Brooklyn-based artist Melissa F. Clarke took a trip to the incredibly shrinking coast of Greenland to witness firsthand the melting ice sheet that NASA's satellites visualized last summer. Clarke's resulting installation, Sila, opens with a three-night event this weekend, and mixes geological data with documentation of the people living through the profound effects of climate change happening there. We visited Clarke at her studio last spring when she began raising funds for her trip. At that time, she couldn't have anticipated the direction her project would ultimately take. "At one point in the trip, I actually left my original expedition boat," explains Clarke. "I ended up travelling with two anthropologists and one native of Greenland and we ended up sleeping on floors and going into these small villages." While Clarke had already journeyed to the ends of the earth for another project, Untitled Antartica, Greenland was a whole new experience. "It's so different than the South Pole where you don't have an indigenous communities living around," she notes.
Ice Gouge part of Untitled Antartica, 2011 This difference caused Clarke to adapt her usual method of interpreting scientific research with algorithms. "Originally, I intended on doing a data-centric piece, but what ended up happening is I really got to know people that live on the periphery of the ice sheet and how their daily lives are affected by climate change and I had all this anecdotal data coming in at me," explains Clarke, who shifted her focus to also include sounds and images documenting the indigenous communities, especially native hunters, who are feeling the most impact from Greenland's climate change. The result is a hybrid of objective and subjective research, scientific data and documentary-style material.
Sila, 2013 A major element of the installation is a video that evokes a morphing landscape. "I'm using thousands of pictures of ice and running them through generative algorithms," says Clarke, explaining how she programmed the video with Jitter/Max/MSP. "They're bringing the photos together and looking for averages in brightness and contrast, and for other aspects of the images, and it composites over time."
Sila, 2013 Clarke concedes that her organic subject matter and computational approach might seem antithetical, but she sees them as complementary. "It really makes sense because it's about process and you are allowing a process to happen." It's ideas of process, as well as change and the passage of time--not advocacy--that draw Clarke to climate change. "I don't have an agenda. I bring all of my experience and everything I've researched, I create art and I let people take from it what they may."
Melissa F. Clarke presents Earth Flat at Reverse Gallery (28 Frost Street, Brooklyn, NY) June 7, 8, and 9. Clarke's installation will be on display and various artists will perform culiminating in Clarke's own performance on the final night.
Images courtesy of Melissa F. Clarke