Globetrotting from Pole to Pole with Photographer Magda Biernat

Artsy Editorial
May 13, 2015 3:41PM

Magda Biernat captures images of human adaptation from all over the globe. Documenting a journey from the South Pole to the North Pole, Biernat documented architectural forms on three continents, and in some of the most extreme environments on Earth. Her photojournalistic artworks show us places that few people see in person, both for their remoteness and their inhospitable conditions. 

Born in Poland, Biernat now lives in New York and travels widely, seeking new images all over the globe. A show of Biernat’s recent works is now on view at Clic Gallery, including photographs of the sites and living conditions of people in some of the Earth’s most extreme environments. Her series “North Via South” is featured—the result of a yearlong trip from Antarctica to Alaska and documents the ways that people adapt their living conditions to deserts, prairies, swamps, and frozen, rocky grounds.

Biernat began “North Via South” at a scientific outpost, seen in Research Station, Antarctica (all works 2013)—a landscape of black stones and white snow, with low gray clouds overhead. In the middle stands the one spot of color: a red barn-like building. The dilapidated and rudimentary steel-and-wood structure represents all that keeps the elements at bay in an environment that can reach -128º F.

Not quite halfway on in her voyage, Biernat shot several Bolivian chullpas, ancient Andean funerary towers. They are surrounded by high-altitude desert, with sparse, scrubby vegetation and smooth, rolling hills. Some, such as Bolivian Chulpas III and Bolivian Chulpas IV are sparely decorated. The most ornate, Bolivian Chulpas II, features a building ornamented with a band of red pigment and an overlaid design of white, blue, and red geometric patterns. Each building has a small entrance, and a cubicle form, neatly framed by the photo’s square format. The repetition of this sculptural motif resembles the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, who also photographed iterations of unique regional building styles. “I’ve always been a collector,” Biernat explains. “As a teenager I collected books, as an adult and a traveler I collect memories and foreign currency. As a photographer, I collect moments of beauty or visual poetry that I want to keep forever.”

In the United States, Biernat shot suburban fantasies, as in Louisiana Castle, and reinvented versions of archaic architectural forms, as in Concrete Tipi. The latter upends the traditional function of the building it means to imitate by making permanent what was previously a nomadic and temporary construction. 

In Alaska, the artist captured the only interior on view here: a frigid storage space and workshop of a taxidermist, Taxidermy, North Pole, Alaska. The shed-like building is filled with plastic forms used for mounting caribou, bears, and wolves. Like artists such as Charles Fréger and Dean West, Biernat is part fine artist, part photojournalist, capturing intimate scenes rarely seen outside the confines of their usual social bubble. Such revelations show the globe, from pole to pole. 

—Stephen Dillon

Magda Biernat: North Via South” is on view at Clic Gallery, New York, May 14 – May 28, 2015.

Discover more artists at Clic Gallery on Artsy.

Artsy Editorial