Artists bring climate message from the High Arctic

The opening of David Buckland's film End of Ice is not exactly pacy: a block of ice balances over water, waves lapping at its eroded base, perfectly still, and... nothing much happens.

But the film, part of the Art of Climate Change exhibition currently touring the UK, has a surprisingly hypnotic effect. The rhythmic movement of the waves and a mounting sense of impeding disaster as the block’s minute movements become perceptible keep viewers glued to the screen: when is it going to fall?

This weekend is the last chance for Londoners to see End of Ice alongside paintings, sculptures including a crystal-encrusted whale skeleton, photographs, writing and dance that are the fruit of an artists’ expedition into the High Arctic.

The expedition on board of the ship Noorderlicht stemmed from the initiative of artist and film-maker Buckland, who wanted to bring the direct experiences of climate change back into the ‘civilised world’ through the medium of art.

First inspired by a mathematical model of climate interacting with ocean currents, David Buckland decided to take a group scientists, educators and artists into the High Arctic.

“At that time, seven years ago, scientists knew about climate change but it just wasn’t getting out into the media and the public domain at all. I thought, OK, if I sail up there and put artists and scientists and a filmcrew on board then the media will get interested. Which is sort of what happened,” David Buckland said.

“I had a mission to find the most direct way to get people to think about climate change,” he said. He believed artists could add an extra element to this message.

Free of the usual distractions of the modern world, the artists were fully exposed to the effects of climate change on the landscape and wildlife of this untainted and highly sensitive environment.

“What’s amazing about climate change is that it’s partly a cultural phenomenon, it happens at the rate it does because of the cars we drive and the fossil fuels we burn,” said David Buckland

The project, christened Cape Farewell, became a scientific experiment, artistic cooperation and educational endeavour rolled into one. The film and projections of messages such as “sadness melts” and “burning ice” onto icebergs are among its results.

“Much of our environmental awareness comes from what we see on television. But art can often reach us in a way media headlines and scientific data cannot,” said Bergit Arends, the exhibition’s curator.

Watching the ice block of End of Ice move ever so slightly in the wind, feeling it could fall at any moment in an atmosphere of mounting tension, it is difficult not to agree with her.

The Cape Farewell: Art and Climate Change is on at London’s Natural History Museum until this Sunday, 3 September.

It can next be seen in Liverpool at the National Conservation Centre, Walker Art Gallery and 68 Hope Street, from 16 September till 26 November 2006.

Goska Romanowicz

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