Frozen, Floating: Report from Antarctica

Oct 22, 2018

Michelle Schwengel-Regala started out as a scientific illustrator, working with natural history museums in a fairly traditional way. Today she is among the pioneers in a new move to have artists create bridges to science, technology and other fields through their art.
Credit Michelle Schwengel-Regala

Michelle Schwengel-Regala is an artist and scientific illustrator who has worked with natural history museums in the US and Sweden.  Now a Hawai‘i resident, she spent seven weeks last year in Antarctica as a National Science Foundation Artist.  Schwengel-Regala participated in 33 scuba dives as part of her mission to translate the scientific work of the station via her art.

Artist, scientific illustrator, Michelle Schwengel-Regala began her art practice in Hawaii as a yarn bomber.
Credit Michelle Schwengel-Regala

“Frozen, Floating,” a multi-media show of works by Michelle Schwengel-Regala, continues through the end of October, 2018 at Box Jelly co-working space in Kaka‘ako.  

Michelle Schwengel-Regala says the efficiency and dedication among the thousand or so workers at McMurdo Station in Antarctica was astonishing.  Though many aspects of the environment recalled her Wisconsin childhood, Schwengel-Regala says so much was totally diffferent as well.  The 33 scuba dives she took were memorable for the extreme clarity of the water.

Schwengel-Regala:  The colors were maybe not as vivid as you think of sometimes  in tropical diving situations.  But at the same time, we had magenta, we had fluorescent yellow, we had purples.  The sea ice that was our ceiling had plankton on the bottom, and that became like stained glass, so you had amber, you had bright green, you had all these colors all around you.

Schwengel-Regala:  I want people to feel like you’re underwater with me in this gallery space.  I’ve created wire sculptures and you can follow these trails through the gallery space to see other stations that have other features. 

Entrance to Box Jelly in Kaka'ako with Michelle Schwengel-Regala's crocheted metal column.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

The immediate attention grabbers are the hanging sculptures, a large column of crocheted blue and turquoise wire greet you entering Box Jelly, a vibrant co-working space in Kaka‘ako.  Schewngel-Regala says she wanted to show the restrictive column of ice they had to pass through to enter the water.

Other wire mesh mobiles draw you into the space to explore reflections in different media.  Among the works, are detailed metal drawings.  Schwengel-Regala is bringing back the practice of drawing with various metals, saying she likes the connection to an older art practice, and enjoys experimenting with found metals. 

Schwengel-Regala:  In the past as a science illustrator, I was always working on very tight, tight projects on paper by hand.  This is my foray into sculpture, into large scale work, and more abstract work, so I appreciate the opportunity to explore this aspect of being an artist.

Schwengel-Regala:  That’s the mission, for people to come through this place and feel like they’re in a colder environment, to feel like they’re transported out of Hawai‘i and into a place that is a world away but still relates to Hawai‘i. There are a number of National Science Foundation funded scientists that work out of UH Mānoa that are down there doing work.  It’s very exciting to know there are people here that have connections to Antarctica.