Gerry Johansson - Antarktis

Gerry Johansson — Antarktis

24,5 x 30,5 cm. 64 pages. 33 duotone plates. Duotone offset printed clothbound hardcover. Linen thread bound. Black headband. Authentic tip-in image on front cover with spine text in black foil and blind embossed illustration on back cover.

ISBN First edition:

Published in 2014.

ISBN Second edition:

Published in 2015.

In 2001, through a grant from the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, Gerry Johansson (b. 1945, Swedish) traveled to the inaccessible and distinct landscape of Antarctica on a research trip for two months. With him on the journey he had a large-format camera and his fearless curiosity. The series of photos eventuate in an unusual reality relevant perspective, and capture the astonishing non-distance relationship between physicality and nature. The series was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 2003 in Stockholm, Sweden.

The extent of its special edition and the amount of images is a homage to the amount of bird species in the Antarctic region.

First edition of 700 copies, numbered. Special edition of 33 copies, numbered, in paperboard slipcase, screen printed in black/white, with signed hand-made silver gelatin contact print. Second edition of 500 copies, unnumbered.

Antarctica — Continent of the Impossible

Text by Thorbjörn Andersson, landscape architect LAR/MSA, professor SLU — Stockholm, 2014

During the so-called Romantic period in Germany during the first half of the 19th century, a view of nature emerged that was not restricted to utilitarianism. During this period, nature was seen as more than a resource to be exploited. This new view of nature answered other questions instead; aspects of existentialism, the place of Man in the grand scheme of things, our relationship to nature and landscape on a deeper level. Romanticism became rooted in all the cultural fields – among painters, writers, poets. Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840) was one of the painters to make the clearest impression. His canvases often show one or more figures among large landscapes, dramatic cliffs, huge plains seen from above, coasts with broad horizons. They are set at night, with emergent moonshine, or at dusk, perhaps during a storm. The figures are small in relation to the landscape and, strikingly often, have turned their backs to us. We do not see their faces, as if we were walking slightly behind them, experiencing the spectacle together.

Romanticism was aimed at evoking the sublime, the values that lie beyond what we see with our eyes and approaches our feelings instead. We are moved on the inside. It is no coincidence that Friedrich used the landscape in its grandeur and drama to approach the nigh-inaccessible quality of the sublime. The landscape is always bigger than ourselves. It is eternal, or at least has preceded us and will survive us, even if it is in a devastated condition. In many ways, the landscape is unfathomable: it is entirely still, though it is simultaneously undergoing a constant, slow process. In front of Friedrich’s paintings, our inner and outer landscapes are conjoined. Perhaps these qualities of the landscape made the painter deeply religious. He found no better way to explain what he saw, or perhaps more accurately, felt.

Others sought explanations not in heaven but on earth, and thought they perceived innate qualities in nature other than its form – and perhaps even that it had purpose; that it was sentient. This was the view of the American Transcendentalists, a literary movement in the Boston area in the mid-19th century that wanted to bridge the gap between nature and spirit. Transcendentalism should be understood as what lies beyond our comprehension, and includes such notions as goodness, beauty and truth. Henry David Thoreau (1817–62) was one of the movement’s leading figures, who spent almost two years alone in a small log cabin by Walden Pond. He wrote down his experiences in the classic Walden, or Life in the Woods, published in 1854.

Neither Thoreau nor Friedrich ever visited Antarctica. It is not farfetched to assume that given the opportunity, the thoughts that already preoccupied them would have received even deeper aspects. For many of us, Antarctica is a symbol of the impenetrable. There is almost nothing there to relate to our ordinary lives. It is an unknown continent shrouded in myth. Thanks to a grant from the Artists Programme of the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, Gerry Johansson was able to accompany an Antarctic expedition to the Swedish research stations Wasa in Svea in Queen Maud Land, some 200 kilometres into the continent’s mainland. The purpose was to depict the Antarctic landscape, which took place during a six-week period starting in December 2001. Gerry Johansson was the only artist in a group of ten or so people, otherwise comprised of researchers and security staff. They flew in from Cape Town to a Russian base, and then in a rebuilt DC-3 ski plane to one of the two Swedish bases. From there, they went on day trips in the area by scooter, at most some 20 kilometres. It was to be a total of 20 days of photography.

Gerry Johansson has always been fascinated by desolate spaces. For those who study his earlier pictures, there is often a quality that you could describe as flatness: the pictures avoid intersections and anything else that enables us to interpret depth; we become confused about what lies behind and ahead; sometimes we lose the ambition to understand and just see the pictures as compositions. It’s quite a step to take, since photography is representative by definition. Of course photography can attain the quality of sheer composition if you shoot something very close or very distant, for instance through a microscope or from a satellite. Then representation fades in favour of pure structure. Gerry Johansson seldom does this. His pictures are mostly taken from a somewhat normal perspective, and the subject is the size we expect. But his way of blending foreground and background make the picture both things: both a representative subject and a structure. Generally, Johansson’s pictures also contain the traces of something we recognise. Perhaps some human activity – someone has been there, done something and then left. The images also often contain familiar everyday objects: a house, a tree, a fence. As he describes it, “there is always a stone or a fence”. In Antarctica, there is none of this. It’s like stepping into the void. It is a landscape without objects, without perspective. There are no boundaries. Where do you start, where do you end? It is also a landscape in a constant state of flux. The wind continually brings forth new forms. The inland ice constantly moves out towards the sea with a speed approaching 300 metres per year.

Unlike the Arctic, which consists of a floating mass of ice, the Antarctic actually is a continent. It is the only place on earth that can offer virtually untouched nature. Its surface is 14 million square kilometres, somewhat larger than Europe. The South Pole is not synonymous with Antarctica; the pole is a point, Antarctica is a continent. It consists of a mountain plateau situated some 2,000 above sea level. Its highest firm ground peak is at 5,140 m above sea level, but 98% of Antarctica is covered in ice. Flora and fauna have limited opportunities in these circumstances.

Antarctica is the continent of the impossible. Everything is hard here. In one of the opening scenes of Ridley Scott’s futuristic dystopia Blade Runner (1982), the main character, Rick Deckard, is sitting in a noodle bar reading a newspaper. The first-page headline flickers past: “Farming the Oceans, the Moon and Antarctica”. Three unthinkable tasks, set in the far distant future, each as impossible as the next. And yet, territorial claims to Antarctica were made early on by seven countries in particular, based on the development of whaling. However, these claims were made null and void by the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, which the countries of the world have joined. The treaty is an agreement that stipulates that the continent is only to be used for peaceful purposes and by consensus. Regional names in Antarctica still elevate the expedition years and nationalism of the early 20th century to heroic status: Marie Byrd Land, Wilkes Land, Coats Land, the Amundsen Sea, the Ross Sea. It is the windiest continent on earth. It is also the world’s poorest country in terms of precipitation – a desert, from a meteorological point of view. Unsurprisingly, it is also the coldest continent on earth, with an average temperature of 55° C below zero in its inner regions. The heat record at the Scott-Amundsen base is of 13° C below zero.

Equally unsurprising is the fact that few people have visited Antarctica. Today, half a dozen travel agencies organise visits there, but these trips are too expensive for most. About 1,000 people live at the different research bases all year round; in the summer, this rises to some 4,000 people. They are scientists. They measure, read, register, collate facts. It is from such information that we know Antarctica. There are few depictions of the continent from any other perspective. If you seek poetry, literature, painting or other humanities, there is little to find. There is no Caspar David Friedrich here to marvel at the unfathomable, no-one to join our inner and outer landscape. In this way, Gerry Johansson’s depiction of Antarctica from an artist’s point of view is unusual. The pictures were taken with an analogue large-format camera, 8x10” in negative format, in black and white.

First edition

Out of print

Second edition

Out of print

Special edition

Out of print
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