Remote Antarctica research base now houses a striking new art installation

In Antarctica, Kyiv-based architecture studio Balbek Bureau has unveiled ‘Home. Memories’, a poignant art installation at the remote, penguin-inhabited Vernadsky Research Base

balbek bureau Vernadsky art installation at Research Base in Antarctica
'Home. Memories', a new art installation
(Image credit: Balbek bureau)

In November 2021, Kyiv-based architecture firm Balbek Bureau was tasked with reimagining a decommissioned fuel tank at the Vernadsky Research Base, a Ukrainian station on Galindez Island in Antarctica, near the Kyiv Peninsula.

Commissioned by the National Antarctic Research Center with the support of the Silpo retail chain, the installation was conceived as an attraction for tourists and a ‘home away from home’ for polar researchers inhabiting the base. The brief required straightforward assembly, resistance to severe weather conditions, and had to safely coexist with the 3,500 penguins inhabiting the island. The installation is intended to be a permanent fixture in the landscape, so long as the penguins remain welcoming of the structure. 

Antarctica research station art installation balbek bureau

(Image credit: Balbek bureau)

balbek bureau art installation at remote Antarctica research base

(Image credit: balbek bureau)

Based on a composite image of a rural Ukrainian house, Balbek Bureau designed an installation in which a delicate metal frame resembling a pencil drawing wraps around the tank. On the exterior walls of the tank is a mini-exhibition, with boards displaying symbolic mementos encapsulated in epoxy resin, such as a fragment of a vyshyvanka (an embroidered shirt used in Ukrainian national costumes) and a sample of the Unesco-listed Kosiv painted ceramics.

But when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the project took on a new poignancy. The disassembled parts were delivered to the Vernadsky base in the spring of 2022, but construction was placed on hold while the war raged. In the spirit of resilience, architect and Balbek Bureau CEO Slava Balbek and Wonder Workshop head Dmytro Zinoviev (who was in charge of construction) travelled to Antarctica and complete the project. 

Balbek bureau art installation Antarctica

(Image credit: Balbek bureau)

Balbek bureau art installation at Antarctica research station

(Image credit: Balbek bureau)

‘The art installation, designed a year before the invasion, took on a new meaning. For millions of people forced to flee their home towns and villages due to Russian aggression, returning home became their biggest dream,’ says Balbek. ‘Still, we believe that the war will end in our victory, and Ukrainians will create new memories from the safe haven of their home. And all the way in Antarctica, for researchers and tourists alike, our house will continue to stand strong, a true memento of Ukraine.’

Balbek bureau art installation Antarctica research station

(Image credit: Balbek bureau)

Harriet Lloyd-Smith was the Arts Editor of Wallpaper*, responsible for the art pages across digital and print, including profiles, exhibition reviews, and contemporary art collaborations. She started at Wallpaper* in 2017 and has written for leading contemporary art publications, auction houses and arts charities, and lectured on review writing and art journalism. When she’s not writing about art, she’s making her own.