By George Cagala

Most of us will never get to visit Antarctica, so Judit Hersko plans to bring Antarctica to us. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Hersko, an assistant professor of visual arts at Cal State San Marcos, will embark in December on a month-long mission to Antarctica to capture the icy continent through her art.

As a contemporary artist, Hersko’s work will not be displayed in a simple gallery of pictures or paintings. Instead, expect a room-sized multi-media installation that attempts to recreate the phenomena one might encounter on the barren white landscape – wonders such as whiteouts and mirages (fata morgana), and even the experience of walking through an ice cave. Viewers will be surrounded with light and temperature conditions as well as sounds and air movements that mimic the Antarctic’s impact on the senses.

Titled Shifting Baselines Antarctica, Hersko’s project will also include artist books, digital and web projects, articles and presentations for both university and K-12 classrooms. It is part of a project she initiated several years ago in which she actively collaborates with science faculty at CSU San Marcos bringing art and science together in the classroom to increase scientific literacy.

One of Hersko’s primary themes is climate change. She has been working with Victoria Fabry, a CSUSM colleague and biological oceanographer whose research on oceanic ecosystems has received international attention. Hersko hopes that her art will help promote Fabry’s findings and raise awareness of climate change issues and their relationship to the earth’s poles.

An equally fascinating theme for Hersko is human perception. “As an artist whose work is based in visceral, phenomenological and perceptual effects, I would like to observe and document the landscape of Antarctica with its ice formations, light phenomena, and limitless vistas,” she says. “Since our senses developed in a very different terrain with objects such as trees to anchor our orientation, they are not well adapted to perceiving in a setting where contours are indiscernible.”

Human perception is further confused by phenomena like whiteouts and mirages. Whiteouts, caused by a combination of hurricane and blizzard, create a visual field without contours, making visual perception impossible. A mirage, caused by the temperature difference between cold ground and much warmer air above it, produces reflections that the human imagination misinterprets as architectural or natural forms.

Because these phenomena are created by the interaction of moving particles and light, they are in constant flux and therefore impossible to capture with the camera lens, explains Hersko. “Only a medium incorporating change, movement and physical space can mimic the Antarctic assault of the senses.”

Hersko’s upcoming adventure to the Antarctic enables her to expand a “lifelong interest in perceptual phenomena and the human relationship to nature.” Hersko says she tries “to weave many complex layers into one unified statement in installations that use ephemeral processes and projections.”

“I have worked with light as well as the transformation of matter (fire and steam) as metaphors for time, change and memory,” says the Hungarian-born experimentalist. “The driving force in my work is the invention and creation of visual phenomena as well as the discovery of powerful metaphors that emerge from layers of information and research. I believe that art can help us reconnect to matter, nature, and our own physical existence.”

Hersko’s work has been exhibited internationally, including museums in Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, Spain and Germany, as well as nationally in San Diego, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago and New York. She has a master’s in fine arts from the School of the Art at the Institute of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan.

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Picture of Judit Hersko

Notable Quote: 

“I have worked with light as well as the transformation of matter (fire and steam) as metaphors for time, change and memory,” says the Hungarian-born experimentalist. “The driving force in my work is the invention and creation of visual phenomena as well as the discovery of powerful metaphors that emerge from layers of information and research. I believe that art can help us reconnect to matter, nature, and our own physical existence.”

Judit Hersko,
Assistant Professor
of Visual Arts