Cutting the painter by Thea Augustina

In Gretel Ehrlich’s book, A Match to the Heart, in which the author recounts and reflects upon being struck by lightning (for the second time), she brings up the Bardo Thodal, or Tibetan Book of the Dead. ‘I wander in the bardo state alone’ (Ehrlich, page 41). ‘Bar’ means between and ‘do’ means a landmark that stands between two things. As she explains it, when placed together, this word becomes ‘gap’, or, ‘the wandering state between life and death’, ‘confusion and enlightenment’, ‘the past just occurred and the future has not yet happened’, ‘a gray ocean with no reference points, no lighthouse’, and ‘uncertainty and groundlessness’.

Sir Ernest Shackleton and his 5 men cut the painter between the James Caird and the Stancomb Wills and from the remaining 22 men, waving from the shore of Elephant Island on April 24, 1916. The men stand between the grays of tall cliffs and a vast ocean. They stand in the pregnant pause, with the past 6 hours of exertion sent away with the gusting wind: the launch of the 22 foot James Caird into the water, the caddying of provisions and a ton of ballast into it, while resisting the unruly waves spitting them back into the tiny island.

The 22 men bellow three cheers as Shackleton + the five others dip into the trough of a wave and vanish. No reference points, no rescue boat, no lighthouse. Each man alone in their physical ache for England, for loves so distant, and for dry clothing. Only persistent, steady, horizon line.

The body as landmark. A body with groundlessness and steady tide.

Unbound: to hope till Hope creates by Thea Augustina

Unbound: to hope till Hope creates

New sculpture, sound and photography based on two scenes from Sir Ernest Shackleton's Imperial TransAntarctic Expedition


“To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.”
Excerpt from Prometheus Unbound, by Percy Byssche Shelly

The sound piece is arranged from British composer Ralph Vaughn Williams’ (1872-1958) Sinfonia Antarctica No. 7. The loudest sections, the crescendos and torrential occurrences, and the quietest solos, the rests and repetitions, have been lifted and rearranged to create a new piece filled with either moments of chaos or of orderliness. Moments where there is hesitation, un-surety and fear and moments of calm and reassurance and possible trust. The piece begins with a drum roll, which is Endurance’s entrance into the Antarctic ice pack, the beginning of its end. There are three temperamental segments that reference the crushing of the ship’s timbers and planks, and then its final death scene. The end is quiet and features a violin echoing back onto itself: the 6 men pulling away from Elephant Island in the James Caird in order to save the entire crew. The piece ends neither sadly nor exuding hope: it is more a feeling of distance and an internal voice of a man’s weary thoughts.

Jupiter finds meaning from the title of the exhibition and Percy Byssche Shelley’s play, Prometheus Unbound. It is the story of Prometheus’ captivity and subsequent release from Jupiter’s grips (Greek: Zeus). Jupiter, now overthrown, no longer determines Prometheus’ fate. There is no reconciliation between the god and human. There is no acceptance or forgiveness. Jupiter possesses no compass for compassion or remorse: it is the Antarctic in all its non-humanness.

Reading fortunes by Thea Augustina

What does it mean to become unbound?

British Victorian society had a fascination with predicting futures, beckoning ghosts, and other unworldly and heavenly conjuring. There are documented reports and books discussing séances held to draw lost sailors and captains out from their watery tombs. Did these obsessions carry into the next era, as British explorers still became lost at the poles?

Sir Ernest Shackleton's Endurance expedition (Imperial TransAntarctic Expedition) marked the end of this particular Age of Exploration. From Robert Falcon Scott's final death march to this Antarctic expedition, the era of grand voyages in the terms laid out by the technology of the day and nationalistic pride of white men journeying forth into the 'unknown' came to a known end. The gruesome reality of WW1 shook those British exploratory foundations to the bone.

The second photograph in my upcoming exhibition shows tea leaves left at the bottom of a teacup that is caught up in the undulation of a sea, tumultuous and hungry. When the fortune teller attempts to read the leaves, what message reveals itself? Is it hope or despair? Will this tiny boat be capsized and crushed or be released and infinite in its wandering? Unbound from Edwardian cast systems, unleashed from the ice, and able to set its sails and make it to land.

Stormy Seas: Classical compositions distilled to clashes and clangs by Thea Augustina

One of the sound pieces I am working on for my next show features symphonies inspired by the sea/antarctica/ships sinking. This includes Vaughn Williams' Sinfonia Antarctica and Bridge's The Sea: 4. Storm from the early 1900's. Extracting the clashes, blasting horns along with some quieter sections of bass lines and soprano soloists' fluttering voices, I am hoping that the outcome and mixing will mimic Shackleton's ship being crushed by the ice. Bangs! Crashes! And not necessarily in rhythm at times. The Endurance did not get crushed all at once, but rather over a series of days. It was caught on moving film using a kinematograph-camera by the expedition's documenter: F. Hurley, who had gone on previous Antarctic expeditions and was no slouch to danger.

The show will feature a few photographs as well: A cup, a flag, a cliff, a gray. I am trying to utilize some recent Pittsburgh snowy ledges and cliffs that I often see on my commute to work. And the blueness of the winter mornings cast certain shadows and colorations that cannot be captured at other times of the year.

New Year: New Show: And still lots of work in progress by Thea Augustina

Welcome 2011. Lots of articles, news, books to catch up on! Lots of work still in progress!

I woke up this morning to find that my show at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts last April has been included into the Pittsburgh Post Gazette's Art & Cultures writer Mary Thomas's 'Best of 2010'. A nice thing to see first thing in the morning!

On another note, I will be showing new work at the Earlville Opera House in Earlville NY from February 26- April 2. The show will feature Chapter 2 in the 5 part installation series I am creating based on Sir Ernest Shackleton's Endurance expedition in the Antarctic. The work culls from two scenes: when 8 Emperor penguins mysteriously appeared as the ship, the Endurance, was sinking into the icy depths leaving the men finally truly abandoned. The penguins dirge-like calls were ones that the men had never heard before. The second scene is when Shackleton and his five chosen men set sail on their 800+ mile open-water journey, leaving the remainder of the crew to fend for themselves on Elephant Island. The drastic view from both the stranded and the journeying-forth is humming with energy: That moment when both are staring at the other, recognizing the other.

I see these two scenes as tipping points for hope + loss. Both scenes possess a deep intimacy with the possibility of forthcoming death. They radiate with the notion of a polar environment swallowing whole and leaving no trace. The moment when the human recognizes an intimacy with Emptiness. And I love how the Emperor penguins with their strange instincts play a part in that for the humans.

The Arctic Governance Project by Thea Augustina

This morning I came across a database of articles concerning the Arctic and policy amongst the various countries with Arctic ownership. It is set up by The Arctic Governance Project, which seeks to join the Arctic's local population, policy makers, and researchers in conversation and collaboration. The articles cover oil & gas policy, tourism, fishing and commerce rights, environmental impacts of industry, and governmental inter-relationships amongst the Arctic holding countries.

Review in Pittsburgh Post Gazette by Thea Augustina

Art Critic Mary Thomas of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette featured my work in her review of the solo shows at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. It appeared in yesterday's Art & Entertainment section. What a great surprise! The shows close next Sunday, June 13th. The last artist talks are this Sunday, June 6 @ 1pm.

The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is located at the corner of Shady Ave. & 5th Ave. in Shady Side- Parking is available- The hours are 10-5pm Tuesday-Saturday, until 7pm on Thursdays, 12-5pm Sunday: phone 412-361-0873

The scripting of scenes by Thea Augustina

I have begun to write a play about Shackleton, Amundson and Scott. Currently it is just notes and ideas and imagery. The exciting stage! But over the next several months I will be reading/reviewing a few books about them- biographs, auto-Bs, historical accounts, etc, to get a framework for their characters, quirks and personality ticks. And also to get ideas for the sequencing. Of course being set in the Antarctic, there will be ice and ships, and definitely a hot air balloon scene as Shackleton was the first to experience an aerial view of Antarctica's wonders. I may throw in an Empirer penguin or two. And not to forget the giant albatross.

The 3 explorers and their stories offer enough inspiration for creating a epic tapestry of landscapes, forms and emotions, and a nonlinear journey of discovery and failure. A question is whether to begin with a death or a triumph? For their stories contain both.

Performance narrative- Sunday May 16 @1pm by Thea Augustina

My gallery talk at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is Sunday, May 16 at 1pm. This is not going to be a regular gallery talk where I stand in front of my photographs and sculpture and discuss it. Rather, I will be performing writing I have done about the concepts in my work accompanied by an unfurling of images from my past work, current work, and documentation of the research I've completed at various archives. It is organized in 3 Acts: The Launch, Sorrow's Knot, and Soliloquy. After there will be a question/answer session where I may or may not continue to create fictions.

Concepts revolve around an aesthetics of disappearance, the play of history constructed from fictions, landscape as memoryscape, and all pertaining to the British encountering the Arctic in the 1800's: particularly the Sir John Franklin Expedition of 1845. I liken the talk to a visual narrative performance where I encourage the listener to come along with me on an arctic expedition.

Below are excerpts of what you may see+hear= image + text


"....Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth unravels a quest for the Unknown. Its story is both fiction and historical record. The John Franklin Expedition story lies in both realms as well. The people who constructed public memory are long since gone. The duration between Franklin's departure down the Thames River and subsequent disappearance was crucial in establishing the myth. Only two incomplete bodies were ever brought back to England for burial. A phantasm of pieces, not wholes. The objects returned to England lack their original functions: The objects failed. The trail of random artifacts found over the many decades fueled the debate over mysterious 'N.O.C's', or Not Otherwise Classified objects, that were useless to the forensics of a linear story. But, they lend themselves well to a Jules Vernian retelling...."

"...The North is a mouth, swallowing whole lambs. Ignoring Mercator, Cartesian, and.... I follow my fingers up the lines to see where I haven't been. Find hoarfrost and mirage, castles that pass in silence. Find ice and beacon pushing, pushing through sounds and bays. I follow my fingers' downward decent. Further on lay the Southern seas, gnashing teeth and the fury piled up in palpable mounds burn my fingers, weathered skin. Turn into history's wind. Face it open-chested like the bow of a ship. Face it lapping tongued like the seal gulping air. Face it whipped and flogged, beaten but still wobbling. My toes find stability and density. Yet they secretly move me farther and farther away. I gather wind and wail, placing them into my ears, till only threads from torn garments realize what's gone...."

Hope to see you there!

Pittsburgh Center for the Arts
6300 5th Ave at the corner of 5th Ave. and Shady Ave. in Shady Side. Parking Lot and additional street parking available.

Please email me if you have any questions-

Rendering the North: 1708 Gallery in Richmond VA by Thea Augustina

Tonight opens Rendering the North at the 1708 Gallery in Richmond Virginia. This has been a fantastic week and experience working with the gallery staff and setting up this show.

The show consists of the 15 photographs from the It Is Never Tomorrow series along with a new sculpture piece titled To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield which is from one of Shackleton's favorite poems by Tennyson.

Here begins the artist statement for this show. The beginning section is similar to my Pittsburgh show because they both included the It is Never Tomorrow photograph series.

"Out of whose womb came the ice?
And the hoary frost of Heaven, who hath gendered it?
The waters are hid as with a stone,
And the face of the deep is frozen.
Book of Job, the Bible

Rendering the North overlaps two British stories: the first, a high Arctic tragedy of a famed expedition’s disappearance, and the second, a southern Antarctic tale about the balance of fate. This work scours archived documentary, poetic inventions, and phantasms of personal imagination.

The photographs encompass a wandering soliloquy in search of ghosts who remain caught in a bitter expanse and the struggle for communication: The hunt for the Sir John Franklin Expedition of 1845. Sent as the largest and most technically advanced of its time, the expedition sought to finalize the Northwest Passage to the Pacific as well as to obtain calculations around magnetic north pole. The story pauses on the silence of the entire 133-member crew by 1847, and gathers momentum as search and rescue expeditions began filling the Arctic seeking clues. Over 150 years seasonal freezing and thawing hid and uncovered objects and histories. And as a result, the threaded fingers of a map filled up with coastlines, new Inuit populations encountered, and inventions and communication methods appropriated or generated. The western shroud of the Arctic was rent from the globe.

"A man must shape himself to a new mark directly the old one goes to ground."
Ernest Shackleton, South

The sculptures find their dwelling in the great Southern Ocean, whose waters churn easterly around a vast landmass and a steadfast crew’s movement across ice and biting water: The multiple chapters of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance voyage of 1914.

The expedition sailed from England the day the War broke and returned at the height of its tragedies. Planning to transcribe their path across Antarctica’s breadth, they never set foot on its land. Instead they lost horse and home but never hope while striving to hold British soil again. The story involves a 800 mile open-water boat journey, latitude and longitude’s loss of land, sledges hauled by men, and all commanded by a man who saw balance in ranks and fate."

Materials/imagery included are a nautical flag tree form that spells out the sculpture's title, a two headed pony with various renditions of mercator map projections streaming from its feet, a suitcase with a working metronome attached, and a sinking wooden structure above a sledge carrying wax candles whose wicks form the leashes of 3 ceramic bells. All are suspended and balanced with each other on antique wooden pulleys using three-stranded cotton roping.

Thank you to 1708 Gallery staff Tatjana and Jolene for making this show easy-peasy, to the 1708 Gallery Board of Directors, as well as to interns Erica and Spencer for assisting me to install the sculpture.