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Art in Antarctica: The Markers

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The Markers

National Science Foundation (NSF) Antarctic Artist and Writers Program awardee Xavier Cortada marks t

he passage of time by exploring important world events that have moved the world forward during the past 50 years.



The South Pole

On December 14, 1911, Norwegian Roald Amundsen was first to 

reach the South Pole. The geographic South Pole is located near the center of the Antarctic ice sheet at an altitude of 2800 meters. The ice sheet covering the Pole is moving at about 10 m per year toward the Weddell Sea (along the 60 degree West meridian).  Each year, staff at the South Pole station reposition the South Pole marker to compensate for the movement of the ice.

On October 31, 1956, Lt. Shinn landed the first plane, "Que Sera Sera," at the South Pole.  Three weeks later, on November 20, 1956, the first South Pole station construction crew arrived.

On January 4, 1957, the Navt Seabees crew turned the completed station over to a team of nine scientists, nine support professionals (e.g.: a doctor, a cook) and a dog who wintered over and officially opened the base to scientific exploration.


The Installation

On January 4, 2007, on  the 50th anniversary of the opening of the South Pole station, Miami artist Xavier Cortada arrived at the South Pole and planted 51 differently-colored flags along a 500-meter stretch of a moving ice sheet. The last flag was planted where South Pole stood in 1956, when the Pole became permanently inhabited. The first, where the South Pole stands fifty years later.

Each flag is marked with its respective year, and with the coordinates of a place on Earth the artist selected as important in "moving the world forward" during that year (e.g.: 1957 is Sputnik, 1963 is the March on Washington, 1969 is the Lunar Landing, 1997 is the Kyoto Accord)
while scientists worked in the South Pole

The Marker flags were exhibited at the Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium prior to being installed in the South Pole .

About the Installation


Xavier Cortada's installation highlights events that have moved our world forward in the time it has taken the Antarctic ice sheet to move about 500 meters. Cortada chronicles the passage of time by depicting those events on flags he placed at the South Pole on January 4, 2007. To accomplish this, the artist:

  1. Created 51differently colored flags, ranging from violet to red, each sequentially representing years from 1956 to 2006.

  2. Marked each flag with the coordinates of a place where an event took place that moved the world forward during that given year (e.g., 1963's March on Washington, 1989's Fall of the Berlin Wall).
  3. Planted each year's flag in the location on the ice where all the meridians converged during that flag's respective year;  that is, where the South Pole stood during that given year. (Since the South Pole, 90°S, sits on a glacier that is in constant motion, its location on the ice above changes every year).  

When the flags were planted they created a spectrum of color on the white surface of the ice.  The first flag was planted at the location of the 2006 Geographic South Pole, with each subsequent flag spaced 9.9 meters apart and aligned in the direction of the Weddell Sea.  Since the glacier below is moving everything in the same direction at 9.9 meters annually, the flags "mark" where the South Pole stood in any given year-- few places on Earth can so dramatically mark the passage of time.

Left:  The Markers' flags on display at the Miami Museum of Science before being installed by the artist in the South Pole.

Cortada's Markers

Xavier Cortada selected the following events to mark how the world has moved forward in the past fifty years:



 AntarcticaConstruction crews arrive at the South Pole
195747°50'N 66°03'E47°50'N 
 Soviet Union
Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit Earth, is launched into space from Baikonur, USSR
195848°52'N 02°20'E48°52'N 
 FrancePan Am's transatlantic 707 flight lands in Paris, jet age begins
195932°47'N 96°48'W32°47'N 
 United States
Microchip is invented
196011°21'N 142°12'E11°21'N 
 Pacific OceanTrieste dives to the bottom of the Mariana Trench: 35,813 feet
196147°50'N 66°03'E47°50'N 
 Soviet Union
Yuri Gagarin is first man in space (launched from Baikonur)
 United StatesRachel Carson's Silent Spring is published
196338°53'N 77°02'W38°53'N 
 United StatesMarch on Washington for Civil Rights
196440°43'N 74°00'W40°43'N
 United StatesBeatlemania sweeps America
196523°08'N 82°22'W23°08'N
 CubaFreedom Flights for Cuban refugees begin
196628°40'N 77°13'E28°40'N
 IndiaIndira Gandhi elected first woman prime minister of India, the world's largest democracy
196733°55'S 18°22'E33°55'S
 South AfricaFirst human heart transplant
 Soviet UnionNuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed in Moscow, London and Washington, D.C.
196928°24'N 80°36'W28°24'N
 United States
The Eagle lands on the moon
(launched from Cape Canaveral)
197013°06'N 59°37'W13°06'N
 BarbadosRa II crosses Atlantic in 57 days
197137°21'N 121°16'W37°21'N
 United StatesMicroprocessor is invented
197239°55'N 116°25'E39°55'N
 ChinaNixon visits China
197333°86'S 151°22'E33°86'S
 AustraliaSydney Opera House is built
197408°59'N 40°10'E08°59'N
 EthiopiaSkeleton of "Lucy," our 3.2 million year old ancestor, is discovered
197519°24'N 99°09'W19°24'N
 MexicoUnited Nations convenes First World Conference on Women
197628°24'N 80°36'W28°24'N
 United StatesViking I and II land on Mars
(launched from Cape Canaveral)
197701°43'N 44°53'E01°43'N
 SomaliaSmallpox eradicated from Earth
197853°33N 02°07'W53°33N
 EnglandFirst test tube baby born
197940°01'N 105°16'W40°01'N
 United StatesTen independent living centers were founded across the US for persons with disabilities
198054°23'N 18°40'E54°23'N
 PolandSolidarity strikes across Poland
198141°08N 73°42'W41°08N
 United StatesIBM launches personal computer
198250°50'N 0°08'W50°50'N
 EnglandWhale hunting moratorium enacted
198341°54'N 12°27'E41°54'N
 Vatican CityPope John Paul II retracts the ban on Galileo
198437°19'N 122°02'W37°19'N

United StatesApple Macintosh launched
198509°02'N 38°42'E09°02'N
 EthiopiaLive Aid concerts raise millions to reduce famine
 PhilippinesCorazon Aquino leads People Power to end Marcos regime in the Philippines
198739°46'N 86°09'W39°46'N 
 United StatesAnti-depressant Prozac is introduced
 ChileChile plebiscite ends dictatorship, ushers in democracy across South America
 GermanyBerlin Wall is knocked down

English ChannelTunnel links UK and Europe
 RussiaRussia becomes "independent" as the Soviet Union collapses
199222°53'S 43°06'W22°53'S
 BrazilFirst Earth Summit's Rio Declaration has 153 countries focus on sustainable development
199340°11'N 88°26'W40°11'N 
 United StatesWorld Wide Web browser is created, distributed
199425°45'S 28°10'E25°45'S 
 South AfricaApartheid ends in South Africa, Mandela elected president
199544°40'N 111°06'W44°40'N

United StatesGrey wolves return to the American West
199676°43'S 159°40'E76°43'S
 AntarcticaNASA announces that the Antarctic's ALH 84001meteorite points to existence of life on Mars
199735°00'N 135°45'E35°00'N
 JapanKyoto Protocol enacted
199803°10'N 101°42'E03°10'N

MalaysiaPetronas Towers topped at 1483 ft., the tallest building at that time
199909°32'N 21°72'E09°32'N
 EgyptBreitling Orbiter 3 hot air balloon sails non-stop around the world
200033°52'S 151°13'E33°52'S
 AustraliaCathy Freeman, the Aboriginal runner, wins Olympic gold
200112°03'S 77°03'W12°03'S
 PeruA 4,000-year-old site yielded the remains of the oldest known city in the New World
200215°46'S 47°55'W15°46'S 
 BrazilBrazil Soccer wins 5th World Cup
200352°13N 00°08'W52°13N 
 EnglandHuman Genome Project completed
200437°23'N 122°05'W37°23'N
 United StatesGoogle, digital music, wireless technologies and blogs boomed
200520°24'N 03°41'W20°24'N
 SpainSpain ends all discrimination based on sexual orientation

Easter Island
Scientists discover new species

The beginning of a 150,000-year Journey

At the location of the 2007 Geographic South Pole marker, the artist planted a mangrove seedling from Miami's Biscayne Bay, 25°46'N 80°12'W.  ( Cortada's "150,000-year Journey" project also addresses the passage of time, asking us to see time in geologic instead of human time frames. To learn more about the 150,000-year Journey, please visit  


FIU College of Architecture + The Arts

Xavier Cortada
Florida International University
College of Architecture + The Arts
420 Lincoln Road, Suite 430
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Xavier Cortada's participatory art practice is based at Florida International University.


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