Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Recreating Place - Scott's Hut, Cape Evans

Just outside Scott's Hut at Cape Evans
The Canterbury Museum has an exhibit on at the moment looking at Captain Scott's last, ill-fated journey to Antarctica. There are photographs and stories, videos and sound bites, but most excitingly it also includes a representation of his hut at Cape Evans. This was of particular interest to me regarding my work exploring sense of place and having been to the actual hut itself. I wanted to see how and what they chose to represent it with. What part of the experience were they trying to capture? And how did it differ from my own encounter with this historic place?

Reading about the men who lived there
The exhibit is broken into parts representing the various stages of Scott's journey. One enters through a twisting path exploring the recruitment of men and voyage South. You learn about the thousands of applicants to a journey with no promise of return, about the ponies and dogs who shared the deck with the 65 men chosen, and about the long journey from Cardiff, Wales to Ross Island on the edge of the ice shelf in the Ross Sea. You then turn and enter into the hut. A blast of cold air hits your face as you pass into the dimly lit space laid out with rough-hewn boards and white tape on the floor showing the placement of furniture. There are large black and white images take by Ponting showing the men in the hut and panels beside them telling stories of how the space was used. The long table at the centre of the room has a dancing array of images and text snipits highlighting the life that revolved around it. In one corner, music plays as if from an old gramophone brought down to the ice. And everywhere, cool air breezes past you to remind you of the constant bite that must have existed for those who once lived "here".

What hits me first is the space. I have a feeling that the footprint of this "hut" is the same as the one it is representing. But the lack of furniture and stuff makes it feel empty and hollow. This is interesting because the actual hut also has this feeling, only for different reasons. The articles are strewn about the place in a haphazard sort of way, almost as if someone will be returning shortly to tidy them away. And yet they are all frozen to the surfaces on which they rest and haven't moved from their places in 100 years. The bunks, some whose occupants now lie hundreds of metres under the ice are eerily tousled as if the occupants might settle in for another night. While the hut at the museum can't quite communicate these feelings of loss, the empty, hollowness itself is perhaps a fitting feeling for a hut locked in time.

Kitchen at Scott's hut
Reimagined kitchen
The other thing that gets me is the light. I visited Scott's hut in the middle of summer so the light which filtered in through the small windows was bright and filled the large room. This gave the hut a feeling of lightness which off set the heavy emptiness mentioned above. The museum hut was dark, with corners lit up with spotlights. I imagine this would be far more representative of the long, dark winter the men would have endured there. It also gave the "hut" a feeling of fleetingness, with the ever present darkness waiting to extinguish a picture or story. While different from my own, previous experience in Scott's hut, I enjoyed this one in how it spoke to the everyday challenge of living in such conditions on a frozen rock locked into a giant ice shelf - waiting.

Outside the "hut" were stories of how life outside the hut would have gone. Stories about dog sledding, man hauling, and getting the pole party ready for their departure. Unfortunately, this is where Hector decided he'd had enough so we motored on through and had a feed while watching the final film with various historians talking about their work. We then left the space and wandered back through the botanic gardens to the car. All of which varied a great deal to how I left after visiting Scott's hut in Antarctica - which included snow, ice, and a very bumpy Hagglund ride, all without a wee baby in tow.

Scientific pursuits
Actual equipment used

It was a neat experience, visiting this representation of a place I had been. While some things were easily recalled through the careful attention of the curator, there were vast differences which simply could not be changed - physical location and the presence of Hector being the two most glaring. It highlights the ever evolving nature of our relationship to places and the multitude of different ways of seeing them. As we change and develop as individuals, our perceptions change as our values and interests alter, as do our opportunities and ways of seeing. For me, at this moment in time, Antarctica feels at once nearer and further than it ever has before. Hector's arrival has limited my opportunities for travel to Antarctica in the near future and has pushed the continent just beyond my grasp. However, the new challenges and the drawing in of my focus to the minutia of daily tasks has given me a new way to see and time to reflect on my memories from and research into Antarctica.

Scott's dining table

The recreated dining table at the musuem
Overall, I enjoyed the exhibit and look forward to getting back there when my folks are here in order to look through the second half of it.

1 comment:

  1. "Hector O'clock" all over again. An insightful set of observations of then and now, there and here. Good to have these experiences and sharp to reflect upon them.