Saturday, December 16, 2006

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.

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