Climate art sets sail for the Poles

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Weather change by Julie Heffernan

There is a lot to consider when curating an art exhibition that features 50+ artists working in a variety of media, including drawings, paintings, videos, sculptures, and soundscapes. Now imagine making it onto a ship headed for Antarctica, a ship that could face a 35-foot wave in the notoriously unforgiving polar waters. (Pro tip: work closely with the ship’s engineers and forget about showing free-standing parts.)

change is a unique polar art exhibition that is permanent on board derboard National Geographic perseverance, a new polar expedition ship designed to carry adventurous passengers to the Arctic and Antarctic. It is also Zaria Forman’s curatorial debut. Her only requirement for the pieces she commissioned for the show was that they be inspired by the cold lands and seas at the northern and southern extremes of our planet. Similar to Forman’s own work.

Zaria Forman is working on Disco Bay, Greenland

The Brooklyn-based artist creates hyper-realistic pastel drawings of glaciers and sea ice that make the poles of the planet – and the effects of climate change, which is rapidly devastating them – haunting and terrifying.

Forman’s fascination with remote places began while traveling with her family as a child, who inspired her mother, photographer Rena Bass Forman. The younger Forman also takes photos while traveling – thousands of them. Then, back in the studio, she draws her large-format compositions from a combination of memories and photographs.

“Occasionally I’ll reshape the ice a little or simplify a busy background to create a balanced composition,” she says. “But 90 percent of the time I depict exactly the scene that I saw because I want to stay true to the landscape that existed at that point in time.”

Arctic landscape, dismantled, by Virginia Wagner

Forman has not lacked opportunities to witness the melting poles. In 2015 she traveled as Artist in Residence on board the National Geographic Explorer. She then accompanied flights on NASA’s Operation IceBridge, a program that conducts annual airborne surveys of the polar ice. In 2016 and 2017, Forman and the IceBridge crew completed 95 hours of flight time over Antarctica, Greenland and the Canadian Arctic and flew just 1,500 feet – five soccer fields – above the ice.

Working with NASA scientists changed Forman’s perspective on both her subject and her approach to drawing it. “They’ve been flying exactly the same routes, at the same time of year, for over a decade, and they all talked about seeing the changes in ice, especially sea ice, with the naked eye from one person.” Year to the next, ”says Forman. “This experience shaped and improved my own ice-watching practice, and in return my drawing technique evolved into increased precision and nuance.”

Forman sees the exhibition “Change” as an opportunity to reach people beyond one’s own art, to move passengers to a different and deeper examination of the region that they see in front of the ship’s windows and on their excursions.

LN 6910 from the series “Terminus” by Reuben Wu

Among the many works in the exhibition are paintings by Virginia Wagner depicting giant ice peaks surrounded by derricks and scaffolding that are being dismantled and hacked for human use. Then there is the photography of Reuben Wu, who used a drone equipped with LEDs to photograph a glacier under the night sky, the ice of which gleamed like a memory in the darkness of oblivion. Andrew Bearnot’s “Whale Bells” and NRDC’s artist-in-residence Jenny Kendler, inspired by the songs of the humpback whale, are also on display, while a sculpture by John Grade imagines what it feels like to swim on the sea ice. Guests can stand in it and hold onto it even in rough seas.

“It’s an exhibition with unexpected perspectives that explores light, magic, geometry, turbulence and calm,” says Forman. “For passengers on board the endurance, this creates a deep understanding and connection to places that are at the forefront of climate change. “

The endurance should originally go into service in April 2020. After waiting for the pandemic in Norway for more than a year, the ship finally got it sails to Iceland and Greenland on July 21, 2021.


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