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Oonagh Young Gallery

Crystalline: Disappearing Worlds by Siobhan McDonald

Crystalline: Disappearing Worlds by Siobhan McDonald

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This series, Disappearing Worlds, is based on photographic plates recovered from various Arctic expeditions (c.late 1800s / early 1900s). The images that survived in cameras used on these grand voyages, trapped in the glaciers with the glass plates preserved within them, provide the paintings with their subject matter.

My research for this project was extended in 2015 when I found myself on a barkentine Arctic expedition in the same waters that had subsumed ships and Arctic explorers for hundreds of years. By 1823 the North American Arctic was still the last undiscovered ecosystem on the planet. It was a landscape so cold that it fractured everything it penetrated, including the stones. It was uncharted, unclaimed territory and Europeans had perished in it miserably. I was captivated by the story of the disappearance of the Franklin ships in 1845, the mythical expedition of two Victorian-era vessels that vanished while searching for the Northwest Passage.

I am retracing this territory by developing Unknown Landscapes, a series of oil paintings based on photographic plates from these expeditions. The cameras survived in the permafrost when the ships and crew disappeared into nothingness. The plates carry the melancholy and the magic of those frontier times. The strange thing is that the cameras of many of the early explorers who went in search of the Franklin expedition had survived in the permafrost, with the glass plates preserved within them.  The negative plates were developed many years later revealing the scars of time and ice compression on the surfaces of the glass plates I was granted permission from the National Library of Oslo to make tracings from the original plates for this series of work. The paintings deal with the issue of loss in Climate Change and the idea of human endurance during extreme circumstances.

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