The polar desert in a fragment
Menene Gras Balaguer
The journey is an instrument for knowledge and in the case of Magdalena Correa, as in the trajectory of other artists, it becomes a life experience that is inseparable from the artistic practices that have to be carried out for the realisation of a certain project. A formative journey that involves initiation into a process of change and transformation through the journey. The exercise of travelling is clearly a test that the artist must overcome in order to achieve her objective, consisting of tackling a territory situated in the antipodes, where the living conditions are those of a white desert of 14,000,000 km2, the driest in the world, due to the low temperatures and the freezing that makes humidity impossible, situated in the south of the south of the world and symbolically at the end of the earth. Of this area, Chile's Antarctic territory occupies 1,250,000 km2, equivalent to more than 60% of the country's total surface area, with the Antarctic Peninsula, Fildes Bay and the South Shetland Archipelago made up of islands, islets and reefs. The thick ice sheet that covers the surface of Antarctica can reach a depth of more than 1200m. The artist is Chilean although she lives in Spain, and her last three major projects have always been associated in one way or another with a periodic return to her country, which she visits at least once or twice a year, above all because of her family and cultural ties.
What has surprised the artist most, however, have been these figures that seem to be inscriptions in the landscape, making up the scarce human presence that inhabits the two main urban enclaves mentioned above. They are men, women, children, who live there all year round and whom she has interviewed successively to obtain fragmentary accounts through which she has been able to conceive small stories of the individual lives of their inhabitants. The recognition of the landscape and its residents has been an integrated experience, which the artist has done using photography and making the corresponding records with the video camera. The result is the creation of an imaginary fragment of the polar desert that is superimposed on the real desert, which the artist does not bother to examine, except when she pursues the goal of sporadically appropriating the terrain. The production of the project begins with the flight from Santiago de Chile to Punta Arenas, the last city in Chile situated in the extreme south of the country, where the artist embarks on the Chilean Navy's icebreaker Viel for a five-day voyage, crossing a sea with eight-metre high waves from the Drake Passage, caused by the collision between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, to Fildes Bay, where she is picked up by a helicopter and transferred to Villa las Estrellas. This journey is the subject of the video HASTA, which the artist has made, completing it with the recording of the helicopter journey from Fildes Bay to the house where she was to be welcomed by a family of natives, which she has dubbed in video format with the title EN.
On this trip to Antarctica, the artist collected personal data from the inhabitants of Villa Las Estrellas, visions of landscapes at different times of the day and the impressions made on her retina by the light, the ocean, the ice flowers, the freezing rocky reefs, the white mountain ranges, the solitude of the cold and a feeling of impotence in the face of a nature so powerful that it cannot be dominated or changed. But what she was interested in was the personal experience obtained through contact with the place and the people who inhabit it, because it is a sum of experiences that constitute the world, and this, in turn, by virtue of this transformation, is updated in information, in the artistic practice destined for the project. Obviously, the work is still unfinished. What she presents now are islands of experience lived since she started sailing in the Chilean Air Force ship to carry out this stay in the antipodes of the earth, where she reencounters her own south, the night that we all carry inside us, and on returning from the expedition she starts to work on the project.
Residing with one of the families who usually host the outsiders who come to Villa las Estrellas has been important to be able to follow closely the domestic life inside the existing dwellings, which are characterised by austerity and the use of resources. There is something of an emergency situation to which all the inhabitants of this urban nucleus have become accustomed in order to combat adversity and the circumstances of the environment. The South Pole has become everyone's land because it is considered the most important natural reserve on the planet thanks to the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which came into force in 1961, and by which no country can exercise sovereignty over Antarctica, as it is intended for scientific research. Thus, although oil and mineral resources, coal and iron have been found in the mountains, commercial exploitation is excluded for the purposes of scientific bases and camps. The Antarctic Treaty System countries aim to explore these resources and to maintain and conserve native species, as well as prohibiting their export without special authorisation, and mixing with other imported species.
It is not possible to deal with the daily life of the Antarctic continent's population without simultaneously taking into account the ecosystems of the polar biome, the climatic conditions and the geographical isolation of its inhabitants. Obviously, it is not a question here of contemplating or revising these elements, but to take them into account in order to understand this work, in which Magdalena Correa has reiterated her determination to identify a project with the formative journey; and, subsequently, the process of elaboration, with the overcoming of stages, involving information, knowledge and production. The antecedents that have influenced her decision to go to Antarctica cannot be disregarded, because the trip to Patagonia and the subsequent project, "Austral", are directly related, as if the one she has just made were an extension of the previous one, a final stage that was to close a cycle, which has not yet concluded and which could be reopened in the near future.