Dr Polly Gould




No More Elsewhere: Antarctica through the Archive of the Edward Wilson ( 1872-1912) Watercolours

Second supervisor(s)
Professor Victor Buchli

In the light of recent centenaries commemorating the heroic era of Antarctic exploration and the current focus on climate research in Antarctica, this thesis asks how art and writing, made out of observations of Antarctica through the archive, can inform contemporary questions regarding climate change. It pays specific attention to Edward Wilson (1872–1912) and the impossible practice of ‘en plein air’ watercolour painting in the extreme sub-zero conditions of the polar environment, and considers Wilson’s biography and watercolours through the early work of anthropologist Franz Boas (1858–1942) on the colour of water, and his later anthropological writing. Crossing over between art, anthropology, material culture and architecture, and engaging with feminist new materialism or, ‘how matter comes to matter’, and in the light of thinking on ecological and post-human subjectivity, this thesis takes up a critical position concerning the role of observation in the history of anthropology, science, and art. I employ a refractive methodology, informed by Rosi Braidotti’s ‘transposition’, and Sigmund Freud’s ‘Entstellung’. The refractive method gives the accent to the distorting and displacing effects of medium by practising and thinking through ‘elsewhere’. The artworks are initiated by copying from archival sources and result in drawings, watercolours, pin-board assemblages, blown-glass globes, moulded glass, wax maquettes, and re-enacted magic-lantern shows. Informed by Jane Rendell’s ‘Site-writing’, the writing is an ekphrasis, structured as a literary chiasmus, in which readings crossover, and refract through, each other. This chiastic ekphrasis is a material-discursive method, which combines art making and writing. It brings a feminist new materialist critical engagement with the race and gender normativity of Antarctic heroism, to argue that the archive of Antarctic watercolours can be interpreted to produce an ecological posthuman ethics and optics founded on ice rather than glass.


Method 1

Method 2

Method 3


Related publications

Polly Gould, Antarctica, Art and Archive, (Bloomsbury: 2020).

Polly Gould, ‘Less a Building: Interactions with the London Zoo Aviary,’ a

research project and publication by Michaela Nettell with Marcela Aragüez, Tim Dee, Polly Gould, Alex Hartley, Julie F Hill, Helen Jukes, Milena Michalski, Colin Priest, Ana Ruepp and Matthew Turner.

Polly Gould, ‘Molar Heights and Molecular Lowlands: Scale and Imagination in Ruskin and John Tyndall,’ in Ruskin’s Ecologies: Figures of Relation from Modern Painters to The Storm-Cloud, edited by Kelly Freeman and Thomas Hughes, (Courtauld E-Books, 2021).

Polly Gould, ‘Ruskin’s Storm-Cloud and Tyndall’s Blue Sky: New Materialist Diffractions of Nineteenth- century Atmospheres,’  in Ecocriticism and the Anthropocene in Nineteenth-Century Art and Visual Culture, edited by Coughlin and Gephart, (Routledge, 2019).

Polly Gould, ‘House-Building in the Alps with Ruskin and Tyndall or CZOgraphy: An Ecocriticism for the Critical Zone,’ in Mountains and Megastructures

Neo-Geologic Landscapes of Human Endeavour, edited by Martin Beattie, Christos Kakalis, Matthew Ozga-Lawn, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021).


Based in London, Polly Gould is represented by Danielle Arnaud and is published by Bloomsbury. She is a tutor at the Bartlett School of Architecture UCL.