︎ Process Pending Newsletter
︎ ehc2150[at]columbia.edu

Frozen Bodies is a tentative, informal, visual autoethnography I designed to track physical and emotional states of being throughout my first field season in Antarctica. I traced 100 photographs of myself and others in my community to create outlines of bodies, then printed, cut, and sewed them into a booklet that could fit inside a jacket pocket. Throughout the field season, I used oil pastels, colored pencils, and highlighters to color the bodies. 

I began working on Frozen Bodies as a way to acknowledge the intense dissociation[i] I experienced in my 20s. I wanted to create a way to record sensation and experience without having to verbalize it. Frozen Bodies serves as a tentative, informal visual autoethnography[ii],[iii]. In Antarctica to do science (orientation), be a scientist (identity), collect data (action), I wanted to understand the impact of the place and my work on (my relationship to) myself, and the impact of my state of mind and body on my work.

While Frozen Bodies is a journal of sorts, an kind of archive, like those kept by Ernest Shackleton and Amundsen Scott, it doesn't record (inter)actions or achievements, and it does not make for a good read. Instead, I aimed to draw my own attention to my own body (and related experiences), then actualize that feeling. In doing this, and in reflecting upon this, I am able to draw some relationships between the effect of doing fieldwork on myself, and the science I was there to do.

At first, before I was actually in the field (e.g., while waiting in California or at McMurdo), I found neither the shape of the outline nor its original owner mattered. I filled the pages in order. When the length of the wait was uncertain, and the stakes of the wait were high, the weight of the wait was relentless, uncontained. The pressure caused sublimation: solid expectations and boundaries vaporized. My relationship to my surroundings becomes unclear because I was not supposed to be there; while waiting, I became formless, turned inwards, lost track of my body. Thus, the shape of the outline was irrelevant.

Later, during actual fieldwork, reliant on my body, in the place I had waited so long to be, the form of the outline did matter for me, and I felt a significant resistance to filing in bodies that weren't my own -- e.g., outlines of other people. I n the end, I completed 51 pages.

I also found that the medium I used - oil pastels - had a few lessons to convey. Pigment from completed pages would imprint on neighboring pages.

When the finished page imprinted on a page that hadn't been filled in yet, it served as a visual reminder of how our past states affect our present selves.

This can be as simple as a recurring injury, like the weakness in my right shoulder from a climbing accident in 2020. Every day during fieldwork, at least 40 times a day, I lifted the antennas and the battery and radar off the sled, positioned them, and returned them to the sled. After a week of these repetitive motions, the weakness in my right shoulder intensified and my shoulder blade and wrist started tingling. I changed the way I sat on the skidoo, changed the leg and arm I used to pick up the antennas. Did that discomfort mean I took more or less care with the points on the last days? Will I see that injury in the data, or did I successfully mask myself from the science? In other words, how does my body appear in the positivist, scientific data, if at all?

These imprints can be as complex as globalization. Why was I on Thwaites Glacier? Nominally, to take measurements of the interior deformation of the glacier - to do "objective" science. But this scientific effort is both intimately tied to global climate change[iv],[v], is part of a collaborative project between institutions and countries[vi], not to mention that any/all of Antarctic science is geopolitical[vii],[viii]. The history of glaciology is imperial[ix], colonial[x], and gendered[xi],[xii]. The work I do, any data I collect, and my own presence on the ice sheet, has significant geopolitical underpinnings.

When completed pages imprinted on previous pages, it showed me how our present experiences affect our memories and interpretations of past events.

While we, as scientists, aim to take enough notes and data in the field so as to avoid relying on our memory for interpretation, the history of science (and the present, and the future) is rife with examples of past data, records, and experiences being reinterpreted with new methods, technologies, and information. We contextualize our science based on the observations, modeling, and results of other science, stories, experiences, and information. The measurements I took are an exact, but incomplete, recollection of the state of the glacier at that point in space and time.

[i] Depersonalization/derealization code 300.6; American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. DSM-5-TR. American Psychiatric Association Publishing, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425787.

[ii] "Traditional scientific approaches, still very much at play today, require researchers to minimize their selves, viewing self as a contaminant and attempting to transcend and deny it." Sarah Wall “An Autoethnography on Learning About Autoethnography”International Journal of Qualitative Methods 5(2) (2006):, 146–160, doi:10.1177/160940690600500205.

[iii] In doing so, I reach out to a lineage of visual autoethnographies in/as theses, see e.g., Nick Sousanis, Unflattening(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2015).

[iv] Paul R. Holland, Thomas J. Bracegirdle, Pierre Dutrieux, Adrian Jenkins, and Eric J. Steig. “West Antarctic Ice Loss Influenced by Internal Climate Variability and Anthropogenic Forcing.” Nature Geoscience 12, no. 9 (September 2019): 718–24, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0420-9.

[v] Kaitlin A. Naughten, Paul R. Holland, Pierre Dutrieux, Satoshi Kimura, David T. Bett, and Adrian Jenkins. “Simulated Twentieth-Century Ocean Warming in the Amundsen Sea, West Antarctica.” Geophysical Research Letters 49, no. 5 (2022), https://doi.org/10.1029/2021GL094566.

[vi] International Thwaites Glacier Consortium. https://thwaitesglacier.org/

[vii] Adrian Howkins “Melting Empires? Climate Change and Politics in Antarctica since the International Geophysical Year” Osiris 26, no. 1 (January 2011): 180–97, https://doi.org/10.1086/661271.

[viii] “Antarctic science is a way in which nation states dominated affairs and collected geo-strategic intelligence,” from Naylor, Simon, Martin Siegert, Katrina Dean, and Simone Turchetti “Science, Geopolitics and the Governance of Antarctica.” Nature Geoscience1, no. 3 (March 2008): 143–45, https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo138.

[ix] Peder Roberts The European Antarctic: Science and Strategy in Scandinavia and the British Empire, (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).

[x] Ben Maddison, Class and Colonialism in Antarctic Exploration, 1750-1920 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2014).

[xi] Christina L. Hulbe, Weili Wang, and Simon Ommanney “Women in Glaciology, a Historical Perspective.” Journal of Glaciology 56, no. 200 (ed 2010): 944–64, https://doi.org/10.3189/002214311796406202.

[xii] Only a single woman is cited in this history of glaciology, for example – Garry Clarke “A Short History of Scientific Investigations on Glaciers” Journal of Glaciology 33, no. S1 (ed 1987): 4–24, https://doi.org/10.3189/S0022143000215785.