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Culture

Chillin' With a Good Book

Ice, penguins, and scientists are things commonly found in the in the Antarctic -- but a library? German artist Lutz Fritsch wants to install one amid the bleak beauty of a research station in the Weddell Sea.

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Endless ice: the Neumayer station in Antarctic


In one of the most inhospitable places on the planet, a handful of climatologists examine centuries-old ice for clues about the weather in eras long past. Here, between neon tubes and measuring devices, there would seem to be no place for art and literature.

Yet that’s exactly what German sculptor and artist Lutz Fritsch wants to create: a “library in the ice,” an archive of human achievements in contrast to nature at its most extreme.

Party of ten

The Neumayer scientific research station, run by Germany’s Alfred-Wegener-Institute for polar exploration, houses up to ten people who live and work there during the Antarctic winter. Each team overwintering at the station stays there for 14 to 15 months, and for nine months of that time, their only link to the outside world is by radio or satellite.

During the winter of 1994/95, Fritsch travelled to Neumayer aboard the research ship Polar Star, spending a number of weeks with the scientists. The artist says the idea for the library came from experiencing the vastness of the landscape compared to the closeness of the living quarters, which consist of adjoining corrugated metal containers.

Testmessungen in der Umgebung der Neumayer-Station

The library should be “the opposite of the sobriety of the research station,” says Fritsch, a “place in the ice in which to ruminate about the fast, hectic world back home.”

The library will also be housed in a corrugated metal container; the idea of a specially made, glassed-walled building was nixed due to cost considerations. But while similarly isolated from the bitter cold, it is nonetheless different from its weatherbeaten counterparts.

Cherry wood and leather

Painted bright green with a pink roof, the library is designed to stand out on the Antarctic ice shelf like a colorful building block, offering strong contrast to its monotonous surroundings. The cozy interior invites guests to sit down and stay a while: bookshelves of cherry wood and a brown leather sofa exude warmth and comfort. A small window over the reading table looks out onto a view of endless ice desert and an empty horizon.

Fritsch aims to use the library to create a dialog between art and science, connecting artists and thinkers from various disciplines together. He has asked hundreds of individual artists and scientists to each donate the one book that they think the polar researchers absolutely must read during their 15-month stay at Neumayer, something that applies to their particularly isolated situation. Each book is signed by the person who recommended it, and comes with a commentary as to why it was selected.

Thus far, Fritsch has collected some 500 books, from writers such as Günter Grass and Christa Wolf, and film director Tom Tykwer; he hopes eventually to have between 1,000 and 1,500. Günter Grass chose his novel My Century, while filmmaker Tom Tykwer chose Danish author Peter Hoeg’s novel Borderliners, a rumination on the limitations of time and space.

Fundraising bookends

The library container was delivered to the Antarctic in early December, and the books should follow sometime in 2004. The project is supported in part by the Alfred Wegener Institute, who provided the container and transport. Fritsch hopes to pay for the interior decoration and other costs through special edition aluminum bookends. For 1,000 euros, a buyer can get a bookend engraved with the words “Library in the Ice.” Its counterpart, with the name of the donor on it, will be kept in the library.

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