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:

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Melting Glaciers Through the Artist’s Lens

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.

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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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