to stand and join in singing traditional Christmas carols; we readily complied. We also watched one of their acclaimed opera singers jump on stage like a kangaroo as he sung an Australian Christmas tune (Four Baby Boomers).

On the 23rd, I returned to the opera house, climbed up its steps, and waved the flag I am soon to plant 337 meters away from the geographic South Pole. I had marked that ochre colored-flag with the year 1973 and the coordinates for Sydney (33 S 86, 151 E 22). The flag will stand at the point on the moving polar ice sheet where the South Pole stood (90 S) in 1973, when the Sydney Opera House was completed. It will join 49 other flags, each spaced 9.9 meters apart, each marking important events across all continents that have moved the world forward since 1956, the year when humans first permanently settled in the South Pole. A lot has happened since, but a snapshot of time when compared to the other 149,950 years it will take for that moving glacier to reach the coast of Antarctica at the Weddell Sea.

On the 26th, Boxing Day they call it here, we’ll head out of Sydney and on to Christchurch, New Zealand – point of departure for Antarctic journeys, historic and current. There, we’ll grab our garb and head South.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

"En enda värld" (There is only one world)

En enda värld" (there is only one world) was the theme of the 1972 Stockholm United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. The phrase perfectly frames the concept behind my Antarctic installations, and serves as invitation for you to share the environmental challenges you are facing in your part of our world.

Please post a message (make sure to say what city your writing from) describing the environmental issues impacting your local community. I will select some of those testimonies and use them in installations I am creating in the South Pole (see more below)



Cortada will take some of the messages posted on this site and write them on the soles of twelve pairs of black shoes. These shoes will be placed inches apart around the South Pole, aligned with the longitude corresponding to the location on Earth where the message originated. Placing the shoes next to each other as a proxy for people across the globe, the artist conceptually diminishes the distance between them. We are one global community. Creating this installation in a continent with no borders, the artist aims to diminish the man-made barriers in the world above it. Voices simultaneously stand in their place (longitude) around the world and inches away from one another (see:

Other messages (eco-pleas, solutions) posted on the blog will be used to implement the Wind Words project, where Cortada will speak words from across the globe into Antarctica's katabatic winds, conceptually sending them "upwards" towards the rest of the world. (see:

New World School of the Arts students in Miami are also using myspace,com to help the artist collect these global messages, see and

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Antarctic Mural

Xavier Cortada will create a mural honoring Antarctic explorers and scientists for permanent display in Antarctica. Researchers in Antarctica develop knowledge that is of great importance to our scientific and human advancement. Their work proves how relevant the continent is to our daily lives.

The Scientists' Mural (McMurdo Station):

Cortada will travel to Antarctica to create a "message mural" and related art pieces and installations about Antarctica and the work of scientists there. Specifically, researchers will be interviewed, emailed, or asked to write messages on a piece of paper which the artist will affix to his canvas panels. Scientists can describe personal feelings about being/researching in the Antarctic or describe the work they do (e.g.: an abstract of their publications). This message mural will be permanently exhibited in the McMurdo Station, the largest of the three year-round US stations in Antarctica.

Homage to Shackleton:.

Cortada will create a piece of art honoring Sir Ernest Shackleton, who attempted to traverse the continent but wound marooned with his 27 men on a polar ice floe. Enduring the harshest conditions, they all survived. Cortada thought to honor Shackleton's perseverance by "placing him" permanently in the South Pole, a place that so eluded him in life. As such, during his trip to the South Pole, the artist will present the artwork to the station manager. During cold, dark months Shackleton's image may serve to inspire those who now winter in the South Pole.

Endangered World

Miami artist Xavier Cortada will place 24 flags in a circle around the geographic South Pole, each 15 degrees from one another.
Each flag will display an image the artist created of an endangered species from 24 different regions/time zones on Earth.

In the South Pole, each of the 24 flags in the circle will be aligned with the longitude where the animal lives on the Earth above (e.g., Panda Bear at 105° East, Leatherback Turtle at 120° East, Siberian Tiger at 135° East, etc.).

The twenty-four animals Cortada selected for the flags are endangered because their habitats are environmentally threatened by man and/or because they have been hunted to the brink of extinction.

In the project, the artist situates these animals on the driest, coldest and most inhospitable of continents to highlight the point that numerous species across the globe are losing their habitat. If nothing is done their survival is as unlikely as if they were exiled to the South Pole. Viewers are challenged to learn more about other endangered species and to better understand the environmental challenges we face globally.

European Sea Sturgeon
(Acipenser sturio)

Steller's Sea Lion
(Eumetopias jubatus)

E Black Rhinoceros
(Diceros bicornis)

165° W
(Xiphias gladius)

30° E
Eastern Gorilla
(Gorilla beringei)

150° W
Blue Whale
(Balaenoptera musculus)

45° E
Ring-tailed Lemur
(Lemur catta)

135° W
Sea Otter
(Enhydra lutris)

EImperial Eagle
(Aquila heliaca)

120° W
Peary Caribou
(Rangifer tarandus ssp. pearyi)

75° E
Asian Elephant
(Elephas maximus)

105° W
(Gulo gulo)

90° E
Asian Buffalo
(Bubalus bubalis)

90° W
American Crocodile
(Crocodylus acutus)

105° E
Giant Panda
(Ailuropoda melanoleuca)

75° W
Red Wolf
(Canis rufus)

120° E
Leatherback Turtle
(Dermochelys coriacea)

60° W
Amazonian Manatee
(Trichechus inunguis)

135° E
(Panthera tigris)

45° W
Maned Three-toed Sloth
(Bradypus torquatus)

150° E
(Phascolarctos cinereus)

30° W
Polar Bear
(Ursus maritimus)

165° E
Yellow-eyed Penguin
(Megadyptes antipodes)

15° W
(Pan troglodytes)

The Markers

"The Markers" project commemorates the 50th anniversary of the permanent United States presence at the South Pole by reflecting on what was happening in the rest of the world while scientists worked there.

National Science Foundation (NSF) Antarctic Artist and Writers Program awardee Xavier Cortada marks the passage of time by exploring important world events that have moved the world forward during the past 50 years. During January 2007, Cortada will travel to the South Pole to create the project.

Prior to their installation in the South Pole, The Markers' flags were be on exhibit at the Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium. For more information visit

South Pole

On December 14, 1911, Norwegian Roald Amundsen was first to reach the South Pole. The geographic South Pole is located near the center of the Antarctic ice sheet at an altitude of 2800 m. The ice sheet covering the Pole is moving at about 10 m per year toward the Weddell Sea (along the 60 degree West meridian).

On October 31, 1956, Lt.Commander Gus Shinn landed the first airplane at the South Pole. Three weeks later, on November 20, 1956, the first South Pole station construction crew arrived. The South Pole has been occupied since. Each year, staff at the South Pole station reposition the South Pole marker to compensate for the movement of the ice.

The Installation

Xavier Cortada's installation highlights events that have moved our world forward in the time it has taken the Antarctic ice sheet to move about 500 meters. Cortada chronicles the passage of time by depicting those events on flags he will place at the South Pole in January 2007. To accomplish this, the artist will:

Create 51differently colored flags, ranging from violet to red, each sequentially representing years from 1956 to 2006.

Mark each flag with the coordinates of a place where an event took place that moved the world forward during that given year (e.g., 1963's March on Washington, 1989's Fall of the Berlin Wall).

Plant each year's flag in the location on the ice where all the meridians converged during that flag's respective year; that is, where the South Pole stood during that given year. (Since the South Pole, 90°S, sits on a glacier that is in constant motion, its location on the ice above changes every year).
When the flags are planted they will create a spectrum of color on the white surface of the ice. The first flag will be planted at the location of the 2006 Geographic South Pole, with each subsequent flag spaced 9.9 meters apart and aligned in the direction of the Weddell Sea. Since the glacier below is moving everything in the same direction at 9.9 meters annually, the flags "mark" where the South Pole stood in any given year-- few places on Earth can so dramatically mark the passage of time.

The 150,000-Year Journey

Miami artist Xavier Cortada will plant a replica of a mangrove seedling in the South Pole.* The mangrove "seedling" will be planted on the 3 km thick glacial ice sheet that blankets the South Pole. Embedded in the moving glacier, the "seedling" will begin sliding downhill ( 9.9 meters every year) in the direction of the Weddell Sea, 1,400 km away. The "seedling" will thus begin its 150,000 year journey towards the seashore, where it can eventually set its roots.

The 150,000 Year Journey uses the terrain of the South Pole to address a sociological concern of the artist: the travails of an immigrant's journey --- the displacement, the solitude, the struggle to simply integrate oneself into society.

In a more universal way, the 150,000 Year Journey explores humankind as it evolves through time.

It will take almost 150,000 years for this piece to be completed. What will our world look like then? Will humans still be focused on race and ethnicity by the time this mangrove seedling lands in the sea? Will our world be dramatically different, will the polar caps have melted? How much will such melting shorten the journey?

Through the 150,000 Year Journey, the artist also invites viewers to reflect on our role as humans on this planet. Juxtaposing Antarctic time frames with human time frames reaffirms the notion that we are simply custodians of the planet who should learn to live in harmony with nature.


(* The seedling will be a replica because exotic species can not be introduced into the continent. As such, the artist will create an ice sculpture made using a mold made from an actual Miami mangrove seedling. Water from a deep South Pole well --that makes water by melting ice created back when Shakespeare was writing Hamlet-- will be poured into the mold, where it will freeze into ice.)

Xavier Cortada to create eco-art in the South Pole

Miami artist Xavier Cortada will be in Antarctica from December 28, 2006 to January 12, 2007 to implement a series of art projects sponsored through the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs. In exploring Antarctica, Cortada addresses our interconnectedness to one another and to our planet. See

"This is an exciting project that will result in a positive and meaningful body of work," says Kim Silverman, Program Director for the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists and Writer's Program. "Xavier's project represents a new and progressive dimension in artistic expression, adding breadth to the Program. I am particularly delighted with the acknowledgement and support that the project brings to the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008 movement. Mr.
Cortada's success in reaching large and diverse audiences is significant and will likely inspire people to learn more about IPY and Antarctica---the science, the history, and the importance of the continent."

It is envisioned that IPY will create long-standing legacies of international research collaborations; capture the world's imagination in science and exploration; and inspire future generations of scientists and engineers. For more information about the U.S. role in IPY visit: