School of Art, Media, and Technology

Simone Douglas’ Australian Desert Ice Project, “Promise”

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MFA Fine Arts Director, Simone Douglas, was awarded a school fund to help her build a large scale sculptural artwork in the Australian Desert. Learn more about Promise, and its 2015 opening reception! 


It’s a slice of history that became an obsession and an inspiration for acclaimed Australian-born, New York-based artist Simone Douglas, and one that will finally reach fruition in the winter of 2015, with her upcoming artwork Promise.

The project takes as its departure point the story of Charles Sturt, who in 1845 embarked on a trek into the Australian interior in search of an inland sea. Stranded in the desert, and finding no such body of water, Sturt and his crew dispersed, leaving behind them their essential item of cargo: a whaling vessel.

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Promise takes on Sturt’s vessel as a metaphorical underpinning for its central component: a monumental and uniquely sculptured ship of ice, built and installed directly in the desert near Broken Hill NSW. Utilizing contemporary technology, ecological research, and community outreach to engage and reflect the stories of the inhabitants of the heartland of Australia, the construction of the ice ship will serve as a poetic symbol of reparation–a passionate inducement for considering how we as a nation can go forward. Our identity, our ground breaking contribution and commitment to green energy and our international cultural legacy are imbued in this monumental work.

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“We have to build a mold, and we’re going to build that inside a giant cooler – probably the world’s largest esky – which will drop the temperature in the mold chamber. We’ll then drop 10 cm of water, which will freeze onto the mold every day, and we’ll build it up by layers. The water at the bottom will have air in it and, as it moves to the top, the air will be drawn out of the water so it becomes more translucent. That means that the top of the boat will hold the sky, and the bottom will give a sense of weight at the ground.”

Promise divides into three distinct parts:
The Ice Ship – Broken Hill. A 35-metre long ship of ice on location in The Living Desert on the ancient bed of a prehistoric ocean. As the ice ship melts, it leaves behind a payload of water, triggering a native floral bloom, a footprint of brilliant red flowers. The location for the ice ship has been carefully chosen in consultation with local historians, park rangers, and the indigenous custodians of the land. The project is being developed through a sustainable and comprehensive zero-waste strategy. The refrigeration units will be carbon-neutral, and will be given to the local community. The melt-water will be reticulated to a nearby creek bed for animals to drink.
The Live Feed – Sydney and NYC. It is calculated that the ship will take thirty days to melt. A live video feed exhibit will present the melting ship and subsequent floral bloom in real-time in Sydney and New York City.
Semi-Permanent Ice Ship – Sydney. A second, sustainable ice ship on a smaller scale, proposed for exhibition in a major Sydney museum. Unlike the molded ice structure in the desert, this will be ‘condensed’ from water vapor in the air using electro-magnetic cooling rods shaped into the ribs of the ship. This ice ship will slowly ‘knit’ together from condensed and frozen water vapour as the desert ship melts back into the earth. As one ship devolves the other will evolve.

To read more about the project, visit Broken Hill Australia, and watch this video with Simone.

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