The Temporary Refuge

The temporary refuge as a metaphor for the fragility of the human condition. I seem to keep returning to this idea in my work – during the 1990s I explored cocoon and hive forms and, more recently, the 18th century Japanese paper folding teahouses that I have mentioned in previous entries. So an appropriate starting point for the second phase of my residency period seems to be Herbert George Ponting’s photograph “Cavern in an Iceberg” (Museum no. E.1320-2000). Taken in 1910, this was part of a series entitled “Scott’s Last Expedition” and was one of the objects that I selected to be shown alongside my own residency drawings.Installation of Museum objects as part of 'Gaze' in gallery 102

I have just revisited the portfolio of Ponting’s stunningly beautiful photographs of Scott’s ill-fated expedition. “Cavern in an Iceberg” seems in a way to talk about two temporary refuges, one as fragile as the other. Ponting had climbed into a hollow in the iceberg in order to take the photograph and later wrote of the extraordinary sensation that he felt partially enclosed in the ice. From one precarious refuge the other was then documented. There is a touch of voyeurism in this as, from within the cavern, Scott’s boat is observed – distant, static and surrounded by frozen ice.

The other images in the portfolio describe an environment which dwarfs the members of the expedition as they cross vast expanses of ice – in the distance frozen forms that resemble towering, uninhabited cities rise up. But it is this last image that I keep returning to. It encapsulates fears that are current today – a world in which hostile environments offer temporary, fragile forms of sanctuary. And in a world constantly in a state of flux, we attempt to create places of refuge in our day-to-day existence.

Hive, 196 x 174 cm, pigment on found paper, 1997

Hive, 196 x 174 cm, pigment on found paper, Sian Bowen, 1997