Terra Incognita

“Antarctica was always a space of the imagination—before, during, and after my own voyage.  “Sara Wheeler, Terra Incognita (1996).

Using photography as medium observable mechanisms of collective imaginaries are evoked in particular contexts. I am interested in having encountered a simulation of Antarctica in one of the well-known Orlando theme parks; it is a frozen desert built upon a swamp in Florida. Through photography, I intend to translate the imaginary landscape using representation conventions typical of landscaping. Identity mechanisms surround the image in the construction of the scenography’s reproduction and the frame encloses a fake landscape for it to coincide with its simulation models. Within a typified discourse, photography becomes an epistemological experiment of credibility; through the creative device itself, the framing, the moment of the shot, I extract plausible images that contain clues that reveal the artificial elements of their nature.

Antarctica has always been an imaginative space. Even before it was officially discovered, European maps showed Antarctica as hypothetical land. It remained invisible until 1820 when a Russian expedition first sighted the ice shelf, followed by more exploration expeditions by the West. Narratives of the heroic age of exploration portrayed Antarctica as an impenetrable place, set apart from the modern world. The south pole became an icon of danger, mystery, and romanticism. The starting point for the Terra Incognita photography series is those preceding collective narratives that mediate the ideas and fantasies that form the foundation of the Antarctic imaginary. It is a project about related images; Antarctica sets the ideal on which the landscape scenarios have been built.

Photography takes those parallels of romantic wilderness with modern consumerist light fun, both clashing in one frame. That landscape construction reminds of the cartographers’ ways of seeing and relating to the world, one of the dominant viewpoints over nature while framing it in terms of global scales. In Terra Incognita, in the supposed normality deceiving elements lie; we can no longer celebrate nature with naivety as there is another concept of nature nuanced by civilization and economy. The details hidden in the image show not just the falsity but also qualities of the modern American consumerist lifestyle and remainders of emerging climate change narratives.

In that instance, Antarctica is replaced and lost in a simulation that unfolds fascination. While taking place in the amusement park, the scenography is not just an imitation but a supplantation of reality by signs and diluted in icons; it is embodied in simulations, imaginations, and images. In the relationships and contradictions between the original and the copy, all the values are packaged and, in turn, exalted: the continent once imagined by cartographers and the set of illusions of the scenography of a theme park, discovery and consumption, conquest and tourism, epic adventure and amusement.