Glimpsing the Arctic: A Conversation with Artist Mariele Neudecker

Many people may never see a glacier or an iceberg up close, given issues of cost, inaccessibility and environmental changes. Yet artist Mariele Neudecker is making the experience a bit more accessible, as she transports a vision of the Arctic to galleries and museum floors.

Mariele Neudecker photographing glacier ice in Greenland (Source: Neudecker/Spikeworld).

Born in Düsseldorf, Germany, the 51-year-old lifelong artist now resides in Bristol, where she creates sculptures, photographs, films and paintings.  Over the past 20 years, Neudecker has produced a wide range of landscape and still life artwork, much of which seeks to capture the essence of glaciers and icebergs.

Recently, a selection of Neudecker’s Arctic-focused art was the center of her exhibit, Some Things Happen All At Once, at the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, Germany.  Additionally, four copies of her photographs were featured at Project Pressure’s Outdoor Installation, which GlacierHub recently covered in August.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Neudecker walks us through the journey behind her glacier artwork.  A condensed and edited version of the conversation follows.

 

GH:  I understand the Zeppelin Museum installation is not the first project you have done focusing on glaciers.

MN: I have done a lot of work with [19th century landscape painter] Caspar David Friedrich paintings and converting them into 3D tank pieces.  The first one I did in 1997 was clearly using ice in a reference to his painting “Sea of Ice.”

 

Caspar_David_Friedrich_The_Sea_of_Ice
Caspar David Friedrich’s “The Sea of Ice” (Source: Web Gallery of Art/CC).

GH: What attracted you to ice and glacier themed art back in 1997, when you first incorporated Arctic ice elements into your artwork?

MN: It [my work] was more of an exploration of landscapes. I looked at mountains, forests and the ocean.  However, I always thought the remoteness and difficulty to imagine the Arctic created an interesting perception… It is about the subject of glaciers and the Arctic, but fundamentally it’s about perceptions and how we have longings to be somewhere else.  You can transport people to other places through paintings, films and all sorts of artwork.

The Arctic has always been a metaphor for climate change and human shortcomings, so there are a lot of cliché images of glaciers representing the environment.  That has provoked me to add other layers to that representation.  The challenge is to avoid the clichés.

 

3D tank pieces displayed at the Zeppelin Museum (Source: Neudecker/Thumm/Zeppelin).

GH:  What was the most difficult feeling to capture that you wanted to convey to viewers?

MN: I wanted to hint at the unknown and to highlight that all we see are little fragments of something much bigger.  It’s hard to capture the feeling of standing in massive open spaces where you are trapped in your eye sockets and you must turn your head to take it all in.

It’s similar to deep sea projects I have done, where the camera is in the black depths of the ocean and only with artificial light can you see a fraction of the spaces. You know how massive the space is, but you only see a tiny piece of it.

 

GH: What was the most surprising to you when you were out in the field capturing glaciers?

MN: The sound! That really threw me. I had no idea how loud they were.  Camping on the side of a glacier the silence and then the sounds that interrupted that silence were so powerful.  I’ve seen a million images of glaciers, but no one told me about the sounds.

I tried to record them but I wasn’t able to capture it well.  That would be a future project I would love to do.

 

Mariele Neudecker in Greenland (Source: Neudecker/Spikeworld).

GH: Before you went to Greenland, all of your Arctic work was derived from images and paintings.  What sparked your first trip to Greenland in May of 2012?

MN:  I was lucky to spend a week with the American writer Gretel Ehrlich, who has written beautiful books about Greenland and ice.  Before my experience with her I felt I could do my work with my imagination and images, but after [that week] I wanted to have the experience of being out there in the open space that her books described so amazingly well.

I was in Greenland for a month, but I spent a week with Gretel and two subsistence hunters and two teams of sled dogs.  A major component [of my project] was to experience the history of photography in reverse as I made my way through the trip.  I started with HD digital… all the way back to a pinhole camera at the end.  I had 12 cameras in total.  I spent the following few weeks on my own [not counting the guides], traveling to fjords and far northern reaches of Greenland.  There were these very remote places with villages of only 12 inhabitants.  It was extraordinary seeing how those people lived.

 

GH: What was your favorite camera to shoot with?

MN: I like the Polaroid.  It was slightly unpredictable and it produced tiny pictures.  I liked the absurdity of capturing immense spaces in tiny pictures.

 

Ship in the ice displayed at the Zeppelin Museum (Source: Neudecker).

GH: Could you give me an overview of the Zeppelin Museum exhibit and walk me through some of the main pieces?

MN:  I will start with most recent piece of the exhibition, which is the afterlife piece of the boat in the ice.  The whole thing started with the ship… it struck me as looking like one of those early Arctic explorer ships.  I didn’t want to be too literal in following Casper David’s ship stuck in the ice, so I kept it abstract and cropped the ice around where the ship is set in.  I also decided to add [videos] in the whole exhibition to give an element of space and constant moving and change.  I then added layers with the 3D effects with the blue and red separation, which I had never done before… it took me a while to dare myself to do it but I sprayed one side of the boat red and the other blue to link it to the 3D images that were on the wall.

 

GH:  How did you use the 3D images and the videos to create the moving effect?

MN: When you walk into the space the white ice surface stretches all the way to the sidewalls and the back walls and monitors with the film and moving images are synchronized, so that the images are either pushing towards you or moving away.  There is a constant feeling of washing in and out.

 

Red and blue photo of Qôrqup Glacier, Greenland_Mariele taken with 3D camera (Source: Neudecker).

GH: What was the process behind the 3D and stereoscopic images of the glaciers?

MN: It is disappointingly easy – you just point and shoot.  I have a camera with two lenses, and it creates these double files, so in 3D stills it generates two images.  Then you have the choice of either using the two images for stereoscopic viewings or putting it into Photoshop, which generates these red and blue color images.

 

GH: It seems that you are trying to immerse the viewer in the Arctic world with the swaying room and various 3D pieces.
MN: That is true, but at the same time I aim to make that experience last only so long.  Inevitably, you realize that you are standing on the floor of a museum and the illusion collapses.  The art is interesting when your imagination takes over, but there is no way to simulate actually being on the glacier.

 

 

More photos of Mariele Neudecker’s work:

[slideshow_deploy id=’10820′]

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Roundup: Pakistan’s Glaciers, Jobless Sherpas, Ancient Rivers

This Week’s Roundup:

Pakistan has more glaciers than almost anywhere on Earth. But they are at risk.

From The Washington Post:

Mohammad Idrees, 11, eats ice that has been hacked from the mountain peaks by vendors and offered for sale along a road in the Chitral Valley last month (Source: Insiya Syed /For The Washington Post).

“For generations, the glacier clinging to Miragram Mountain, a peak that towers above the village, has served as a reservoir for locals and powered myriad streams throughout Pakistan’s scenic Chitral Valley. Now, though, the villagers say that their glacier — and their way of life — is in retreat….

With 7,253 known glaciers, including 543 in the Chitral Valley, there is more glacial ice in Pakistan than anywhere on Earth outside the polar regions, according to various studies. Those glaciers feed rivers that account for about 75 percent of the stored-water supply in the country of at least 180 million.

But as in many other parts of the world, researchers say, Pakistan’s glaciers are receding, especially those at lower elevations, including here in the Hindu Kush mountain range in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Among the causes cited by scientists: diminished snowfall, higher temperatures, heavier summer rainstorms and rampant deforestation.”

Read the full story here.

 

Sherpas Denied Summit Certificates

From The Himalayan Times:

Climbers ascending the Lhotse face on Mt Everest. Photo credit: Garrett Madison
Climbers ascending the Lhotse face on Mt Everest (Source: Garrett Madison/THT)

“The Department of Tourism, under the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, has refused to award high-altitude workers summit certificates, citing a clause of the Mountaineering Expedition Regulation that bars them from obtaining government certificates….

He said DoT couldn’t issue certificates to Sherpas as per the existing law, claiming that high-altitude workers are not considered a part of the expedition as per the Mountaineering Expedition Regulation that was framed in 2002. ‘The regulation considers only those who obtain climbing permit by paying royalty to the government as members of an expedition’ [Laxman Sharma, Director at DoT’s Mountaineering Section, told THT].

This is the first time in the country’s mountaineering history that Sherpas have failed to obtain government certificates despite successfully scaling mountains.”

Read the full article here.

 

Ancient Rivers Beneath Greenland Glacier

From Live Science:

Image from the research article published in Nature (Source: Cooper et al, 2016/Live Science).

“A network of ancient rivers lies frozen in time beneath one of Greenland’s largest glaciers, new research reveals.

The subglacial river network, which threads through much of Greenland’s landmass and looks, from above, like the tiny nerve fibers radiating from a brain cell, may have influenced the fast-moving Jakobshavn Isbrae glacier over the past few million years.

‘The channels seem to be instrumental in controlling the location and form of the Jakobshavn ice stream — and seem to show a clear influence on the onset of fast flow in this region,’ study co-author Michael Cooper, a doctoral candidate in geography at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, told Live Science. ‘Without the channels present underneath, the glacier may not exist in its current location or orientation.”

Full story continued here.

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New Study Offers Window into Glacial Lake Outburst Floods

A recent geological study has shed some light on the cause of a major, yet elusive destructive natural hazard triggered by failed natural dams holding back glacial lakes. The findings show how previously unrecognized factors like thinning glacier ice and moisture levels in the ground surrounding a lake can determine the size and frequency of Glacier Lake Outburst Floods, or GLOFs.

Palcacocha Lake in 2008, showing its enclosing moraine; the 1941 breach is visible in the lower right (Source: Colette Simonds/The Glacial Lake Handbook).

The risks of these glacial floods are generally considered increasingly acute across the world, as warming atmospheric temperatures prompt ice and snow on mountain ranges to retreat and to swell glacial lakes.

Landslides in moraines as triggers of glacial lake outburst floods: example from Palcacocha Lake (Cordillera Blanca, Peru), published in  Landslides in July 2016, centers its study on Lake Palcacocha in the Cordillera Blanca mountain region of central Peru.  Since Palcacocha is one of almost 600 lakes in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range dammed by glacial moraines, the population of the region lives under serious threat of GLOFs.

The Landslides article is a step in understanding a previously understudied geological phenomenon.  As little as five years ago scientists acknowledged the lack of research on the subject.

“We don’t really have the scientific evidence of these slopes breaking off and moraine stability… but personal observations are suggesting there are a lot of those…” said Ph.D. environmental historian Mark Carey in a 2011 video where he describes GOLFs.

 

Glacial Lake Outburst Flood risks do not always emanate from mountain glacier meltwater that flows downstream. As this study shows,  in some instances, trillions of gallons of water can be trapped by a moraine, a formation of mixed rock, which forms a natural dam.  A weakening over time, or a sudden event, such as a landslide, could then result in the moraine dam’s collapse.

The massive amount of water is suddenly then released, and a wall of debris-filled liquid speeds down the mountainside with a destructive force capable of leveling entire city blocks.

GLOFs have presented an ongoing risk to people and their homes dating back to 1703, especially in the Cordillera Blanca region, according to United States Geological Survey records.  In December of 1941, a breach in the glacial moraine restraining Palcacocha Lake led to the destruction of a significant portion of the city of Huaraz and killed approximately 5,000 people.

Looking north over Huaraz towards the highest region of the Cordillera Blanca (Source: Uwebart/CC).

Scientists and government agencies, like the Control Commission of Cordillera Blanca Lakes created by the Peruvian government following the 1941 GLOF, have recognized the need to better understand and control GLOFs.  The study found that as global temperatures rise and glaciers retreat, greater amounts of glacier melt water will continue to fill up mountain lakes, chucks of ice will fall off glaciers, and  wetter moraines will become  more prone to landslides.

The team of mostly Czech geologists and hydrologists (J. Klimeš; J. Novotný; I. Novotná; V. Vilímek; A. Emmer; M. Kusák; F. Hartvich) along with Spanish, Peruvian and Swiss scientists (B. Jordán de Urries; A. Cochachin Rapre; H. Frey and T. Strozzi) investigated the ability of a glacial moraine’s slope to stay intact, called shear strength, and modeled the potential of landslides and falling ice to cause GLOFs.

After extensive field investigations, calculations and research into historical events, the study found several causal factors that can determine the severity of a GLOF.  These include size and angle of entry of a landslide,  shape and depth of the glacial lake, glacier thickness and human preventative engineering such as canals and supporting dams.  Frequency and size of a landslide is determined by the stability of surface material, a characteristic called shear strength, which can be influenced by something as subtle as the crystalline shape of the predominant mineral in the rock.

The terminal and lateral moraines that contain Palcacocha Lake, showing the 1941 breach that released a GLOF that devastated the city of Huaraz (Source: John Harlin/The Glacial Lake Handbook).

The scientists determined that waves caused by moraine landslides and falling ice would most likely lead to over-toppings of the natural dam.  An example would be the 2003 Palcacocha Lake GLOF, which was caused by falling ice.  No one died in this flood, but sediment from the floodwaters blocked the Huaraz’s main water treatment facility, leaving 60 percent of the population without drinking water for six days.  Additionally, small events like the one in 2003 weaken the natural and manmade dams, which without monitoring could eventually give out and result in a more catastrophic occurrence.

Most recent measurements estimate Palcacocha Lake holds 4.5 trillion gallons of glacier meltwater, which is enough to fill approximately 6,800 olympic size pools.  The potential of a catastrophic flood following the collapse of the moraine dam is a serious threat to the growing city that lies beneath it.
“Climate-driven environmental changes may critically affect stabilities of slopes above glacial lakes, possibly triggering large moraine landslides,” write the authors in the article.  They call for continued monitoring of glacial lakes.

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Roundup: Changing Waterways, Hotter Parks, Glacier Music

As a Glacier Retreats a Major Water Source Dries Up

From CBC News:

Looking up the Slims River Valley, from the south end of Kluane Lake. The river used to flow down the valley from the Kaskawulsh glacier (Source: Sue Thomas/CBCNews)

“It’s [the Kaskawulsh glacier] been the main source of water into Yukon’s Kluane Lake for centuries, but now the Slims River has suddenly slimmed down — to nothing.

‘What folks have noticed this spring is that it’s essentially dried up,’ said Jeff Bond of the Yukon Geological Survey.

‘That’s the first time that’s happened, as far as we know, in the last 350 years.’

What’s happened is some basic glacier hydrology, Bond says — essentially, the Kaskawulsh Glacier has retreated to the point where its melt water is now going in a completely different direction, away from the Slims Valley.”

Check out he full story here.

 

Rising Temperatures in National Parks Like Glacier Bay

From Climate Central:

Temperature change in Glacier Bay National Preserve (Source: Climate Central)

“With such a wide variety of climates across the park system, the country’s 59 National Parks all have different challenges to manage in the changing climate. Some parks have experienced dramatic temperature changes, and these shifts can lead to water shortages (or too much water), ocean acidification, and species migration…. Glacier National Park — The number of glaciers has been cut in half since 1968, and the largest glaciers are expected to be gone within the next 15 years.”

Look at temperature trends in national parks here.

 

Hosted by Greenpeace: Professional Pianist Plays on Glacier

From Greenpeacespain on YouTube:

“Through his music, acclaimed Italian composer and pianist Ludovico Einaudi has added his voice to those of eight million people from across the world demanding protection for the Arctic. Einaudi performed one of his own compositions on a floating platform in the middle of the Ocean, against the backdrop of the Wahlenbergbreen glacier (in Svalbard, Norway).”

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