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Polar Mark RMIT University Project Space

Catalogue Essay by Jonathan LUKER (2007)

“As a whole the subjects became less trusting and more suspicious of others immediately after their year in Antarctica.” A.J.W. Taylor, Professor of Clinical Psychology,The Selection of People for Work in Polar Regions

“Man is The Warmest Place to Hide.”
Promotional tagline for John Carpenter’s The Thing, 1982

This Antarctic space is peopled by Kieran Boland’s cast of actors and extras working on an apparently incomplete cinematic project entitled The Polar Mark. He combines a lively, free-flowing layering and stream-of-consciousness composition with Rembrandt-like line to create a series of movie-like ‘takes’, complete with clapper-board rubber stamp.

As though storyboard, artist’s conception, screen test and take had been collapsed into a single image, each work is a chaotic collision of movie-like roles, narratives, atmospheres and possible outcomes. This is a script in development, a writhing monster bursting with new characters, storylines and horror movie degeneration.

John Carpenter’s The Thing has clearly had an influence on this body of work. Beyond the direct visual references are key Antarctic themes and myths. Indeed, The Thing is well regarded and regularly enjoyed by workers at Antarctic stations who see many truths, accidental or otherwise, in the representation of life at the Pole: the long dark of winter; the physical struggle to survive and the narrow margin between life and death; staving off the cold and loneliness with hard liquor; small accidents and the rapid escalation from mishap to disaster; distrust and the mounting suspicion of others; the slippery slide toward isolation and alcohol-induced delusion; and so on. In The Thing, the tense prospect of finding oneself trapped in an isolated base with a polymorphic flesh-eating monster brings these simmering matters to a head. It is however a work of fiction and there are inaccuracies. An over-winter contractor at McMurdo Base, Antarctica in 2003 noted that: “In the actual USAP, employees are forbidden flamethrowers.”

Much like the voracious organism in The Thing, Boland hungrily assimilates material from across the full breadth of Hollywood and television as fodder for his fictitious film project. He sees and actively makes interconnections everywhere, both within and between these works. Emerging from this complex non-linear tangle are glimpses of storyline. A child hauls desperately on a rope, apparently to cause or prevent something important. A Hitchcock-like character considers his options as penguins regard him with still, silent malevolence. A female lead character succumbs to the crushing weight of an immense snowball. A man, slumped in exhaustion, madness or despair has loaned his hat to his snowman friend, possibly hastening his own death. A tipsy barfly lines up his drinks and wonders if it’s all real.

As do we all. Is The Polar Mark being shot on location in the Antarctic at all? This seems unlikely for a Hollywood production – The Thing was actually shot in British Columbia, Alaska and California. Are these works fragments of script, storyboard, documentary, or the delirious imaginings of an out-of-work actor in a bar somewhere?

Jonathan LUKER is a Melbourne based Artist and Writer


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