I traveled to Antarctica with the Norwegian cruise vessel Fram that had Philippine petty officers. In my work the scientist Markku T. Kurkinen and the ship’s sailor Protacio Mabunga become friends during the trip to the Antarctic Peninsula. Kur-kinen, who uses a wheelchair, wanted to see the penguins and the Antarctic. Mabunga had ended up on Antarctica in order to provide for his family. The men set aside the unwritten rule, according to which the ships petty officers are to keep a respectful distance to the passengers.
The music in the video installation is made by the sound artist Tay Wai Aye Chan, whom I met in Yangon, Burma. Even though, in my work, I combine the music with Antarctica, it also bears another meaning. The music tells a story of the passing away of Aye Chan’s mother, and the Buddhist perception of the moment of death. In the video, Aye Chan talks about his pursuit to stay in touch with his deceased mother, as well as the significance of sounds in the state between life and death. On Antarctica Kurkinen and Mabunga also talk about death. Mabunga’s brother and father passed away when he was working on the ship Fram.
Although the stories in my work deal with death, the work is also connected to Burma, currently in a post-colonial period – as well as Antarctica, a continent now colonized for scientific purposes. Western neo-colonialism presents a challenge for Burma and the Philippines. As its consequence, South-East Asians have become cheap and sought after labor also for cruise ships. Tourism to the Antarctic would not even be possible without Asian migrant workers on the cruise ships. The workers, flown in from South East Asia, live almost half of the year on board the ships. They call Antarctica the emptiness, the ”nowhere” place.
The work also touches upon the concept of the Orient, ”the other” that has been created by the West. Antarctica is perhaps the last place on Earth that the Western world has conquered as its own sphere of influence. Antarctica is governed by the same Western gaze, rationality and fictive narrative that also was a central instrument when orientalism defined the East.