These Extreme Artworks Embody the Climate Crisis

Ice Projection, David Buckland. From the film Burning Ice.

David Buckland/Cape Farewell
Ice Projection, David Buckland. From the film Burning Ice.
Artists Who Go the Distance for the Environment

Artists Who Go the Distance for the Environment

Photograph: Anders Sune Berg; © 2019 Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson, The presence of absence pavilion, 2019.

“Art can mitigate the numbing effect created by the glut of information we are faced with today and motivate people to turn thinking into doing.”

Olafur Eliasson

Headquartered in Dorset, England, Cape Farewell has been devoted to shifting perceptions about climate change since 2001, with founder and international director David Buckland at the helm. As climate warnings went unheard, Buckland was inspired to reunite the creative fields of science and art to converse with people using a cultural language. “Art always seduces. And people love being seduced,” he points out. “Everybody holds a piece of art in their psyche…. So art is a very powerful weapon.”

Also an artist, designer, and filmmaker, Buckland considers the High Artic the best place to witness “big physical” climate changes. Describing his first trip there, he refers to the bleak, dramatic landscape as having “layers of magic that you can’t imagine…until you experience them.”

Cape Farewell’s 2008 expedition to Disko Bay on the west coast of Greenland was documented in their film Burning Ice. Scientists participated with a variety of creatives, including musician KT Tunstall, poet and playwright Lemn Sissay, and the icon Laurie Anderson.

David Buckland/Cape Farewell

Pollution Pods, Michael Pinsky, installed at the UN Conference Climate Emergency, New York City. 

The most provocative moment comes when architect, engineer, and artist Francesca Galeazzi defiantly releases a canister of six kilograms of compressed carbon dioxide as a statement. Against the hiss of the canister, Galeazzi states, “I’m fully aware of this negative gesture. I think people need to take full responsibility for their actions, and at the moment, we’re not doing that.”

While this act seems in stark contrast to the excursion’s mission, oceanographer and Cape Farewell board member Dr. Simon Boxall later reveals that six kilos of CO2 represent only twenty miles in a car.

From 2014 to 2017, Cape Farewell partnered with the Norwegian-based research group Climart for a sociological study of visual art’s efficacy when it comes to influencing the public’s perception of climate change.

After Climart commissioned British artist Michael Pinsky to create the immersive installation Pollution Pods, Cape Farewell toured the work worldwide.

The art piece features five connected geodesic domes contain the air pollution mix of a city. Visitors start with the clean air of Tautra, Norway, then experience London, New Delhi, Beijing, and São Paolo.

During the 2019 Climate Action Summit, Pollution Pods was installed outside the United Nations in New York—during a heat wave. In the humid, pollution-filled New Delhi dome, it was 120°F. “People were running in and out of that dome. They couldn't stay there. But at the same time, we had live data from New Delhi, and it was exactly that temperature,” relates Buckland. “That physical experience is what art can do. It can cut through all of the data….”

Another World is Possible, Ice Text projection, David Buckland.
David Buckland/Cape Farewell

Another World is Possible, Ice Text projection, David Buckland.

Discounting the Future, Ice Text projection, David Buckland.
David Buckland/Cape Farewell

Discounting the Future, Ice Text projection, David Buckland.

Hot Wind More Terrible, Ice Text projection, David Buckland.
David Buckland/Cape Farewell

Hot Wind More Terrible, Ice Text projection, David Buckland.

Noru-yarn corals by Una Morrison and Ola Breslin, Pod World—Blue Coral Landscape, 2009–22.
Photograph © 2022 IFF by Rebecca Rickman

Christine Wertheim and Margaret Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring, featuring Noru-yarn corals by Una Morrison and Ola Breslin, Pod World—Blue Coral Landscape, 2009–22. Yarn and lava rocks. Dimensions variable.

The Midden, January 2007–April 2011.
Photograph courtesy of the Institute of the Arts and Sciences, UCSC

Christine Wertheim and Margaret Wertheim, The Midden, January 2007–April 2011. Four years' worth of the sisters’ domestic plastic trash and fishing net. Dimensions variable.

Olafur Eliasson, The glacier melt series 1999/2019, 2019, detail (Krossárjökull) 30 C-prints, each 31 x 91 x 2.4 cm
Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2019 Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson, The glacier melt series 1999/2019, 2019, detail (Krossárjökull) 30 C-prints, each 31 x 91 x 2.4 cm

Olafur Eliasson, The glacier melt series 1999/2019, 2019, detail (Krossárjökull) 30 C-prints, each 31 x 91 x 2.4 cm
Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles © 2019 Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson, The glacier melt series 1999/2019, 2019, detail (Krossárjökull) 30 C-prints, each 31 x 91 x 2.4 cm

Jean Shin, Invasives, 2020.
Photograph: Etienne Frossard, courtesy of Jean Shin

Jean Shin, Invasives, 2020.

North Carolina Satellite Reef (detail), 2022.
Institute of the Arts and Sciences, UCSC

North Carolina Satellite Reef (detail), part of the ongoing worldwide Crochet Coral Reef project by Christin Wertheim and Margaret Wertheim, 2022.
 

North Carolina Satellite Reef (detail), 2022.
Institute of the Arts and Sciences, UCSC

North Carolina Satellite Reef (detail), part of the ongoing worldwide Crochet Coral Reef project by Christin Wertheim and Margaret Wertheim, 2022.

Richard Mosse, Subterranean Fire, Pantanal, 2020.
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; © 2022 Richard Mosse

Richard Mosse, Subterranean Fire, Pantanal, 2020.

Kirsten Stolle, Chemical Bouquet, 2016.
courtesy of the artist and Tracey Morgan Gallery, NC. Photograph: Rocky Kenworthy

Kirsten Stolle, Chemical Bouquet, 2016.

The Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, who works in Berlin, was appointed United Nations goodwill ambassador for renewable energy and climate action in 2019. Eliasson’s revealing The glacier melt series 1999/2019 (2019), consists of before-and-after aerial photographs of Icelandic glaciers over a ten-year span.

The artist recently participated in the exhibit Fault Lines: Art and the Environment at the North Carolina Museum of Art. In an exhibition statement, Eliasson shared his belief that a major responsibility of artists is to help people not only understand something mentally, but also to feel it emotionally and physically. “By doing this, art can mitigate the numbing effect created by the glut of information we are faced with today and motivate people to turn thinking into doing.”

Eliasson constructed a cast bronze for the show, The presence of absence pavilion (2019), from a glacier ice block harvested from the Nuup Kangerlua fjord, Greenland.

Chief Curator of Contemporary Art Linda Dougherty describes the work as embodying the imminent disappearance of our glacial terrain. “As the ice block melted in its casting, the leftover sculpture is a void where the memory of the ice is only present as an absence…. The Greenland ice sheet currently loses thousands of similar blocks each minute as a result of global warming.”

Dougherty agrees that art can be more effective than facts and figures. “At a time when it is easy to feel inundated by a twenty-four-hour news stream of critical environmental challenges, these artists offer the possibility for new perspectives and shifts in understanding of how the natural world is changing.”

Zaria Forman, Ode to An Iceberg, 360 View, Whale Bay, Antarctica, Film still, 2017.
Courtesy the Artist

Zaria Forman, Ode to An Iceberg, 360 View, Whale Bay, Antarctica, Film still, 2017.

Zaria Forman, Maldives No. 9, 2014. Soft pastel on paper. 38 x 50 inches.
Courtesy of the artist Zaria Forman.

Zaria Forman, Maldives No. 9, 2014. Soft pastel on paper. 38 x 50 inches.

Installation view of Fire & Ice: Our Changing Landscape.
Courtesy the Wildling Museum.

Installation view of Fire & Ice: Our Changing Landscape.

Installation view of Fire & Ice: Our Changing Landscape.
Courtesy the Wildling Museum

Installation view of Fire & Ice: Our Changing Landscape.

Zaria Forman, Supraglacial Lake (between Hiawatha and Humboldt Glaciers), Greenland, 79° 6'59.05"N 65°15'54.99"W, July 19, 2017, 2018. Soft pastel on paper. 60 x 81 7/8 in.
Courtesy of the artist Zaria Forman.

Zaria Forman, Supraglacial Lake (between Hiawatha and Humboldt Glaciers), Greenland, 79° 6'59.05"N 65°15'54.99"W, July 19, 2017, 2018. Soft pastel on paper. 60 x 81 7/8 in.

Zaria Forman, Sermeq Kajalleq, Greenland, 69° 47' 31.092"N 49° 47' 31.7076"W, April 29th, 2017, 2018. Soft pastel on paper. 68 x 102 in.image
Courtesy of the artist Zaria Forman.

Zaria Forman, Sermeq Kajalleq, Greenland, 69° 47' 31.092"N 49° 47' 31.7076"W, April 29th, 2017, 2018. Soft pastel on paper. 68 x 102 in.

Installation view of Fire & Ice: Our Changing Landscape with works by Ethan Turpin and The Environment Makers, on view at the Wildling Museum April 9 – September 26, 2022.
Photo by George Rose. Courtesy of the Wildling Museum.

Installation view of Fire & Ice: Our Changing Landscape with works by Ethan Turpin and The Environment Makers, on view at the Wildling Museum April 9 – September 26, 2022.


 

Courtesy of the artist Zaria Forman
Courtesy of the artist Zaria Forman.

Zaria Forman, Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina No. 5, December 13, 2018, 2020. Soft pastel on paper. 68 x 90 in.

Zaria Forman, Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica, November 23, 2018, 2019. Soft pastel on paper. 40 x 64 in.
Courtesy of the artist Zaria Forman.

Zaria Forman, Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica, November 23, 2018, 2019. Soft pastel on paper. 40 x 64 in.

Zaria Forman, Danco Island, Antarctica, 2019. Soft pastel on paper. 60 x 96 in.
Courtesy of the artist Zaria Forman.

Zaria Forman, Danco Island, Antarctica, 2019. Soft pastel on paper. 60 x 96 in.

Zaria Forman, Whale Bay, Antarctica No. 4, 2016. Soft pastel on paper. 84 x 144 in.  Courtesy of the artist Zaria Forman
Courtesy of the artist Zaria Forman.

Zaria Forman, Whale Bay, Antarctica No. 4, 2016. Soft pastel on paper. 84 x 144 in.

image
Courtesy of the artist Zaria Forman.

Zaria Forman, Greenland No. 74, 2015. Soft pastel on paper. 40 x 54 in.

Zaria Forman, Slavbard No. 33, 2014. Soft pastel on paper. 60 x 90 in.
Courtesy of the artist Zaria Forman.

Zaria Forman, Slavbard No. 33, 2014. Soft pastel on paper. 60 x 90 in.

 

On the other side of the U.S., Fire & Ice: Our Changing Landscape is on display through September 26 at The Wildling Museum of Art and Nature, Solvang, CA. The Wildling uses art exhibitions and programs to educate visitors about issues and the need for ecological conservation due to the threats currently faced by wildlife and dwindling natural and wilderness areas.

Executive Director Stacey Otte-Demangate, who also curated the show, shares, “We feel that the works that artists create are often a better tool for inspiring understanding and empathy than reading a textbook or news article.”

On display is a video installation by Zaria Forman. Ode to An Iceberg, 360 View, Whale Bay, Antarctica is an eight-minute looping video that Otte-Demangate describes as “a beautiful and contemplative journey around a slowly dying iceberg.”

Forman, who lives in upstate New York, has joined NASA scientists on airborne missions to study changes at both poles. “I consider it my life's mission to convey the urgency of climate change through my work,” said the artist in her 2015 TED talk. Known primarily for her large pastels, she aims to convey “beauty as opposed to the devastation,” through her work, inspiring viewers to emotionally connect with a place they may never visit.

Miami artist Xavier Cortada is also exhibiting at the Wildling. Frequently collaborating with scientists, he sees artists as “eco-emissaries,” able to help society understand our interconnectedness with nature. Cortada explains why many are slow to act despite climate warnings: “In a world of instant gratification, imminent feels too distant. It is at this juncture that art can help us see things differently.”

North Pole Dinner Party
© 2019 Natalia Molina-2-5.

North Pole Dinner Party, Performance at UNTITLED FAIR, 2019. 

Vincennes, 2007, Xavier Cortada
Xavier Cortada.

Xavier Cortada, Vincennes, 2007. Sea ice from Antarctica’s Ross Sea, sediment from Antarctica’s Dry Valleys, and mixed media on paper. 12 x 9 in. Created onsite at McMurdo Station, Ross Island, Antarctica.

Xavier Cortada, 90N-08, 2008.
Xavier Cortada.

Xavier Cortada, 90N-08, 2008. North Pole sea ice, acrylic, and mixed media on paper. 12 x 9 in.

Xavier Cortada, A-16, 2007
Xavier Cortada.

Xavier Cortada, A-16, 2007. Sea ice from Antarctica’s Ross Sea, sediment from Antarctica’s Dry Valleys, and mixed media on paper. 12 x 9 in.

Xavier Cortada, A-58, 2007
Xavier Cortada.

Xavier Cortada, A-58, 2007. Sea ice from Antarctica’s Ross Sea, sediment from Antarctica’s Dry Valleys, and mixed media on paper. 12 x 9 in.

Xavier Cortada, 90N-29, 2008.
Xavier Cortada.

Xavier Cortada, 90N-29, 2008. North Pole sea ice, acrylic, and mixed media on paper.

Xavier Cortada, Longitudinal Installation, Ritualistic Performance at South Pole, 2007.
Xavier Cortada.

Xavier Cortada, Longitudinal Installation, Ritualistic Performance at South Pole, 2007.

As a recipient of a 2006-2007 National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists and Writers 5, Cortada traveled to the coldest, least populated location on the planet. There, he created ‘ice paintings’ as melting ice interacted with pigment and local sediment samples. As he worked, Cortada realized that this was “the same ice that would melt and drown [his] city.”

Some of Cortada’s ice paintings were created aboard an icebreaker returning from the North Pole. As the ship rocked, melting ice created marks in pigment on paper that he had taped to the deck.

Ritual is important to Cortada: “Growing up in a Cuban-exile family, I was immersed in traditions and folklore that helped keep the memory of the homeland alive.”

During this trip, Cortada also created ritualistic art installations. In North Pole Dinner Party (2008), he fed his fellow Artic travelers a symbolic communion: a serving of ice he had collected from the North Pole.

What made the Antarctic trip feel extreme to Cortada? The “raw emotions” he felt as scientists explained the global impact of melting ice: “Once you have that knowledge, you are forced to do something about it.”

Buckland is optimistic based on the growing awareness he has witnessed over the last twenty-odd years. “Roll the clock forward another twenty-two years. Look what could happen.”

About the Author

Amy Funderburk

Amy Funderburk is a professional artist and freelance arts writer based in Winston-Salem, NC, specializing in visionary works in which she explores the intersection of the physical world with a more fluid spiritual realm. She works out of the Sternberger Artists Center in Greensboro, NC, and maintains a blog, Drinking from the Well of Inspiration, to provide deeper insight into her creative process. Follow her on twitter: @AFunderburkArt and on Instagram: @AmyFunderburkArtist.

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