Nonorganic life: encounters between frequency and virtuality in Antarctica



Publication Details

Ballard, S. "Nonorganic life: encounters between frequency and virtuality in Antarctica." Proceedings of the 16th International Symposium on Electronic Art: ISEA2010 Ruhr. Ed. J. Funke, S. Riekeles, A. Broeckmann & H. MedienKunstVerein. Berlin: Revolver, 2010. 247-249.


This paper is not about Antarctica at all. In many imaginaries Antarctica exists as a virtualized yet real utopia. It is a place known through material productions that oscillate between the fictional and the scientific. The discovery of the Don Juan Pond lead scientists towards life formed by brine-derived nitrates (a kind of molecular self-organization by non-carbon sources) and onwards to the possibility of life on Mars. If it is autonomous, can reproduce and evolve, it must be life, mustn’t it? Amidst complex computational models, nonorganic matter is not static; it changes and tying it to either nature or culture is impossible. Antarctica is such an object of study. To approach it we create an organism that can be sliced, imaged, recorded and folded.

We steal its body so that it may open our eyes to other worlds. Likewise, in art’s engagements with Antarctica, something else is formed. DJ Spooky captured the resonant frequencies of ice in Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica (2008). In The Journey that Wasn’t (2005) Pierre Huyghe lured a mythical creature to reveal itself to a sound beacon placed on an ice flow in apparently uncharted territory. Andrea Polli’s Sonic Antarctica (2008) shows data to be always incomplete as field recordings and audifications are placed alongside interviews with climate scientists. The human inhabitants and their tools mark something specific about the media ecology that is Antarctica. These works suggest that our fascination with Antarctica derives from a need to distinguish differences between unstable materials, objects and behaviors – the spaces between contain evidence of life.

Please refer to publisher version or contact your library.