On December 1958, in the midst of the Cold War, a team of soviet scientists were on an expedition to reach the southern pole of inaccessibility. A pole of inaccessibility is the furthest topographical point from a coastline as possible. They are the most remote locations in the world. The Southern Pole of Inaccessibility is located in Antarctica and is the spot furthest inland from the Southern Ocean. It much harder to reach than the South Pole, which was first reached 1911. Its geographical co-ordinates are 82°06’S 54°58’E. It also has the world’s coldest year-round average temperature of −58.2 °C.
The Soviet’s expedition was part of the International Geophysical Year, a project intended to encourage peaceful scientific interchange between the East and the West. In reality, the project was just another front in the Cold War between America and Russia, both countries competing for dominance in the field of scientific exploration.
On the 14th of December 1958, the 18-member research team of the Third Soviet Antarctic Expedition, were the first expedition to reach the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility. The Soviet team set up a temporary research station. Atop the chimney of the station, the highest point of the hut, the researches placed a bust of Vladimir Lenin, the Russian revolutionary. The bust was positioned so it was facing Moscow. The research team had planned to spend a month in their station, but the extreme conditions of the Pole, forced them abandon the outpost after only 12 days. In the following years the outpost would be re-visited three more times; once by the Soviets in 1964, once by an American led team in the same year, where it is claimed Lenin’s bust was repositioned to face Washington DC, and one last time in 1967, again by the Soviets, where Lenin’s bust was once more repositioned to face Moscow.
In 2007, 40 years after the last Soviet expedition in 1967, a British team of researchers reached the pole using kites. It was expected that after 40 years of abandonment, the site would have been blown over or buried under miles of snow. Surprisingly, most of the station had been buried under snow, with the exception of the chimney. On top of the chimney stood the plastic bust of Lenin, slightly weatherworn, but still intact.
A cheap mass-produced piece of propaganda managed to outlast the regime it symbolised. 18 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and 16 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when almost all Lenin busts have been torn down, or hidden from public view, this bust survived in the most inhospitable place on earth, untouched by the man-made chaos of political upheaval, nor by the unforgiving elements.
Art is not frozen in time.
Sixty years ago, the sculpture was intended to evoke fear or pride, depending on which part of the world you lived in. But what does it evoke now? Does it represent an evil regime responsible for killing millions of people? Is it a testament to remarkable scientific advancements over the past century? Can it be considered an important piece of art that reflects something integral about ourselves?
Since the Lenin bust was erected in 1958, the world has changed drastically. The geopolitical conflicts that once shaped our world, have evolved, and so has our perception of them.
Art is not frozen in time. It is contextualized by the world it was created in, and that context changes as the world changes. As author and video content creator, John Green says, in PBS’s The Art Assignment, “Art You Can’t Get To”, “I’m reminded of how contingent objects are, how they are alway in conversation with history and their viewers, how they change overtime, even if they don’t look different, because we change.”
The last time anyone visited the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility was in 2011. It is unknown if the sculpture still remains.