Wednesday, January 10, 2007

South Pole: The 150,000-Year Journey

At the location of the Geographic South Pole 2007 marker, I planted a mangrove seedling from Miami's Biscayne Bay, 25°46'N 80°12'W. 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 theoretically it can eventually set its roots.
Through this piece, we are challenged to visualize what the world will look like in 152,007 A.D.--when the seedling, riding on the 3 km thick glacial ice sheet that blankets the South Pole, reaches the coast of Antarctica to set its roots. The "150,000-year Journey" project addresses the passage of time, asking us to see time in geologic instead of human time frames. To learn more about the 150,000-year Journey, please visit

Friday, January 5, 2007

In the South Pole

On January 4, 2006, we boarded a C-130 Hercules and flew to the South Pole. Upon landing, we successfully implemented a series of art installations as part of the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists and Writers Program:

The 150,000-year Journey: Exploring time in geological instead of human timeframes

The Markers: Commemorating 50 years of the US permanent presence in the South Pole

The Longitudinal Installation: Diminishing distance and man-made barriers

Endangered World: Focusing on endangered species and environmental threats

Wind Words: Connecting with one another

Antarctic Painting: Honoring Sir Ernest Shackleton, by permanently placing the Antarctic explorer's portrait in the South Pole, the place that eluded him in life.

Some of these installations will be included in a travelling exhibit sponsored by the United Nations Environmental Program. The international group show will be inaugurated in Oslo, Norway on June 5, 2007. For more information, see:

South Pole: Endangered World

Using acrylic paint diluted with Antarctic sea water, I painted 24 flags with the scientific name of species across Earth whose habitats are being destroyed by man. I also painted the habitat's longitude. I then placed those flags at their corresponding longitudal line around the South Pole. Unless we act to address issues of global climate change and ecosystem destruction, many of these banners will bear the name of extinct species.

To see the list of threatened/endangered animals or learn more about the installation, see

South Pole: The Shackleton Painting

Xavier Cortada, "Shackleton in the South Pole," mixed-media, 24" x 18", 2007. Created in McMurdo Station, Antarctica using canvas, acrylic paint, crushed Mt. Erebus crystals, soil samples from the Dry Valleys, soil samples from Ross Island, McMurdo Sound seawater, GIS maps of the Antarctic continent, copies of historic photographs and maps of Sir Ernest Shackleton's expeditions.

Presented on January 4, 2007 to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station for permanent display, conceptually placing the great Antarctic explorer in the place that eluded him in life.

South Pole: The Markers

On October 31, 1956, "Que Sera Sera" was the first plane to land at the South Pole. Two weeks later, a Navy Seabees construction crew arrived and started building the South Pole station. On January 4, 1957, they turned the South Pole base over to a team of nine scientists and nine support professionals (e.g.: a doctor, a cook) and a dog who wintered over and officially opened the base to scientific exploration.

On January 4, 2007, the 50th anniversary of the South Pole station, I planted 50 differently-colored flags along a 500-meter stretch of a moving ice sheet. The last flag was planted where South Pole stood in 1956, when the Pole became permanently inhabited. The first, where the South Pole stands fifty years later.

Each flag is marked with its respective year, and with the coordinates of a place on Earth I selected as important in "moving the world forward" during that year (e.g.: 1957 is Sputnik, 1963 is the March on Washington, 1969 in the Lunar Landing, 1997 is Kyoto) . To see the list and read more about the Marker's Project, visit

The Marker flags were exhibited at the Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium prior to being installed in the South Pole.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

South Pole: The Longitudinal Installation

The first installation at the South Pole was the Longitudinal Installation. Using quotes about the impact of climate change on people's lives captured from newspapers across the 24 time zones, I painted the approximate longitudes of the country in which the quote originated inside 24 shoes. To paint the shoes, I mixed my paint with soil samples from the Dry Valleys in Antarctica, one of the places on Earth most susceptible to climate change.

I then flew to the Pole and placed the 24 shoes in a circle along the South Pole, each aligned with its corresponding longitude as it converged on the South Pole. I then walked to the 0 degree longitude, the prime meridian, and walked clockwise around the pole, stopping at each shoe to recite each of the following quotes:

0 “There may be a move of wineries into the Pyrenees in the future.” --- Xavier Sort, technical director of Miguel Torres Wineries.

15E Switzerland: “Losses to insurers from environmental events have risen exponentially over the past 30 years, and are expected to rise even more rapidly still.” ---Pamela Heck, Insurance Industry Expert.

30E Zimbabwe: “We used to be able to grow everything we want but that has all changed.” – Matsapi Nyathi, Grandmother.

45E Turkey: “We are helpless. We're trying to rescue trapped people while also trying to evacuate flood waters that have inundated hundreds of houses.” --- Muharrem Ergul, Mayor, Beykoz district of Istanbul.

60E Iran: “More than 90 percent of our wetlands have completely dried up.” --- Alamdar Alamdari, environmental researcher, Fars Province.

75E Maldives: “In the worst case scenario, we'll have to move.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Shaheed.

90E Tibet (China): “The Sherpas of Khumbu may not know everything, but they are suffering the consequences of the people's greed. We mountain people should be careful and take precautions. If we don't save Khumbu today our fresh water will dry up and the problem will be impossible to solve in the future.” --- Ngawang Tenzing Jangpo, the Abbot of Tengboche monastery.

105E Borneo (Indonesia): “There's been no rain, it's horrible. The governor's office has instructed schools and offices to close until further notice.” --- Hidayat, government official.

120E Philippines: “The disaster covered almost every corner of this province - rampaging floods, falling trees, damaged houses. It happened very rapidly and many people did not expect this because they haven't experienced mud flows in those areas before.” --- Fernando Gonzalez, governor of Albay province.

135E Japan: “It's no exaggeration to say that Japan faces a critical situation when describing the rapid decline of marine supply in its domestic waters that is linked to seaweed loss. Tengusa (seaweed) provides food for marine species.” --- Tomohiro Takase, head of the fisheries department at the Hachijojima municipality.

150E (Great Barrier Reef) Australia: “In 20 years’ time, bleaching is highly likely to be annual and that will cause shallow-water corals to be in decline. We need to start working out how we can help people who rely on it for their income. It's really quite a stunning fact.” --- Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Centre for Marine Studies at the University of Queensland.

165E Micronesia: “We have nowhere to go.” --- Ben Namakin, Environmental Educator.

180 Tuvalu: “Tuvalu is the first victim of global warming.” --- Koloa Talake, former prime minister. OR

165W Niue: “Yesterday morning we woke up to a scene of so much devastation, it was just unbelievable. Cyclone Heta was just so fast, furious and ruthless.” --- Cecelia Talagi, Government Secretary. (180)

150W Alaska: “We are at a crossroads. . . Is it practical to stand and fight our Mother Ocean? Or do we surrender and move?” --- Shishmaref Mayor Edith Vorderstrasse.

135W Yukon (Canada): “The weather is really unpredictable and the ice freezes much later and breaks up earlier. There are more incidents of hunters falling through the ice.” --- Kik Shappa, Hunter, Griese Fiord, Canada.

120 W Nunavut (Canada): “Our cultural heritage is at stake here. We are an adaptable people. We have over the millennium been able to adapt to incredible circumstances. But I think adaptability has its limits. If the ice is not forming, how else does one adapt to seasons that are not as they used to be when the whole environment is changing underneath our feet, literally?” --- Sheila Watt-Cloutier, president of the circumpolar conference.

105W Colorado (USA): “In Colorado, climate change means less snow, less water, more wildfires, less biodiversity and less economic opportunity, as there is less water available for development.” --- Stephen Saunders, president, Rocky Mountain Climate Organization.

90W Nicaragua: “I closed my eyes and prayed to God.” --- Hurricane Mitch survivor Mariana Gonz├ílez.

75W Peru: “I tell my wife the day that mountain loses its snow, we will have to move out of the valley.” Jose Ignacio Lambarri, farmer, Urubamba Valley

60W Argentina: “The flooding has forced us to redesign routes. We thought it would be for a short period of time, but it has been almost six years.” --- Carlos Avellaneda, manager of a trucking company.

45W Brazil: “I am very frightened. One thing goes wrong, and the entire system follows.” --- Jair Souto, Mayor of Manaquiri.

30W Greenland: “They tell us that we must not eat mattak [whale blubber], but this is all we know. Eating Inughuit food makes us who we are, and anyway we have nothing else to eat!” --- Tekummeq, Town of Qaanaaq.

15W Maurtitania: “We are only eating one meal a day. When there is not enough food, it is the young and the old that get fed first.” --- Fatimitu Mint Eletou, Bouchamo.

Placing the shoes next to each other as a proxy for people across the globe, I conceptually diminish the distance between them.

We are one global community. Creating this installation in a continent with no borders, I 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.

For more information, see