Francesco Bonami Goes to Antarctica

Photo: Courtesy of Francesco Bonami

I went because of a friend of mine who is very much into the environment and energy. He asked me one year ago if I wanted to go, and I made mistake to say yes, thinking it would never happen. This September I saw him, and he told me, “Are you ready for November?” In a gesture of macho attitude, I said, “Of course!” And there it was.

Now is the season to go: Some things are melting, certain parts still have waves of the frozen ocean, and in a few weeks, it will melt down and turn into water. It was quite intense. We had to fly for a long time in this unpressurized plane for 7,000 feet. It was very intense. We went from Cape Town. We went with a bag full of stuff. I brought very little for myself. We changed very little. I would drink bottled water. I think you could drink the tap water. There were icebergs that looked totally pure — we took ice from an iceberg and we used it to drink whiskey. The Russian base really drinks; you don’t want to have a hang-over there. I didn’t want to have it. I don’t think it would have been fun. And no, it’s not very good food. It is mostly frozen. You’re very high most of the time, you are slightly nauseous; you don’t have a huge appetite.

It was very well-organized, and you don’t think about anything but what they tell you to do. We didn’t sit around the table and ask, “What are we going to do tomorrow?” No, because it was very organized; you go there with a specific schedule, you cannot say, “Okay, today we stay here and lounge.” You just move all the time. At this time of year, there is no night. There is all this light. It was very disconcerting because you arrive a place, they show you a bedroom, and then they say you leave in two hours. You didn’t know what to do — you don’t sleep.

I’m glad it came through, but I don’t think I want to go back — I’ve seen it. It’s not anything from a curatorial point of view; many curators have gone to Antarctica. Though it informed me in a very mystic way. I was at the American base, the Amundsen-Scott base, and I met an Australian or New Zealand scientist. And he told me something like, What if the Earth and the sun didn’t exist, we could establish if the universe has an up and a down. It got me thinking — it was a very banal talk — but you think from a Western point of view that you are upside-down, and then you look up, and you still look up! Whether we invented the universe or a God did, either way, he was very clever, he made something where nobody can look down; even if you look down, it is always up, I think it was interesting. It is a stupid thought, but I truthfully never thought about it until I was there.

I’m not a nature person. It was a stretch of my fantasy to do it. But I’m very happy I did it. I am glad I made the effort. You realize you become very lazy. You can travel a lot to see another biennale and see the same people you see in New York, but then you become lazy mentally and it’s hard to go and see places where you aren’t expecting to find anything useful for your job. I think it was good for me to go there — just for the sake [of going] there. There was no telephone, no internet, nothing.

What did I do when I got back? I was back in Milano. I don’t know. I don’t remember. I went to my office. I didn’t do anything special. You meet some people you know, and you start telling the story. You know. You go there to tell the story.  —as told to Thessaly La Force

Francesco Bonami Goes to Antarctica