James was enlisted after White Desert’s cofounder saw his art in New York.
The marching orders involved installing one of his “gigantic sculptures” in the indoor communal area in the central complex of the futuristic-styled camp in Antartica that consists of 10 or so pods. “It’s quite decadent considering it’s in the middle of Antartica. Even just bringing all of that equipment there is quite crazy,“ James said. “Just imagine a Space Age art gallery with a spherical sculpture. There’s a very similar place on The High Line [in New York] that just went in.”
The opportunity to be the first artist to have a piece installed in Antartica was too tempting, despite the haul to get there. The British-born artist asked his best friend, fashion photographer Craig McDean, to join him on the journey to have and document the adventure.
The Los Angeles-based James first flew to New York to catch a 16-hour-plus direct flight to Cape Town, South Africa, followed by a six-and-a-half-hour private jet jaunt to Antartica. Landing on an ice-covered runway (appropriately named Wolf’s Fang) was just part of the adventure.
“Everything is ice. It’s literally a white desert. It’s bizarre,” he said. “It’s crazy looking out of the window, when you spot the runway there. It’s like corduroy. They’ve literally cut grooves into the ice so they can stop the plane. The jet pauses outside of the camp.”
Just back from Antartica, he hopes to use McDean’s images for a book, as well as press material. Incredibly vast and flat but also near mountain ranges, Antartica is “the nearest thing that you can get to outer space,” James said. “You go outside an it’s just endless ice with blue sky, as far as you can see from every angle. And the light is 24 hours a day [at this time of year],” James said.
In the sub-30 degree tundra for less than a week, James periodically ventured outdoors, where visitors can trek around mountains and go down into a crevasse. “I did a few of the activities. I’m not the most adventurous guy sometimes. But yeah, I’d gone all that way. [laughs] I went for a climb. I went out on a climb. I went on the Ski-Doo. I went outside every day,” James said. “You could take an airplane to the South Pole. Craig did it. I decided I didn’t want to do it that date.”
Abseiling frozen cliffs, fat-biking, ice-climbing and camping out for a night using lifesaving exploring techniques are other options. The 24/7 daylight took some getting used to, according to James. “You have to wear your sunglasses or you would burn your eyes,” he said.
Given that, travelers lose all sense of time without a watch. Smartphones are out, as there is no cell service. “I found it hard to sleep but they made it so comfortable with the poshest conditions on earth,” James said.
Like most “regular people,” he didn’t have any clothes that would be suitable for the Arctic’s extreme weather “lying around the house,” James said. Before he could pack anything, he had to stock up on weatherproof Gore-Tex jackets, multiple layers and boots. “It was actually quite good fashion to tell you the truth. I bought everything in black, but I got my boots in yellow.” James said. “I have to check the brand.…I bought everything Arc’teryx. What boots did I buy? La Sportiva. I liked them very much.”
With the Antartica expedition wrapped up, James is planning for a solo show that bows in Dubai’s Opera gallery next month. One of his public art sculptures is up in London’s Berkeley Square near the private club Annabel’s for the better part of this year, and his recently installed work on The High Line in New York City has been garnering some attention, too. “Most people don’t know who I am. But the art has a theatricality. It is a bit of a people pleaser. On the High Line, you already have a crowd of people outside every day. They’re looking at this thing, wondering what it is,” James said.
As for how the friends of 25 years will top their frigid adventure, James said, “Well, that’s going to be a hard one to beat. It involved taking a 60-inch sculpture in a crate to Antartica to set up in the camp. The camp is modular, the sculpture is not. It’s like a solid form. That was pretty challenging. They built the pod around the sculpture not vice versa.”
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