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Antarctic Interiors: Practices of Inhabitation through Embodied Interactions with the Ice

posted on 2023-05-25, 14:01 authored by Miranda NieboerMiranda Nieboer

Antarctica and the notion of the interior are intrinsically intertwined. While the continent is strongly associated with its inaccessible icy interior, there are also built interior spaces in Antarctica that protect and sustain human life for the purposes of exploration and scientific research. Antarctic Interiors is an interdisciplinary research project that combines perspectives from Interior Design and spatial analysis with the insights of the emerging field of the ‘Antarctic humanities’. The thesis investigates ways in which Antarctica as a geographical and material place can inform a (re)thinking of the concept of ‘the interior’.

Recent research on interiority within extreme environments has focussed on seemingly unbounded oceanic space and outer space. While designers have had an increased involvement in the built environment in Antarctica in the last two decades due to the rise in the number of new research bases, the continent has been remarkably absent in spatial/interior research. Existing research into the continent and its built environment has focussed on psychology and human behaviour (for optimizing human operationality), historic archival research (for heritage and conservation purposes) and building engineering (for optimizing building performance), all of which convey very little about the complex conditions of interiority presented by the highly specific Antarctic environment.

Antarctic Interiors introduces the southernmost continent into contemporary scholarly discourse around the concept of the interior. Through its focus on embodied interactions with the ice, the thesis extends understandings of human inhabitation of the Antarctic. At the same time, because Antarctica’s highly specific atmosp- xxix here, geography and materiality challenge the boundaries of human perception and engagement, the thesis explores the limits of knowledge in interior research. Conventionally the interior is understood as a static, bounded space enveloped by a sedentary architectural structure. This traditional understanding of the interior is centred around the human subject, itself comprehended as an autonomous unchanging identity and a stable sensing self. Antarctic Interiors draws on Suzie Attiwill’s critical interrogation of the interior to open Antarctic research to other disciplinary perspectives and spatio-temporal scales. In this thesis, interiority is understood as a practice that entangles a myriad of human, material and environmental processes, and as a research into which requires both conventional and creative methodologies, representation and expression.

The thesis comprises six chapters in two sections: the first section of three chapters establishes a series of critical, theoretical and contextual ideas. The first chapter canvasses conventional approaches to the interior before turning to emergent theories that challenge the stability underlying notions of the interior that are centred upon the privileged and dominant position of the human subject. The second and third chapters argue that Antarctic interiority is trans-scalar, traversing the global and the personal, the atmospheric and the material, the physical and the imaginary. The three case studies in the second section make up the thesis’s own interior: the historical subglacial hut of Advance Base as narrated in Richard E. Byrd’s 1938 memoir Alone; the imaginary and filmic interiors of US Outpost no. 31 station in John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing; and the author’s own experiential research into the French logistical traverse, which involved driving a tractor to Concordia station in the continental interior of Antarctica. These six chapters are joined by the ‘Tractor Notes’ – a piece of critical spatial writing xxxi based on notes recorded during this fieldwork. Additionally, the thesis is interspersed with short videos of interior conditions as experienced during the Antarctic expedition. While this project is not a thesis by creative work, these additional elements productively evoke the embodied experience of engaging with the forces and the materiality of Antarctica that the scholarly chapters also explore.

The spatial analysis of the three case studies, together with the creative components of the author’s Antarctic fieldwork, support the argument that Antarctica is a forceful agent in the production of interiority. Within the Antarctic context, comfort, balance and rest – conditions traditionally associated with the interior – can be found only within an ongoing movement amidst and with Antarctica’s materiality. Incessantly adapting to and interacting with the material conditions of the ice, the human subject is always (in geographer John Wylie’s words) “becoming icy” – a process that is intimately tied to the making of interiors and practices of interiorisation.



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