Artist Ruth Watson’s ongoing preoccupation with cartography is based on the impact maps have on our understanding and physical sense of the world, and how they can reveal and conceal information about places or spaces we know, and significantly, those we do not know. In a new body of work made for Two Rooms Gallery, Watson expands her interest in mapping, putting our perception of Antarctica under question.
Over the summer of 2010-11, Ruth Watson travelled to the ice as part of a science-based course run by Gateway Antarctica at the University of Canterbury, and became more interested in our position in relation to 2048, when the Antarctic Treaty comes up for review.
In the popular imagination, preconceptions of Antarctica include now-familiar scenes such as dramatic ice formations, penguins, people wrapped in extreme weather gear, melt pools, seals, or struggling explorers in blizzard conditions. However Watson’s exposure to glaciology, meteorology, ice physics, pollutant and contaminant studies, fish and bird physiology, had a strong impact on her, being shocked by some of the things she learnt from the course and keen to find ways to deal with this information. “We are encouraged to consider Antarctica an ‘untouched wilderness worthy of protection’, but will those values withstand the pressures of energy-intensive world populations, double that of the time when the Treaty was signed in 1959”, adding “so it might be good to consider a wider context for our Antarctiphilia”.
Ruth Watson’s new body of work for the downstairs gallery at Two Rooms includes sculptures alongside paintings and photography, none of it designed to ‘bring the continent closer’ to us as a familiar place, as expected of Antarctica artist residency programmes. Instead, Ruth takes an alternative view, questioning what we think we know about a place that at most only a few will ever see in restricted locations, but the future of which will have an impact on everyone.