Antarctica: While you were sleeping

Shapeshifting Ice

As the sun set over the Domain in March 2017, the Museum's iconic building became the canvas for a full-scale 360-degree projection of a majestic Antarctic iceberg.

This is the story of how this incredible event came to life.


After travelling to Antarctica with a crew of twelve, artist Joseph Michael brought back an epic 8,800 metre square digital iceberg into the heart of Auckland by projecting it onto Auckland Museum.

Over a couple of days, visitors were treated to a spectacle of standing next to an enormous piece of ice - that was nicknamed Ernest - in a cinematic collision of architecture and nature.

Coupled with a soundscape from several vocal icebergs, visitors bore witness to the groans, pops and thunderous claps of collapsing ice walls in this stunning shapeshifting art-work.



Hunting Ice

For artist Joseph Michael conveying the sheer size and dynamism of this ever changing ice-landscape to an urban audience was a project that contained just as many challenges and unknowns as any exploration.

And although he has worked on evolutionary motion control techniques, built 3D time-lapse rigs and created 360-degree cinema experiences, Joseph says these are merely tools to help tell important stories.

After years of working as a digital artist, he felt a sense of urgency to tell the story of our disappearing icy neighbour, Antarctica. And with the tools at his disposal to do justice to his vision, Michael and his team embarked on a project that would take four years to complete. 

Joseph Michael
Finding Ernest

Finding Ernest

After days of keeping their eyes peeled for a building-sized iceberg, a nearby captain radioed to the film crew of the Australis to alert them to the fact there was an enormous block-like iceberg sitting quietly in Neko harbour.

So after weaving through iceberg graveyards, growlers and formidable seas, the crew reached the creaking, clapping, groaning iceberg that was to become the centerpiece of the exhibition ANTARCTICA: while you were sleeping.

They named it Ernest.

Once they clapped eyes on it, the film-makers captured every crevice and crook using high resolution cameras, recorded its unique sound signature and set about mapping its shape through projection mapping.  This task took them over three days.

Antarctic Hut

The iceberg that the crew nicknamed 'Nelson'.

If you can see something on the horizon and it looks big, you’ll be breaking your neck to see the top of it. It was so tabular, so building-like.


Mark Michel, RNZ

 The place is absolutely dynamic, in terms of movement, sound and light.  You wake up in the morning and three ice-bergs have gone in the night and one has come. Things gather, things move apart, things are created and things are destroyed.

 Joseph Michael, RNZ


Perched prominently on the remains of a volcanic cone, the Auckland Museum seemed like an obvious choice for Micheals because of its position, protected sightlines and its classical, unfussy design.

 “The Auckland Museum the way it is placed in the domain is magnificent, it is perfect for projection mapping, it has a very even colour. I thought the grandness of the building paralleled the grandness of the ice-bergs,” Joseph Michael. 

Upon his return from sea, Michael plunged into an entirely digital world as he worked tirelessly to viscerally re-create the scenes the team had just witnessed - the thunderous clap of ice-calving, the bass sound of pressurised ice and the sheer scale of Ernest. 

I wanted to confuse the audience as to whether they are looking at an ice-berg or a building. 

Joseph Michael

To this end, Micheals and his team created a 4 billion point scan of the building and a rich soundscape with the help of Wellington musician Rhian Sheehan.

And although the team had a hunch that Ernest would easily map onto Auckland Museum, it was only after creating a miniature model of the building that they could ensure they could pull it off the experience.

To re –create the spectacle of hearing the popping, creaking and sometimes thunderous sounds that emanated from these ice-bergs, 20 sub-woofer speakers were placed around the Museum to allow people to physically experience the sound.

"I wanted to the sound to be a physical thing you feel, because you very much feel the bass frequencies in Antarctica," Joseph Michael, RNZ

After months of testing this 45 minute experience, the day came to plant this epic iceberg in the heart of Auckland. The response was overwhelming.  Twenty thousand people visited the multimedia art piece in March. 

For Michael, who is now based in Brazil, this is the start of something much bigger and he hopes to send icebergs around the world to show people what we could be losing.



Antarctica - While You Were Sleeping was presented by the Auckland Museum, the Auckland Arts Festival and Joseph Michael as part of the 2017 Auckland Arts Festival. The project was also supported by the Wallace Arts Trust, Friedlander Foundation, Creative New Zealand, and The Deep South National Science Challenge.