DELIGHTFUL: The penguins at Macquarie Island.
DELIGHTFUL: The penguins at Macquarie Island.

Local artist shows the icy sights of the subantarctic

ESCAPE to the wild landscape of the subantarctic as thousands of penguins, together with some enormous elephant seals, arrive at Bundaberg Regional Galleries with Mt Perry artist Adrienne Williams' latest exhibition, Calling Home.

Through drawing, music and sound, the exhibition is a celebration of Williams' 2013 journey to remote Macquarie Island in the Southern Ocean.

It was her passion for the natural environment, and the protection of wild places, that prompted Williams to take an adventurous voyage aboard a Russian "holiday” ship.

Leaving from Dunedin, New Zealand, her journey took in various stops on islands close to New Zealand to see unique animals and megaherbs - supersized plants related to well-known species such as the common daisy.

However, these trips in the early part of the expedition were only warm-ups for the arrival at Macquarie Island and the sights and sounds that greeted her there.

Once at the island, Williams was guided by scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division Base through huge colonies of king, royal, gentoo and rockhopper penguins.

Witnessing many of the 40000-strong penguin rookeries was overwhelming for Williams.

"I can only describe it as an absolute cacophony of sound. Penguins were calling home, and it seemed like home was calling the penguins,” she said.

"Walking around the island was not without a few surprises too.

"We frequently found ourselves dodging the huge elephant seal pups that make the island their home.”

Calling Home is not just an exhibition of drawings.

It is a powerful reminder of the wonder of our Earth's natural environments, especially those, like Macquarie Island, which are under threat because of climate change.

Experiencing wildlife en masse like Williams did is a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly rare across the globe, and this was one of the reasons she decided to go on the journey.

Although, as CSIRO marine scientist Alistair Hobday pointed out to Williams, wild places would still be wild even with climate change.

But he also said species that were winners from climate change would become more common, and the losers would disappear.

Scientists and conservationists continue working together to respond to the challenges faced by species endangered by climate change.

Meanwhile, artists like Williams are raising awareness of these environmental concerns through their artistic practice.

Traditionally a landscape painter and colourist, for Calling Home Williams put down her oils in favour of charcoal and ink.

The works in the exhibition explore the penguins' daily journeys to the sea in search of food and their awkward journeys back to their families.

The exhibition features large drawings on French watercolour paper using ink and water, together with smaller more intricate works combining ink drawing and woodcuts.

With the sounds of the subantarctic landscape ringing in her ears, she was keen to incorporate this into her exhibition.

As a result, she has collaborated with her friend Andy Wilson, a Sydney-based composer and sound artist.

His soundscape has been produced especially for Calling Home and completes the exhibition experience, allowing visitors to fully immerse themselves in the wonder of Macquarie Island's wilderness.

Beginning his career in New Zealand, Wilson now works from his Sydney studios, where he has composed music for National Geographic documentaries and photography exhibitions, as well as dozens of other projects.

However, it was not until Williams approached him with her proposal for Calling Home that he had worked with penguins.

"It was an opportunity too great to pass up,” Wilson said.

"I hope visitors to Calling Home will enjoy listening to the sounds of Macquarie Island as they look at Adrienne's stunning drawings.”

Calling Home will be in The Vault at Bundaberg Regional Galleries until October 22.

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