Bettina Kaiser

Bettina Kaiser

Tell us a bit about yourself as an artist

I’m an interdisciplinary artist with a background in painting.

These days, I work both on and off the wall. I delve into my particular areas of interest, often to do with our environment and the climate crisis. I choose the materials and techniques that I use, to suit the subject matter that I’m working with at the time.

Through my art I seek to make ideas, facts, or emotions visible, more tangible or relatable.

Why did you want to go to Antarctica?

Getting access to such a special place on our earth was a huge privilege. I suspected before I headed off that this opportunity would change the way I saw the world forever, and I was right.

Since moving to Australia from Germany, my awe and wonder of nature has deepened. Getting to Antarctica offered a unique opportunity to see one of our last wild and pure places.

One particularly special aspect of it was going there as an artist first and foremost, to experience and capture the place with my creative mind entirely turned on and tuned in.

When did you go to Antarctica? What were the trips?

I went on two trips in 2007 and one trip in 2008. All three trips started from Ushuaia in South America. The first two trips travelled to the Antarctic peninsula and the third was onboard an icebreaker, the Kapitan Khlebnikov, that sailed to an emperor penguin colony on Snow Island.

What did you think of the experience? What were the challenges? What interested you particularly? Any particular stories from the voyage?

Now, 15 years later, having been there seems like a far-fetched dream: the vast, vast landscape; the clean, crisp air; mountains and mountains of ice, and being surrounded by it all. The Antarctic continent is so different to anything I had seen before and that I will ever see again (unless maybe we can travel to the moon one day).

One of the things I found astounding in it all was the sheer abundance of wildlife. The penguin colonies, the seals, the whales. I had expected a rare sighting here or there due to the harsh climate, but the opposite was the case. The ocean and ice and land were brimming with life.

I was also not sure if working outside, en plein air, as an artist would be a reasonable assumption. But it turned out to be quite possible. The right clothing plus the Antarctic summer allowed me to sit, observe and work on paper. As an artist in residence, I also held workshops for passengers. Those who participated enjoyed drawing outside as much as I did. We recognised that we all had this impulse to constantly pick up our cameras so we could take home and share the places we experienced. However, I believe that those of us who paused to sit and draw, or just meditate and make marks on paper, took home deeper impressions. We realised that the vastness of the continent, the smallness of us, the rough rock surfaces sticking out of the ice, the surfaces shining in the sun, and the clear air on our cheeks all had to be experienced, not captured on camera, confined to the inside of a rectangle.

What did you make of the experience? How do you think about it now?

Travelling to a place like Antarctica is a privilege and a once-in-a-lifetime experience (or in my case, thrice-in-a-lifetime).

Seeing the vast landscapes and the smallness of we humans in the face of that white continent brings life into perspective. I feel that we need to share as much as we can of what we experienced there with people around us to keep the conversation about conservation going and do our part to protect the continent.

Any other thoughts?

Naturally, I would love to go back again one day, but simply on account of my ecological footprint, I would probably not choose to do it.

It has been really fabulous for me to unearth my artworks and mementos for this exhibition as it allowed me to relive that unique experience and realise it actually really happened! I was there!