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Laconia Gallery


Blue Desert: Towards Antarctica

Geoff Pingree, Rian Brown, and Peter Swendsen

Friday, November 4, 2011 to Sunday, December 4, 2011

A video installation work by Geoff Pingree and Rian Brown
With sound by Peter Swendsen

Blue Desert poster

Laconia Gallery and Suffolk University Art Gallery at NESAD are pleased to co-present the world premiere of BLUE DESERT ~ Towards Antarctica, a multi-channel video installation, at Laconia Gallery. The work, by filmmakers Geoff Pingree and Rian Brown, features an original soundtrack by composer Peter Swendsen that draws on audio recorded in the Antarctic. The installation’s projections and soundtrack fill the gallery space and surround the viewer to convey some sense of the vastness and dramatic beauty of one of the earth’s most remote locations.

triptych of images of antarctica

BLUE DESERT’s cinematographic framing and spectacularly precise High Definition imagery create an immediate sensory experience of discovery and suspense. Poetic and meditative, the work confronts the ultimate artistic challenge: to record and express the sublime. A series of tight shots of the National Geographic Explorer’s deck foreground an array of extreme wide shots of Antarctica’s stunning pictorial space. The flowing color and compositional strength of each painterly vignette reflect Pingree and Brown’s artistic vision and documentary directness and make for a mysteriously hypnotic experience. Forms moving simultaneously on multiple planes of space—in the water, on ice flows, and along distant shores—conjure a kind of cold water desert mirage that piques our imagination in unexpected ways.

Numerous extreme long takes allow us to float viscerally through a profoundly unfamiliar landscape. Slow pans along shorelines balance shorter, more detailed shots to give the installation’s views striking texture and temperature. The camera registers both the soothing, rhythmic movements of overlapping wake and echoing waves as well as the ship’s violent heaving as it breaks through sheets of ice, sending a snakelike, widening crack darting ahead of its bow.

These visually stunning panoramas and the subtle, otherworldly soundtrack coalesce into an experience more than a video installation – a fruitful collaboration that renders documentary emotionally immersive art.

The artists introduce the work this way:

“… BLUE DESERT surrounds the observer with spectacular views of Antarctica’s vast, haunting, and fragile landscape. More akin to a moving painting or chapel of frescos than to a nature documentary, the project builds a dramatic environment that encourages audiences to contemplate and meditate upon the fleeting light, grand scale, and striking majesty of this distant and largely uninhabited part of the earth. While any depiction of the Antarctic is, in some sense, futile—an attempt to represent the unrepresentable—BLUE DESERT, shot during a three week expedition to Antarctica using high-resolution cameras and audio equipment, offers one rendering of a world that is at once overwhelming and alien, deeply felt and unfathomable, immediate and unreachable.”

Rian Brown is a filmmaker and video artist who teaches Cinema Studies at Oberlin College. She works in both digital/filmic and as tactile forms. Her work over the last twelve years is rooted primarily in making film/video shorts and exploring new modalities for video projection. The concepts she tends to explore have to do with landscape, the body, memory and notions of nostalgia. Recently her work has evolved to multi-channel projection, pre-cinematic objects and illuminated large-scale backlit paintings. Brown is interested rethinking the most elemental components of cinema—light, shadow and the magic of capturing and projecting moving images in time. Her work has shown around the world at film festivals and museums including the L.A. Hammer Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland, the New York Shorts Festival, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, Women in the Director’s Chair, and many others. Brown was an artist in resident at the Headlands Center of the Arts. She was recently awarded the 2011 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award. She has two young boys and spends her time in Italy and the U.S.

Geoff Pingree is a writer, photographer, and documentary filmmaker who works in Spain and the U.S. and directs the Cinema Studies program at Oberlin College. He earned a master’s and doctorate in film studies at the University of Chicago and, before coming to Oberlin, worked in public television in Washington, DC, where he also directed Catholic University’s Program in Media Studies and George Washington University’s Institute for Documentary Filmmaking. His film work has received an Emmy Award and been broadcast on venues including PBS and Discovery. His photography received National Geographic’s 2008 World in Focus Grand Prize and has been published widely in magazines and newspapers including National Geographic Traveler, the New York Times, and the International Herald Tribune. He and Brown edited BLUE DESERT a single-channel film, and he is completing a feature-length documentary shot in Guatemala. With Brown he also founded and directs the Apollo Outreach Initiative, a media education and community outreach program housed in Oberlin’s historic Apollo Theater.

Peter V. Swendsen ( is Assistant Professor of Computer Music and Digital Arts at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. He studied at Oberlin, Mills College, and the University of Virginia. He spent a year in residence as a Fulbright Fellow at the NoTAM computer music studios in Oslo, Norway, where he worked on a large project based in soundscape composition and ecoacoustics. His subsequent compositions focus on creating an experience of place for the listener, often by combining acoustic instruments with live electronics. He has created over thirty scores for dance, including recent collaborations with Mary Carbonara Dances in San Francisco and GroundWorks DanceTheater in Cleveland. His research focuses on soundscape composition as well as the relationship between electroacoustic music and dance and has been presented and published by journals and festivals in the US and Europe. Recent performances include events in San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Montreal, London, Amsterdam, and Oslo.