Panel discussions

Artists at the end of the world

5 May 2023
Advancing care for Antarctica and our planet through the Arts
An acclaimed harpist, award-winning writer, distinguished sound artist and renowned visual artist come together to celebrate Earth Day through storytelling, performance and conversation.

 Artists on the Ice: Post-event interviews

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre (SSSHARC) co-hosted a special event to mark Earth Day, bringing together alumni and industry guests from the creative sector. 

The event featured four exceptional speakers who have documented the power and beauty of Antarctica through writing, visual art, music, and sound, including Dr Diana Chester, sound artist and Senior Lecturer in Digital Media at the University of Sydney; Professor Jean McNeil, award-winning Writer and SSSHARC/HRC Fellow in Creative Practice; Alice Giles AM, acclaimed harpist and Lecturer at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music; and Janet Laurence, renowned contemporary artist.

From left: Professor Jean McNeil, Janet Laurence, Associate Professor Julie Rrap, Dr Diana Chester, and Alice Giles AM 

Each speaker shared their unique stories and perspectives on Antarctica, before joining a panel discussion moderated by Associate Professor Julie Rrap, Co-Chair/Director of Sydney College of the Arts. 

It was a fascinating event with a range of speakers who bring a unique appreciation of the natural world.
Esther Lennon, Alumni, Master of Museum and Heritage Studies

Taking place in the acoustically warm surroundings of the Sibyl Centre at the Women’s College, the audience was treated to an intimate evening of sights, sounds and impressions from the icy continent. 

Alice Giles kicked off the evening with an arresting rendition of ‘Towards the Midnight Sun’ by Nigel Westlake performed on the electro-acoustic harp she took to Antarctica, Professor Jean McNeil read striking accounts of her residency with the British Antarctic Survey from her memoir Ice Diaries, Dr Diana Chester played evocative sound recordings of glacier calving and leopard seals from her work with the Australian Antarctic Division, and Janet Laurence presented enchanting tales and images of ice shards, moss forests and penguins encountered on her trip to Casey research station. 

During the discussion panel, the speakers reflected on their personal experiences in Antarctica, the overarching sense of mission around climate change awareness and the role that art can play within this context.

“I had to question myself why I should take music to Antarctica. It became clear to me afterwards that society needs to know about the environmental significance of the continent,” Alice Giles expressed.

"We need more artists to be given the opportunities to travel to Antarctica. The amazing work of scientists is often translated into data. However, for me, it was through the arts and poetics of Antarctic which led me to learn about research projects in Antarctica,” Janet Laurence said. 

“While we are in the age of science, it is important that artists act as an ambassador or interpreter to make things happen for the greater collective of people,” Professor McNeil asserted.

“Art is story - I tell my students, I tell my science collaborators. We have the ability to explore and express as artists. Creating urgency around climate change should not be limited to scientific approaches alone,” Dr Chester emphasised. 

The thought-provoking contentions and ideas raised were well-received by the room, with many guests approaching presenters after the program to continue the conversation. We had the chance to chat with some of the attendees who shared their musings and reflections.

Artists give us opportunities to listen to an alternative perspective, beyond what’s often profit-driven, and I believe their work is part of what’s going to change the world.
Kitty-Jean Laginha, Alumni, Bachelor of Arts (Honours)
It’s important to bring in a large set of people from different mindsets, backgrounds, and perspectives to provide their unique inputs when exploring scientific concepts.
Harriet Cronley, Alumni, Bachelor of Visual Arts

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre (SSSHARC) hope to continue our collaboration with artists and stay engaged with our valuable community of alumni, industry and creative supporters in a meaningful way.

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