Melting Glaciers Through the Artist’s Lens

Posted by on Aug 3, 2016

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In northern Germany  a small open-air art exhibition,  Outdoors Installation, is showcasing the work of six photographers who capture the dramatic changes glacial ice has undergone in the last hundred years across the world.  In alliance with the glacier focused charity, documentary and climate change advocacy group, Project Pressure, the diverse artists are working collectively to spread awareness of climate change though their powerful images.

The 14 images displayed at the environmental education park, Schleimünde Pilot Island, are only a small sample of the Project Pressure artists’ work.  The exhibit, which opened July 16 and will close in September, is a precursor to a larger touring exhibition which will launch next year.

Outdoors Installation was brought to the public with support from the German environmental non-profit group, The Lighthouse Foundation, who purchased the island from the German government in 2008.

Project Pressure’s Outdoors Installation (Source: Project Pressure)

The founder of Project Pressure, Klaus Thymann, said that he believes visual art depicting retreating glaciers can be a powerful tool to increase awareness of climate change, forging a way through the complex science that isolates the average person.  

“Art energizes, it’s a positive touch point, it can spread interest.  A lot of people find science difficult, inaccessible and complicated so they do not engage with it,” Thymann said in a Skype interview with GlacierHub. “If we can use art to get people to engage with scientific issues, we are at least some of the way there to dealing with the underlying issues [of climate change].”

Thymann, born in Denmark, is one of the six photographers featured at the Outdoors Installation.  The other artists include an American fisherman, Corey Arnold, as well as Scott Conarroe, a Canadian whose landscape photography extends to depict industrial works, and Peter Funch, a Danish photographer who has photographed series on human relations and cities. Rounding out the lineup is Mariele Neudecker, a UK-based German artist who works in a variety of mediums and the Nigerian-native Simon Norfolk, who has photographed the war in Afghanistan. Though each artist has a distinctive approach, they all show the intensity and the bleakness of melting glaciers.

One of Thymann’s displays, a juxtaposition of two aerial photographs of Helheim and Fenris Glaciers in Greenland from 1933, and again a starker picture taken in 2012, has a complicated political backstory.  

Glacier du Baounet, France (Source: Scott Conarroe)

In the first half of the twentieth century, Norway and Denmark were in a dispute over sovereignty of a remote section of eastern Greenland.  In hopes to substantiate its claim, Denmark set forth expeditions to survey the unknown region. In 1933, a series of aerial photographs of Greenland’s coasts, thus its coastal glaciers, were taken by Danish explorer Keld Milthers.  The photos were eventually archived in Copenhagen, forgotten, and later rediscovered by Kurt Kjær of the Statens Naturhistoriske Museum in 2009.  

On a trip in 2012, Thymann then took aerial photographs of the same glaciers once documented years past.  The two contrasting shots of the same Greenland glaciers show clear evidence of the ice mass receding over seventy years.

Lewis Glacier_Kenya_Simon Norfolk_2014

Fire marking past glacier front of Lewis Glacier, Kenya (Source: Simon Norfolk)

Comparing an old photograph with a new one is not the only way Project Pressure artists capture the climate-induced changes to glaciers.

Another artist traveled to a glacier and set up a line of fires to mark its former extent. Conarroe, another photographer featured in the exhibit, said “I think Simon Norfolk’s work from the Lewis Glacier is useful and fascinating.  Living in Canada and Switzerland, African glaciers are not so on my radar…. The fire+ice contrast… [is] an efficient indication of how much the glacier has retreated,” when he was asked what other artist featured at the Outdoors Installation struck him the most.    

From her studio in Bristol, United Kingdom, German born featured artist, Mariele Neudecker, spoke of how it is important to reflect “reality” in art.

Qôrqup Glacier_Greenland_Mariele Neudecker_2015

Qorqup Glacier, Greenland (Source Mariele Neudecker)

“I think it is important to make work about the world we live in, and our perceptions of the multi-faceted reality around us,” Neudecker explained in an email correspondence with GlacierHub.  Neudecker immerses viewers into the world of glaciers through 3D imagery.  She captured the two images displayed at the Outdoor Installation using a stereo camera, according to Neudecker.

When viewed with the naked eye each image appears as a mix of red and blue, but when the work is taken in through 3D glasses or a stereoscope, the viewer is forced out of the two dimensional world of conventional photography.

Thymann told GlacierHub that artists are still planning expeditions into the field to gather additional captivating subject matter.  He hopes to reveal those and many more pieces of glacier art at the traveling exhibit Project Pressure aims to bring to the public.

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