Anne Noble is Distinguished Professor of Fine Arts (Photography) at Massey University, Wellington. In 2009 she received an Arts Foundation Laureate award, and in 2014 she was the recipient of a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award, where she was based at Columbia College, Chicago, as their International Artist in Residence. She has made three visits to Antarctica (the most recent for six weeks in 2008 as a US National Science Foundation Polar Arts Fellow) to complete three photographic book and exhibition projects: Ice Blink (2011), The Last Road (2014), and Whiteout / Whitenoise (forthcoming in 2015).
The following text is by Anne Noble, with particular regard to Bitch in Slippers
– a suite of 36 photographs shown in its entirety for the first time at Jonathan Smart Gallery, Christchurch – an exhibition that coincided with NZ IceFest and the book launch of The Last Road, on the last day of that Festival, October 12, 2014.
“Intrigued by the paucity of contemporary critical responses to the imagination and representation of Antarctica, my own photographic work is a reaction to questions about the enduring legacy of the heroic age…(where) the heroic space of Antarctica was created photographically (by men like Herbert Ponting), and (has since) become embedded in the cultural imagination…The narrative structures of image and texts, of men pitching themselves against the elements and the stories of their struggles for survival, are indelibly linked with the heroic ethos of British imperialism. In 2014 these linger as the narrative fuel for contemporary processes of enterprise, discovery, and political capital in Antarctica…Perhaps this explains how the creation of a McMurdo-South Pole Highway can proceed unchallenged and how any misgivings over the politics of such an endeavour are sublimated and transformed into yet another milestone of heroic Antarctic achievement.
On Ross Island I was surprised to find over 200 vehicles including skidoos, trucks, people transporters, bulldozers, ice movers, cranes and snow blasters. Many of these machines were inscribed with girls’ names…I made a photographic inventory of the names gracing the colourful metallic surfaces. They reveal an alternative colour palette for Antarctica, and an echo of the back-story of human presence. The series is titled Bitch in Slippers, a name I found inscribed on a pneumatic drill used for blasting ice and rock during road-making on Ross Island.
The philosopher Marx Wartofsky argues for a radically culturalist reading of all visual experience. He coined the phrase ‘cultural optics’ identifying that ‘human vision is itself an artifact, produced by other artifacts, namely pictures’. Perhaps the narrative shock of a suite of images entitled Bitch in Slippers, conjuring an association with the giant pneumatic drill last seen shuffling slowly down a road in Antarctica, might insert a little disquieting grit into the cultural optics of the human seeing machine.”
From text by Anne Noble in “Broken – Environmental Photography”, Art & Theory Publishing, University of Gothenburg, Stockholm, 2014, pp 131 – 146.
Press release courtesy Jonathan Smart Gallery.