Art

The Climate Museum Captures the Gravity of a Global Crisis

The world’s first climate change museum opens its inaugural exhibition, exploring polar ice through art at the Parsons School of Design in Manhattan.

A visitor to the Climate Museum’s first exhibition stands in front of “88 Cores,” a new video installation by the artist Peggy Weil (photograph by Lisa Goulet, courtesy the Climate Museum )

“The challenging nature of science communication, and especially climate communication, is one of the central reasons we need a museum dedicated to this subject,” Miranda Massie, founder and director of the Climate Museum, told Hyperallergic. The museum is debuting its first exhibition as it works toward a physical home in New York City. Called In Human Time, the show is presented in partnership with the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center (SJDC) at the Parsons School of Design in Manhattan.

“Museums provide opportunities for physical, emotional, and social learning,” Massie said. “The ongoing discoveries, the data and numbers and graphs — all of that is essential, but most of us need context, narrative, sensory details, and a sense of community — a peer group — to grapple with both the abstractness of raw scientific information and, in the case of climate, the gravity of its meaning.”

Peggy Weil: 88 Cores in In Human Time at the Parsons School of Design’s Sheila Johnson Design Center (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

In Human Time focuses on polar ice in a two-part exhibition, acting as a case study in using art to encourage awareness of climate issues. It began with an installation by Zaria Forman, featuring a reproduction of her “Whale Bay, Antarctica, No. 4, 84×144” that depicts an “iceberg graveyard” where grounded glacial ice is melting, joined by a time-lapse video of her creating the large-scale drawing. The second part —Peggy Weil: 88 Cores — is on view through February 11. In the SJDC’s Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries, the video “88 Cores” slowly pans over ice cores drilled from the Greenland Ice Sheet between 1989 and 1993. Photographs of gleaming ice samples from various depths and ages are installed like totems on the gallery walls.

“Climate change occurs in the extremes of scale of time and place,” Weil stated. “’88 Cores,’ a four-hour and 29-minute continuous descent through two miles and 110,000 years, engages the senses in deep time and deep space.”

In Human Time is the first public showing of “88 Cores,” part of Weil’s underlandscapes series. It follows UnderLA which visualized a subterranean landscape in the Los Angeles Aquifer, and Oscar-Zero on a nuclear launch center in North Dakota. Each project uses digital media to reveal hidden, and often precarious, terrains.

Ice cores act as paleothermometers, or tools for understanding the temperatures of the past. For instance, ash from 18th-century volcanic eruptions can be detected in the compressed layers of ice, as well as more recent concentrations of carbon dioxide. “88 Cores” is accompanied by a droning score by Celia Hollander, which slows down over the course of the video, reinforcing the monumental timeline represented by this ice. Alongside, the photographs highlight details like cracks from excavation, banding from dust and debris, and scientific notations, reminding viewers of the vulnerability of this polar ice, and the importance of studying its fragile data.

In the adjacent hallway are contextual objects such as a canister used to ship excavated ice cores, and 1882 editions of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, reflecting a long cultural and scientific fascination in the Arctic and Antarctic. (Dr. Frankenstein and his monstrous creation meet their end on the unforgiving landscape of the North Pole.) These pieces represent the multidisciplinary aim of the Climate Museum, where art, science, and design can all be employed in not just talking about climate change, but considering pathways forward.

Installation view of In Human Time at the Parsons School of Design’s Sheila Johnson Design Center (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
1882 copies of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley, a novel which features the North Pole (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

While a permanent venue for the Climate Museum is still a ways off, these intersections of art and science will continue to be explored in community engagement projects. “For the next two years or so, we’ll offer a range of public programs in loaned, shared, and public spaces — an arts and sciences festival in the fall, further exhibitions, a panel discussion series, and the like,” Massie explained. “Then we’ll open a museum lab space to show why climate programming like this needs a home, a hub. The museum lab will also allow us to test different approaches to exhibition programming: what works best for which constituencies? And the lab will lay the groundwork for the campaign for a much larger space, the permanent museum.”

The New York State Board of Regents approved a provisional charter for the Climate Museum back in 2015. With President Trump’s 2017 announcement of the United States’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s efforts to remove climate change information on the agency’s site, and the roll back of climate change-related regulations put in place by President Obama, the establishment of a place to engage with these issues is even more timely. For now, passing New Yorkers can glimpse Weil’s video through the gallery window on Fifth Avenue. Throughout the day and night it ponderously flows over the luminous ice cores, quietly asking if our future will be anything like this frozen past.

Peggy Weil: 88 Cores in In Human Time at the Parsons School of Design’s Sheila Johnson Design Center (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Installation view of In Human Time at the Parsons School of Design’s Sheila Johnson Design Center (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Peggy Weil: 88 Cores continues through February 11 at the Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries, Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Parsons School of Design (66 Fifth Avenue, Greenwich Village, Manhattan).

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