Simon Faithfull’s work often involves elements of failure and anti-heroism. Journeys and travelling are also central to his practice.
In a series of experiments conducted over ten years (1995–2005), Faithfull sought to defy gravity with his ‘Escape vehicles’.
On September 12 2004, Escape Vehicle No.6 started as a live event commissioned by The Arts Catalyst for its first International Artists Airshow. The live audience witnessed the launching of a weather balloon with a domestic chair dangling in space beneath it. Once the apparatus had disappeared into the sky, they then watched a live video relay from the weather balloon on a giant screen as it journeyed from the ground to the edge of space (30km up). Now presented as a non-live video work, the footage shows the chair first rush away from the fields and roads, ascend through clouds and finally (against the curvature of the earth and the blackness of space) begin to disintegrate. The chilling nature of the film is that the empty chair invites the audience to imagine taking a journey to an uninhabitable realm where it is impossible to breath, the temperature is minus 60 below and the sky now resembles the blackness of space.
In December 2004, Faithfull was invited to travel to Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey as part of The Arts Council’s International Fellowships Programme. Departing from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire he travelled on to the Falklands via Ascension Island, where he joined scientists on board the ice-strengthened ship RSS Ernest Shackleton. On its way south to Antarctica, the ship broke its way through expanses of sea-ice, passing icebergs, ice cliffs and uninhabited islands heading for the science-fiction-like Halley Research Station perched on stilts above the empty, white wilderness. Surrounded by inhospitable conditions outside of the vessel the crew within lived their own set conventions and references that had developed over years of exploration, independent of the changing society in the external world. Ice Blink is an exhibition of work from this incredible journey; daily drawings made on a palm pilot etched onto glass; a poetic film of a whaling station populated with seals, photographs that defy perceptions of scale; films of the view through the porthole redolent with a Sokurov-like quality of light; experiments with weather balloons; and a performative lecture highlighting the myths of Antarctica and the realities of how the climate change has shifted this archetypal remote location. Antarctica is a mythical location that has captured the imagination of many, and whose reality defies known perceptions of scale and experience. It is the location where the effects of global warming can be physically experienced and where the remote becomes an identifiable place. Antarctica is a site tied up with a sense of British identity: a territory far from these shores that conjures legends of great explorers and journeys. The Antarctica series is an incredible body of work that is filled with a poetics and politics of space, place, and perceptions.
This journey culminated in a series of exhibitions in London, New York and Edinburgh, and was published in a text entitled Ice Blink: An Antarctic Essay.
In 2007, Faithfull was involved in the symposium, POLAR: The Art & Science of Climate Change. POLAR was a multi-disciplinary project exploring cultural and scientific issues surrounding climate change. It incorporated a 2-day international symposium, a publication Bipolar, a series of public lectures, and two new artists' commissions from Anne Brodie and Weather Permitting. POLAR was curated by Kathryn Yusoff and The Arts Catalyst, and organised with the British Library and the Open University.
In 2008, Simon Faithfull produced an essay for the Bipolar publication alongside 30 other essays submitted by participants in the Polar programme. Bipolar encourages us to consider how our knowledge of the polar regions is constructed and can be enriched.