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Donald Fortescue: Instrument (90°S)


Summary Note

Instrument (90ºS) is a musical and an atmospheric instrument that was conceived and installed in Antarctica as part of the NSF Antarctic Visiting Artists and Writers program by artist Donald Fortescue. Materials include NSF Antarctic Visiting Artists and Writers program materials, journals, instrument maquette, and music score.

Biographical Note

Donald Fortescue is a Professor of Art and Design at the California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco. He was born in Sydney, Australia, where he studied zoology and botany for his first degree and worked as a botanical consultant and scientific illustrator for many years. His love of making lead him to further studies in design at the Australian National University and then to a master’s degree in Sculpture. He moved to the US in 1997 to head the Furniture Design program at CCA. He has exhibited in Australia, the US, Europe, Asia and South America. He received the Experimental Design Award from San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art in 2001 and his work is in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Australia, the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, the Museum of Art and Design in New York, the Houston Museum of Fine Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
His work involves the use of digital technologies (digital treatment of photographic images, digital stereo imagery and video, computer modeling and mapping of sculptural forms and digitally recorded and treated sound) in tandem with antiquated technologies and craftsmanship associated with expeditions of discovery from the Enlightenment era to the early 20th Century (whittling, scrimshandering, scientific illustration, and the fabrication of instruments of collection, recording and display). By combining these seemingly disparate technologies, Fortescue investigates their underlying meanings. Fortescue completed a Ph.D. at the Australian National University in 2019. His research explored congruencies between the methodologies, aspirations and limits of ‘science’ and ‘art’ through his polar projects.

Scope and Content

Instrument (90ºS) is a hybrid object, a sculptural work embodying an artist’s strategy for experiencing and understanding a challenging and difficult to comprehend environment. The instrument served as a polar marker and is an indexical artefact of Fortescue’s fieldwork at the South Pole made possible as a participant in the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Visiting Artist and Writers program. Both a musical and an atmospheric instrument, it relied on technologies and craftsmanship developed for musical instruments (featuring a wooden pre-stressed resonator held in tension by piano strings which are tuned with both mechanical piano pegs and moveable bridges, and bowed by a rosined mechanical wheel much like a hurdy-gurdy). But it also was specifically designed and constructed to respond to the harsh conditions of the Pole. Like scientific instruments it can be tuned, and it responds in different ways to different levels of input. And like all scientific instruments it produces data – in this case sound. The Instrument is a transduction device – it converts energy from one form into another so that it can be perceived and recorded. It transduces the flow between air pressure differentials (i.e. wind), through harmonic vibration into sound which is audible and can be recorded for future work. Instrument (90ºS) operated in conceptual and physical adjacency with another transduction instrument (the IceCube Neutrino Observatory), which catalyzed discussion, analysis, creativity and collaboration with particle physicists.

Materials include NSF Antarctic Visiting Artists and Writers program materials, journals, research and field materials, instrument maquette, music score, and PhD dissertation located in the Research Library.


This archive is arranged in series by subject and project development timeline.
  • Series 1: Project Management
  • Series 2: On the Ice

Inclusive Dates


Bulk Dates


Quantity / Extent

.25 cubic feet



Related Archive Collections

  • CAE1042: Lita Albuquerque: Stellar Axis, Antarctica CAE1103: Joan Myers: Wondrous Cold, An Antarctic Journey CAE1107: Stephen Eastaugh: Antarctic Work CAE1112: Simon Balm: Stellar Axis, Antarctica CAE1116: Chris Drury: Antarctica CAE1117: William L. Fox: Terra Antarctica CAE1202: David Rosenthal: Paintings of the North and South Polar Regions CAE1217: Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid: Ice Music CAE1218: Jean de Pomereu: Antarctic Photographs CAE1219: Stuart Klipper: The Antarctic: From the Circle to the Pole CAE1307: Chris Kannen: An Antarctic Extended Season CAE1605: Anna McKee: 68,000 Years of Ice CAE1806: Bruce Licher: Stamping Antarctica CAE1903: David Arnold: Antarctic Re-Explorations

Related Publications

Fogg, G.E., and David Smith. The Explorations of Antarctica: The Last Unspoilt Continent. London: Cassell Publishers Limited, 1990.

Fortescue, Donald. Fieldwork – A Conceptual Methodology Linking Science and Art. College of Arts and Social Sciences Research School of Humanities and the Arts, School of Art and Design, Australian National University, 2019.

Fox, William L. Terra Antarctica: Looking into the Emptiest Continent. San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2005.

Porter, Elliot. Antarctica. New York, NY: Dutton, 1978.

Rowell, Galen A. Poles Apart: Parallel Visions of the Arctic and Antarctic. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995.