A 1928 trip to the north pole in Second Life

1928 Polo Nord

Now open at Solo Arte, curated by Melania (MelaniaBis), is 1928 Polo Nord, the latest installation by Terrygold. Best known for her evocative avatar studies, for this installation Terrygold has turned to history. Working with the assistance of Melania and Annalisa Muliaina, she has built an installation commemorating the ill-fated polar expedition of the airship Italia in 1928.

Italian aviator, aeronautical engineer Umberto Nobile was one of the pioneers of airship design in the early 20th century. In particular, he was responsible for the airship N-1, the Norge, which, in 1925 was used by Norwegian Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen for a flight over the North Pole. Nobile helped arrange the expedition and served as the pilot. While it was a success, he and Amundsen fell out over who deserved the greater credit for the feat.

1928 Polo Nord

Possibly to cement his reputation as an Arctic explorer, Nobile decided to organise his own polar expedition, this time using the airship Italia, sister to the Norge, and which he also designed. After preparing the expedition over some three years, Nobile and his crew departed Svarlbard, the launch-point for the expedition on May 23rd, 1928. After a 19 hour flight, they arrived over the north pole in the early hours of May 24th. The plan had been to hover over the pole and drop off a team of scientists and equipment to establish a temporary polar base. However, strong winds prevented this, and after two hours circling the pole, the airship started on its return trip to Svalbard. It never made it.

Thanks to the strong winds and worsening weather, Italia crashed on the Arctic ice on May 25th. Seven crew were killed in the crash, one when the control gondola stuck the ice and was ripped away from the airship’s envelope and six more, who were in the envelope at the time of the crash and were carried away with in the winds, never to be found.

1928 Polo Nord

Seven of the surviving crew were eventually rescued in the world’s first combined polar air-sea rescue operation – although it took almost two months for all of them to be recovered (one man died of exposure). The survivors were able to use the equipment intended for the temporary polar base, equipment salvaged from the control gondola and – thanks to the quick wits of the chief engineer – additional supplies and equipment he threw out of the ruptured airship envelope, even as it rose back into the sky after the crash, carrying him and the others trapped aboard it to their deaths.

In commemorating these events, 1928 Polo Nord presents a two-part installation. At the landing point is a photographic record of the expedition, neatly displayed within the frame of an airship’s hull. Each picture is accompanied by text captions in English or Italian, which can be triggered in local chat by clicking on the appropriate country flag. The photos are of the expedition itself, the Italia, the crash site and the support ship, the Città di Milano the crew of which were partially responsible for rescue operations being delayed by a week as they failed to maintain a proper radio watch, and so didn’t pick up the SOS signals from the crash survivors.

1928 Polo Nord

At the forward end of the airship hull is a model of the Fokker Dr4 flown by Einar Lundborg of the Swedish Air Force, who effected the first rescue (Umberto Nobile himself, although he wanted Lunberg to take his injured mechanic). Lunbborg himself became stranded with the remaining survivors when he returned to attempt a further rescue, and his aircraft crashed.

A teleport is located in front of the ‘plane leads down the to second part of the installation – and Arctic ice where the survivors awaited rescue following the crash. This includes the wreck of the control gondola, the crashed Fokker Dr4 and the famous red tent which gave the survivors a degree of shelter. And don’t miss the poem by Judy Barton commemorating the crash.

1928 Polo Nord makes for a most unusual – but still engaging – installation.

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