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See the ice before it is gone: Olafur Eliasson brings Arctic icebergs to London

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and Danish geologist Minik Rosing have brought twenty-four blocks of Arctic ice to London.

The work, entitled Ice Watch, has been set up outside of the Tate Modern. The small icebergs were taken from the Nuup Kangerlua fjord in Greenland after becoming separated from the main ice sheet. It has been created to increase awareness of man-made climate breakdown.

More and more icebergs are being produced as the planet warms due to man-made climate change, which in turn contributes to rising sea levels, which poses a threat to wildlife and low-lying coastal human settlements.

The hope is that Ice Watch will help people to conceive of the reality of climate breakdown and global heating. The general public has seen photos and videos of ice breaking from sheets, glaciers receding, animals such as polar bears forced to swim for miles as they have no ice to walk across, and yet in this country we never get the full effect from these pieces of evidence. We rarely have that first-hand experience.

The point of the project is interaction. “Put your hands on the ice, listen to it, smell it, look at it” says Eliasson. “Witness the ecological changes our world is undergoing.”

The artist is known for large installations employing natural materials such as light, water, and air temperature, which are used to enhance the viewer’s experience.

Increasingly warmer global temperatures causes the Greenland ice sheet to lose around 200-300 billion tonnes of ice each year, which is a number that is expected to increase dramatically in the future.

“I’ve been studying behavioural psychology, and looking into the consequences of experience,” says the Icelandic-Danish artist. “What does it mean to experience something? Does it change you or not change you? It turns out that data alone only promotes a small degree of change. So in order to create the massive behavioural change needed [to tackle climate change] we have to emotionalise that data, make it physically tangible.”

Both Eliasson and Rosing believe that when it comes to making the public more aware of climate breakdown, narratives based on fear or worst-case scenarios are the wrong way to go. “Instead of fear-based narratives, you need a positive narrative to make people change their behaviour,” says Eliasson, “and that’s why I think the culture sector has a strong mandate to take on some leadership here.”

“We have to provide a glimpse of hope,” adds Rosing. “People think the scientists come with the bad news about climate change but actually we come with the good news. We understand what’s happening, we know exactly what needs to be done and we actually have the means to fix it. The only reason we’ve been able to upset the global environment system is because we have enormous power. If we direct that same enormous power to improving the system, we can get it back on track.”

The temporary sculpture of Ice Watch, itself almost an homage to ancient sacred stone circles, allows us to see a fragile and yet powerful reverence that this environment has. As we engage with the ice directly, experience it’s cold, it’s age, it’s melting, we are transported to the areas where this happens unseen.

The artwork coincides with COP24, the meeting of United Nations delegates in Poland to determine how to employ strategies to keep to the climate regulations agreed at the Paris Climate Agreement three years ago.

An unfortunate side effect of this installation is the environmental cost. The estimated energy that it cost to bring one of these blocks to London was equal to one person flying from London to the Arctic and back again.

What this temporary sculpture creates is a sense of time, or, more accurately, the knowledge of a time that is running out. Just as the sculpture is only in London from today to the 20th, giving audiences a small time-frame to experience it, so too is the amount of time we have left to limit the damage to ice sheets and their corresponding environments globally.

Ice Watch will be exhibited from the 11th December to 20th December. Well, they will be there until they melt away.

Find more information here.

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