Artists have participated in scientific and artistic explorations of the iconic landscapes of Earth’s polar regions since the late-nineteenth century. Today, the crisis of climate change and the associated threat of ice melt and sea level rise have drawn a legion of international artists to Greenland, the Arctic, and the Antarctic. There, they document the beauty and the destruction of the region, in hopes of drawing viewers’ attention to the impending loss and eliciting action toward change.
33° presents the work of six artists: Danish sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard and photographers Olaf Otto Becker (German), Camille Seaman (Native American/African American), James Balog (American), Jean de Pomereu (French), and Iain Brownlie Roy (Scottish). Kirkegaard’s forty-minute soundspace Isfald (Icefall) will be on view at the David Winton Bell Gallery, alongside photographs of glaciers, icebergs, and the Greenland icesheet by Becker and Seaman. Photomurals by Becker, Seaman, Balog, de Pomereu, and Roy will be displayed on the exterior of buildings across Brown’s campus.
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33° is mounted in conjunction with the Brown Arts Initiative’s theme of “Art and Environment,” and coincides with Polar Opposites, a BAI symposium, and Writing on Water, a program of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. 33° is produced by the David Winton Bell Gallery with generous support from an anonymous donor and the Brown Arts initiative.
Danish artist and composer Jacob Kirkegaard presents listening as a means of experiencing the world. Often revealing unheard and unseen phenomena, Kirkegaard has recorded environments as different as subterranean geyser vibrations, empty rooms in Chernobyl, and otoacoustic emissions (low level sounds emitted by the cochlea of the human ear).
His forty-minute soundscape Isfald was recorded in Greenland in June 2013. Using hydrophones and contact microphones, Kirkegaard captured the deep booms of calving glaciers from twenty meters below the surface of the Illulisat ice fjord and the high pitch sounds of melting, cracking ice at the surface. In the resulting immersive environment, speakers are mounted below the floor offering the impression of walking on cracking ice as the sound of calving glaciers vibrates through the space.
Isfald was commissioned and lent by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk; Acquired with funding from The Augustinus Foundation. Kirkegaard’s work has been presented internationally in museums and concert hall. He was included in Sounding: A Contemporary Score, MoMA’s first major exhibition of sound art held in 2013, and in exhibitions at the Menil Collection and the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Aichi Triennale in Nagoya, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, Japan. A new work, Through the Wall, will be presented at the 21st Biennale of Sydney, which opens in March 2018.
For more than a decade Camille Seaman has documented the rapidly changing landscapes of Earth's polar regions through the lens of portraiture rather than landscape. As an expedition photographer aboard small ships in the Arctic, Antarctic, and Greenland, she has chronicled the accelerating effects of global warming on the jagged face of nearly fifty thousand unique icebergs. Seaman's perspective of the landscape is entwined with her Shinnecock tribal identity, which taught her from an early age to recognize all living beings—trees, spiders, fish, and even ice—as individual members of one, enormous family. Viewing human beings as fundamentally interconnected to nature, Seaman approaches photographing icebergs “as if I am making portraits of my ancestors,” each one with a distinct history, personality, and set of social relationships. Her dynamic images embed her subjects in an enduring, nourishing, but increasingly strained relationship with their environment—of which humans are an integral part.
Seaman has published several books of her work, most recently in a collection entitled Melting Away: A Ten-Year Journey through Our Endangered Polar Regions. Her images have been featured in National Geographic, TIME, and the New York Times, as well as in exhibitions across the globe in both artistic and scientific contexts.
Olaf Otto Becker
Drawn to Greenland for the quality of light, landscape photographer Olaf Otto Becker sought wild, unspoiled landscapes and found “the visible traces of human overpopulation left behind in nature.” Becker has photographed in Greenland since 2003, until quite recently using a cumbersome 8 x 10 camera as he traveled along 2400 miles of the west coast in a small dinghy and trekked overland on Greenland’s inland ice for more than 275 miles on foot. On the latter trip and in a series titled Above Zero, Becker photographed rivers of meltwater that are increasingly appearing due to global warming. Visible throughout are black, crusty deposits—from dust and rust in the air—that together with climate change are accelerating the melting of the ice sheets.
Becker titles his images with GPS coordinates, to aid in documenting changes in the landscape over time. His three bodies of works on Greenland—Broken Line, Above Zero, and the forthcoming Sculpture of Change—play an important role in documenting the changing landscape of Greenland and visualizing the far-reaching human impact on the global ecosystem.
Through his research in geomorphology and geography as well as his 35-year-long career in photography, James Balog has become an international advocate for the environment, specializing in signs of human impact and climate change. His numerous books cover topics ranging from glaciers to endangered wildlife to trees, but after founding the Extreme Ice Survey—a wide-ranging photographic study of glaciers—Balog went on to serve as a US/NASA representative at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in 2009 and present on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2015. He and his team have been featured in the 2012 internationally acclaimed documentary Chasing Ice as well as the 2009 PBS NOVA special, Extreme Ice and numerous features in National Geographic.
Iain Brownlie Roy
In the words of Iain Brownlie Roy, “To witness awesome natural phenomena first hand is a privilege,” one that “reminds us of our place in the scheme of things.” Roy has been an outspoken and poetic environmentalist since adolescence and his prolific career in landscape photography has reassessed ideas of “golden ages,” taxonomies, and assumptions that human culture must dominate nature. Since 1982, Roy has been traveling to Greenland to photograph glaciers and eventually founded the British North East Greenland Group. The groups summer explorations of remote corners of the fjord region of North East Greenland resulted in a major publication of black and white photos, Beyond the Imaginary Gates. Turning his attentions to digital photography, Roy has most recently been working on documenting the iconic Northwest Highlands near his home in Scotland.
Jean de Pomereu
For Jean de Pomereu, Antarctica is an “icon of international cooperation, a climate archive, an early warning system, observation platform to the cosmos, ground zero of earthly complexity—idea, as much as place.” First visiting in 2003, Pomereu has returned to Antarctica numerous times in both artistic and scientific capacities—as the official photographer for artist Lita Albuquerque’s Stellar Axis, and as the first foreigner to accompany the Chinese National Antarctic Research Expedition. Holding a PhD in Historical Geography and a Masters degree in Polar Studies, de Pomereu lectures on the cultural and scientific history of the Antarctic. His photographs of Antarctica have been exhibited in galleries and museums in France, Belgium, Spain, the UK, the US, China and New Zealand.