Francesco Bonami Goes to Antarctica

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

How things should go. That’s the landscape around the base. The scientists, they build these sculptures with stones in their spare time. It’s a famous movie, you know? The Way Things Go.
Upgraded. That is the plane. It was only eight seats, unpressurized, we traveled for seven hours. You don’t feel so good. I had to put my oxygen inside my nose. You become a little stoned and you fall asleep. There are no toilets, so if you need to pee, you have to go in the back of the plane where it’s freezing and do it in a little bag. No. 2 wouldn’t be possible.
Blinky Palermo last stop. That’s a photograph of the explorer who found the South Pole. Mawson. It’s at the American base.
Commuting. We land in the middle of nowhere to refuel. And they parachute fuel from another plane. And then people drive for five days to pick up the barrels. It’s a very complicated way of living.
Frozen Waves or the Gursky Syndrome. Those are frozen waves. It just feels like a big slab of ice. You cannot walk with the shoes.
Herzel’s Dream. You know the guy who dreamed about Israel? Herzel dreams to have a place all by himself. That’s a map of Antarctica made of stones.
Bonami’s Nightmare.
“Satyricon Valley. That is a low-tech operation. They are making a hole in that room that goes down 3,600 meters. They found out that under the ice there is a lake, and they are collecting this piece of ice.
Ice critique – 61F Vostak base. That’s an ice library. Yes, it’s cold. It’s - 55. Outside it was -61 — so it was a little warmer.
Ice coach. This is near the Russian base called Progress, and those are the icebergs around it.
Dome sweet dome. Inside the office, there is the Duomo of Florence. Antarctic Renaissance!
Best Italian movie of 1974 at Nova Base 2014. We arrived at the other bases — you cannot understand this because you are not Italian. But we entered this room and we found two Russians — I don’t think they were scientists, maybe more like the caretakers of the base — watching this trashy Italian movie from the ‘70s. It was very popular in Italy, it was a surreal thing. It’s like if you arrived on the moon and found someone watching Seinfeld. It’s anticlimactic. You think it’s this adventurous place and you find something like that. It’s the last thing — the last kind of adventure with that movie. Imagine the trashiest American movie, and you arrive the middle of the Amazon, you find people looking at it and enjoying it. But they told me it is a very popular movie in Russia!
You talkin’ to me? You know, like the De Niro film? There’s a little face. Eh, they are not so cute, there was another little seal next to it. I never like so much seals. But those were more sea lions — not seals like you see in the zoo, they don’t look like they would be able to play with a ball.
Norman Mailer was here. Oh, don’t you think he looks like Norman Mailer? I don’t know what it is; I found it in the space hanging on the wall.
Left or Right? Because they are all places — I don’t understand Russian  —but they put like, “Moscow, 50,000 miles.”
Signed and Dated. Acquired directly from the artist. Estimate upon request. You write your name on the rock. You want to be sure that people remember. If any of my colleagues, my enemies, go to Antarctica, they will find that I’ve been there first. It’s a useful idea that I’ve entertained.
My mother was a Navy SEAL. We are convinced they don’t have many women out there, and so, they pair with the SEAL. And that man looked like the child of a SEAL and a man. They are together. He looks, like, not a human. He looks half-human and half-SEAL. Sex is not something you think about there. I don’t think in my seven days there was any sexual talk ever. I don’t know, just because you don’t — you don’t have the thing. It’s something. I don’t know, because you’re too far. I don’t know if the people there are the same. At one of the bases there was a big poster with a naked woman, but you don’t use that to stimulate anything. It’s just a reminder of something that existed somewhere else.
Francesco Bonami Goes to Antarctica