Into the valley of death…

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When I mentioned Matt Pruden’s piece, “Robert Falcon Scott Dreams of the Pole (Aurora Australis),” to Roberta this morning, she said it was up at the most appropriate time—when our leader, to take our mind off the deaths in Iraq, announced a program to put people on Mars.

The installation in the Window on Broad at UArts refers to Scott’s 1912 expedition: His team of explorers arrived at the pole a month behind Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, and then perished on the way back. Their loss was England’s loss as surely as Sputnik was our loss—our failure to be first.

And kind of like space, there was no there, there. Pruden called the effort absurd: “The North and South pole are completely imaginary places. They undertook an incredible physical ordeal to get to an imaginary place.”

Part of what interested Pruden, he said, was how the poles “became these blank screens that so much person hubris, nationalism and fantasy and romantic fantasy got projected onto.”

The installation, which is best seen at night, when the forbidding reflections and the scratches in the glass don’t block your view, includes white-covered books on an icicle-draped mantle, the gold pages reflected like a ghostly polar aurora in a glass above the books. The central image is terrific in an otherwise forbidding space (kind of like the Pole, perhaps).

Pruden captures some of the romanticism and folly of an English gentleman trying to prove himself and conquer for his nation an unforgiving arctic nature that he knows only through books and photographs and his imagination.

Pruden has a show coming up at Nexus Gallery in March, by the way.

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