Artist Reawakens Glacial Past In Central Park

In the northeast corner of Central Park by the Harlem Meer, a large billboard hints at Manhattan’s icy past. The piece, commissioned as part of the Drifting in Daylight art exhibition celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Central Park Conservancy, was designed by Karyn Olivier.

Olivier chose to depict a glacier that covered Manhattan 20,000 years ago. The glacier shaped many parts of the island in ways that are both familiar and taken for granted by New Yorkers. Through her piece she also leaves a trace of Seneca Village, a mostly forgotten African American settlement from the 1800’s.

Olivier, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, is an artist and associate professor of sculpture at Tyler School of Art. She spoke to GlacierHub about her piece, titled “Here and Now/Glacier, Shard, Rock.”

Here and Now/Glacier, Shard, Rock by Karyn Oliver
Here and Now/Glacier, Shard, Rock by Karyn Oliver

GH: Why did you choose to depict the glacier that used to cover New York?

KO: The task to create an artwork for a place like Central Park, a place already filled with so much beauty, was daunting—what can compete with such an amazing landscape? So I decided to focus on the site of Central Park and reveal what existed at that location—perhaps allowing for a reflection on what stands there today. I was reading about the Wisconsin Glacier that travelled through what is now New York City, 20,000 years ago. It created valleys, moved boulders, formed rock outcroppings, carried alluvial debris that was eternally stranded in new locations when the ice sheet melted. I was interested in this physical evidence, this geological diaspora, that can be found throughout Central Park—it’s both everywhere, in plain sight, but also hidden by our lack of knowledge and awareness. I was also interested in the more recent history of the site—Seneca Village—and the fact that there is little evidence left of this once vibrant community. This settlement of mostly freed African American residents in the 1800’s was displaced, scattered wholesale throughout the city, with few traces of their tenancy left in the bucolic park. The billboard depicts an image of a glacier, but also a pottery shard that was found on the site of the village. I saw a literal and metaphoric connection between the subtle residual artifacts of both the glacier and village.

 

GH: What meaning do glaciers hold for you?

KO: One of the most awe-inspiring experiences I’ve had was coming upon a glacier while visiting Iceland 14 years ago. It took my breath away—its vastness, its enormity, its visual reminder of the immensity of time and a vanished epoch that it holds and bears witness to.

Karyn Olivier
Karyn Olivier

GH: Can you tell us a bit about your choice of medium for this piece?

KO: I decided to use a lenticular photographic process to create the billboard display. In addition to featuring an image of a glacier and an artifact found from Seneca Village, I embedded a photograph of the landscape that currently exists directly behind the billboard structure. Depending on the viewer’s vantage point, multiple iterations of the three images can be seen. At moments each image is distinct; at other times they reveal themselves as fragments; at varying distances the three images overlap and are compressed—in a sense, conflating thousands of years of time in a single image. When a viewer moves from one end of the billboard to the other, the glacier will seem to move and morph into another time period—transformed as if the park goer on some level is controlling time or her understanding of it. The glacier mutates into a shard from a ceramic vessel—a domestic object made from clay dug from the same earth the glacier traversed before it also vanished. I hoped the image would be arrestingly beautiful, mysterious and thought provoking, as the viewer ponders the connection between the park and the display, the display and himself. I hoped it might spark the viewer’s recognition of the circularity and cyclical nature of time and history and his brief existence in this continuum.
GH: What emotions, thoughts or experiences are you hoping to trigger in passers by?

KO: My aim is for the viewer to have a visceral response to the piece. I want the expansiveness of the glacier to be felt in contrast to the scale of a ceramic plate fragment. I hoped to somehow equate the two—the massive and larger-than-life physicality of the glacier with the smallness and intimacy of a domestic object, a kitchen plate. What does it mean to position these two opposing scales and physicalities into the same image? I wanted to raise more questions than answers.

 

GH: Have you depicted glaciers before?

KO: I haven’t, but this project is inspiring me to continue this exploration.

Public Event On The Anthropocene In New York On Thursday

Glacial moraines, which permit the dating of glacier retreat, in Alberta, Canada (Source: Mark Wilson/Wikipedia)
Glacial moraines, which permit the dating of glacier retreat, in Alberta, Canada (Source: Mark Wilson/Wikipedia)

GlacierHub’s editor Ben Orlove and two other anthropologists will be speaking this Thursday at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This event is a roundtable on the Anthropocene, the term describing the new epoch that has just begun, one where humans have major impacts on the planet’s ecosystems.

SIte of last underground nuclear test in the United States, conducted in 1992 (Source: National Nuclear Safety Administration)
SIte of last underground nuclear test in the United States, conducted in 1992 (Source: National Nuclear Safety Administration)

Geologists can observe the traces of human activities in the geological record, much as they observe other changes that serve to mark off other geological time units, such as the Pleistocene and the Jurassic Period, to name two familiar ones. These traces include moraines which mark the retreat of glaciers, as well as other features such as numerous deep tunnels that form parts of mines, urban infrastructure and underground nuclear test sites, and plastiglomerates or fused bits of plastic waste, sand, rock and organic debris found on beaches around the world. The term Anthropocene is now widely discussed by social scientists and in the media.

This event is a public lecture and discussion and will take place on Thursday, December 18, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. in the Kaufmann Theater. Attendees can use the West 77th Street entrance to the museum, located between Central Park West and Columbus Ave.

Plastiglomerates from Kamilo Beach, Hawaii (source: Geological Society of America)
Plastiglomerates from Kamilo Beach, Hawaii (source: Geological Society of America)

The short presentations will focus on the social aspects of anthropogenic climate change, and consider the role of anthropologists in addressing these issues. It will consider the ways that discussions of the Anthropocene can focus public attention and serve to support positive ways of responding to human transformations of our planet. Their comments will serve as a springboard for discussions with the audience. All three speakers are from Columbia University; their experience with the Anthropocene stretches from biodiversity to migration to adaptation.

Paige West of the Department of Anthropology, Barnard College and Columbia University, conducts research on the linkages between environmental conservation and international development, the material and symbolic ways in which the natural world is understood and produced, and the creation of commodities and practices of consumption. She has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Australia, Germany, England, and the United States. She is the co-founder of the PNG Institute of Biological Research, a small NGO dedicated to building academic opportunities for research in PNG among Papua New Guineans.

The Economist magazine's 2011 cover "Welcome to the Anthropocene. (Source: The Economist)
The Economist magazine’s cover “Welcome to the Anthropocene”. (Source: The Economist)

J.C. Salyer of the Department of Sociology, Barnard College, is a lawyer and an anthropologist whose work focuses on law and society, immigration law, and social justice. He is the staff attorney for the Arab-American Family Support Center, a community-based organization in Brooklyn, and runs the organization’s immigration clinic. His research focuses on the legal formalism of deportation decisions and how the exclusion of social factors and personal history effect determinations of immigration status. In addition to his work on immigration, he received the William J. Brennan First Amendment Fellowship to work at the American Civil Liberties Union national legal department and was a staff attorney at the ACLU of New Jersey. His teaching focuses on the relationship between social science, law, and public policy.

Ben Orlove of the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, has conducted extensive research on agriculture, pastoralism, fisheries and mining in the Andes, and has recently begun fieldwork in Bhutan. At Columbia, he directs the MA Program in Climate and Society and the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions. He is also affiliated with the International Research Institute for Climate and Society. Recent posts in GlacierHub have described his participation in the People’s Climate March last September and in international organizations.

Anthropocene event poster (Source: American Museum of Natural History)
Anthropocene event poster (Source: American Museum of Natural History)

 

Photo Friday: NYC Climate March

Last weekend, ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit, three hundred thousand people gathered on New York City streets in solidarity with similar marches across the globe in order to send a clear message to policy makers around the world that people are invested in their environment, and they are paying attention to what their governments are doing about our changing climate. The September 21 People’s Climate March kicking off Climate Week drew more than 300,000 participants.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com.

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UN looks to locals for climate solutions

When attacking a problem as complex and diverse as climate change, sometimes the best way is from the ground up. Bringing indigenous communities, including those near glacier in high mountain regions, into the discussion is the new tactic discussed at a September 24 meeting at the United Nations Development Programme in New York during Climate Week. With many heads of state present at the UN headquarters two blocks away, security was tight.

Tight security outside the United Nations (photo: Ben Orlove)
Tight security outside the United Nations (photo: Ben Orlove)

The event, “Building Indigenous Knowledge into Climate Change Assessments: A Roundtable Discussion,” was sponsored by UNESCO. It drew together nearly two dozen representatives from international agencies, NGOs, indigenous communities and universities. Its goal was to increase the presence of indigenous knowledge in climate assessments, and to use this knowledge to promote effective adaptation efforts. The meeting built on two key statements in the Summary for Policy-makers of Working Group II of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: that “including indigenous peoples’ holistic views of community and environment are a major resource for adapting to climate change” and that these views “have not been used consistently in existing adaptation efforts.”

The animated discussions lasted well over three hours. The meeting was chaired by Douglas Nakashima, the chief of the Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems Programme of UNESCO and Minnie Degawan, a member of the Kankanaey Igorot indigenous community of the Philippines and a Senior Advisor of the World Wildlife Fund Forest and Climate Initiative. Nakashima opened with a thoughtful review of the involvement of indigenous peoples and indigenous knowledge in the IPCC and the UNFCCC over the last 10 years, and of the efforts of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, a network of indigenous peoples who engage with the UNFCCC, to expand this role.

A September 24 discussion of the indigenous communities in Asia. (photo: Ben Orlove)
A September 24 discussion of the indigenous communities in Asia. (photo: Ben Orlove)

Discussions focused on indigenous knowledge about climate change, the ways that indigenous peoples bring their knowledge into adaptation, and an exploration of the opportunities and barriers to fuller incorporation of this knowledge into global climate assessments. The issue of indigenous youth came up again and again, with the concern for assuring continuity of strong indigenous communities on their lands. They included detailed case studies of different communities and of international organizations. Of the nine speakers, five were representatives of indigenous communities, principally from Southeast Asia and North America. Indigenous people formed a majority of the discussants and commentators as well.

A discussion of international indigenous initiatives. (photo: Ben Orlove)
A discussion of international indigenous initiatives. (photo: Ben Orlove)

I spoke on communities around glaciers, including indigenous Quechua-speakers in Peru and Sherpas in Nepal. I reflected on the ways that some groupings of peoples and regions—glacier regions, the Arctic, low-lying islands—are relatively new to the United Nations, reflecting the growing awareness of climate impacts. I drew on several posts in GlacierHub, including the introduction of greenhouses to a region in Nepal, a discussion of waste management in a national park in Peru, and conflicts over the governance of mountaineering in Nepal. These stories dovetailed with other accounts at the meeting, which also examined the way that the integration of local knowledge into projects was linked to local control over land as well, and addressed the power inequalities within and between countries.

Columbia University professor Ben Orlove speaking at the UNESCO workshop (photo: Carla Roncoli)
Columbia University professor Ben Orlove speaking at the UNESCO workshop (photo: Carla Roncoli)

People spoke with intensity and listened to each other closely, providing many comments and drawing out comparisons across disparate cases. The discussion became fast-paced after Youba Sokona, the Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III on Mitigation, offered an overview of the process of writing assessment reports with a focus on the potential for greater incorporation of indigenous knowledge. The group came up with several recommendations—still under discussion—for concrete future steps, leading up to the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Paris in December 2015.

Presentation on IPCC process by Youba Sokona, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III (photo: Ben Orlove)
Presentation on IPCC process by Youba Sokona, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III (photo: Ben Orlove)

 

Climate change worsens gender inequality in the Himalayas

A woman in Pothala, Nepal, enjoys the view of terraced rice fields, whose potential ecosystem services include groundwater recharge and flood and erosion mitigation.  Climate change in the Himalayas has affected women more disproportionally than men. (Bas Bouman/IRRI Photos/Flickr)BAS BOUMAN
A woman in Pothala, Nepal, enjoys the view of terraced rice fields, whose potential ecosystem services include groundwater recharge and flood and erosion mitigation. Climate change in the Himalayas has affected women more disproportionally than men. (Bas Bouman/IRRI Photos/Flickr)BAS BOUMAN

In the Himalayas, when a flash flood rips through a village or when a glacial lake flood outburst wipes one out entirely, surviving families relocate to new settlements, where women are often burdened with more labor and kept away from school, or sent off to an early marriage. Climate impacts have made gender and ethnic inequality more acute in terms of access to education, health care and food security.

Men have more opportunities for wage labor and better access to government services. Some women can obtain resources for themselves and for their children through the men they have ties to, but that dependence can leave them in an unfavorable position. Other women are left with little or no possibility of mobilizing ties to men to obtain resources.

Activists with the ACHA Himalayan Sisterhood walk in the People's Climate March on September 21 in New York City. (photo: Tsechu Dolma)
Activists with the ACHA Himalayan Sisterhood walk in the People’s Climate March on September 21 in New York City. (photo: Tsechu Dolma)

At the People’s Climate March on Sunday, the Himalayan women of New York marched in solidarity with women who are affected by climate change. Himalayan communities from the Tibetan Plateau to the South Asian plains have firsthand experience of the adverse impact of climate change, including flash floods, reduced water access and erratic weather patterns.

ACHA Himalayan Sisterhood, an emerging international network of Himalayan women working towards women empowering women in creating safe, supportive space for all, presented demands for climate justice. The Himalayan women called for immediate expansion of resources to build climate resilience through domestic and international policies that rest on local control of land and other resources.

Woman farmer gathering harvested rice after drying in the field for three days. (Sajal Sthapit/Flickr)
Woman farmer gathering harvested rice after drying in the field for three days. (Sajal Sthapit/Flickr)

Women are at the center of climate change impact as they are disproportionally impacted. In mountain communities and rural villages around the world, women are the ones who collect water, firewood and other resources to feed families. This August, torrential rainfall in Nepal led to flash floods and mudslides which claimed more than 180 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands. Events such as this recur often, and are becoming more frequent as climate change progresses.

Himalayan communities must deal with flash floods, reduced water access and erratic weather patterns as a result of climate change. (Tsechu Dolma)
Himalayan communities must deal with flash floods, reduced water access and erratic weather patterns as a result of climate change. (Tsechu Dolma)

How to make a glacier in 10 easy steps

We made a model glacier that we brought to the People’s Climate March in New York on September 21. It was easy. We invite others to make model glaciers too. If you discover any improvements on our system, please let us know.

1. Find some friends. It’s more fun if you work with others.

2. Get a good-sized wagon. Ours had sturdy wheels and was easily maneuverable. Those were both positive features.

(photo: Ben and  Jacob Orlove)
(photo: Ben and Jacob Orlove)

3. Fill some large plastic bags with crushed newspaper. They take up space and are much less heavy than ice. Buy some bags of ice cubes. And get a tarp too. It’s handy.

(photo: Ben and  Jacob Orlove)
(photo: Ben and Jacob Orlove)

4. Visit stores that sell fresh fish. They often have machines that make crushed ice, and can sell or even give you some. It’s good to set this up in advance.

(photo: Ben and  Jacob Orlove)
(photo: Ben and Jacob Orlove)
(photo: Ben and  Jacob Orlove)
(photo: Ben and Jacob Orlove)

5. Assemble all your materials and cover them with a tarp. Head to the demonstration.

(photo: Ben and  Jacob Orlove)
(photo: Ben and Jacob Orlove)

6. When you get near the demonstration, arrange your materials carefully. Having an extra tarp helps in case you have to unload some crushed ice, like we did. Your hands may get cold but they will warm up again.

(photo: Ben and  Jacob Orlove)
(photo: Ben and Jacob Orlove)
(photo: Ben and  Jacob Orlove)
(photo: Ben and Jacob Orlove)
(photo: Ben and  Jacob Orlove)
(photo: Ben and Jacob Orlove)

7. This part of the process is a good opportunity to talk to others.

(photo: Ben and  Jacob Orlove)
(photo: Ben and Jacob Orlove)

8. Bring the glacier to the demonstration.

(photo: Ben and  Jacob Orlove)
(photo: Ben and Jacob Orlove)

9. Have some simple materials to hand out to people who are interested.

(photo: Ben and  Jacob Orlove)
(photo: Ben and Jacob Orlove)

10. Talk to people at the demonstration. Encourage them to take selfies with the glacier. And have fun!

(photo: Ben and  Jacob Orlove)
(photo: Ben and Jacob Orlove)

Total cost: about $30 for ice. Total time: 1 hour visiting fish stores in advance. 1 hour buying ice and assembling the paper in bags. 30 minutes putting glacier all together

What we will do differently next time:

1. Try to make the glacier more mountain-like. We may try putting some cardboard or sticks to make the crushed ice mound up higher.

2. Make a sign. Most people got the idea of the glacier, but some didn’t. And we could have added something that would attract attention. “I’m marching for all the glaciers in the world.” “It’s too hot for me.” Something like that.

(photo: Ben and  Jacob Orlove)
(photo: Ben and Jacob Orlove)