Looking to succeed where political action and discourse has been tenuous, Iceland’s own Olafur Eliasson recently created a public art installation meant as a reflection on climate change, done in a manner more discernable than the theoretical rhetoric that often surrounds the issue. Ice Watch, a collaboration of Eliasson with geologist Minik Rosing, which we previewed earlier this month, is a literal visualization of the critical condition of the Arctic ice caps.
The artist and the Ice Watch team harvested and extracted 100 tons of glacial ice chunks from Greenland and shipped them to France’s capital to be shown in public. The choice of location is crucial; Ice Watch specifically coincides with the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21), the yearly meeting of the United Nations to discuss creeping issue of climate change. While the conferences are a step in the right direction, they have largely been ineffective in taking literal action against carbon emissions. One of the ambitions of Ice Watch is to affect just that; to encourage action over contemplation through the literal nature of the project.
Although the conference ended a few days ago, Eliasson’s chunks remain in front of the Place du Pantheon in a ritualistic, circular formation. When the ice arrived in Paris on December 3rd, the shards had already lost 20% of their mass down to a svelte 80 tons. Nearly 2 weeks have gone by since their arrival, and although there hasn’t been another formal “weigh-in” of the chunks, they have already shrunk to unrecognizable sizes and will continue to dissipate until they vanish, a direct representation of the issues discussed during COP21
Thankfully, this year’s climate conference wasn’t all talk, and COP21 concluded with the milestone creation of the Paris Agreement, a call to arms for the countries of the United Nations to join together and take practical action against climate change. Whether by coincidence or influenced by Ice Watch’s deteriorating chunks of ice, the end goal of the public art installation is successful, an indicator of the potential art has to incur change when other means have been ineffective.