When art history books are written about the early part of the 21st century, an entire chapter will likely be devoted to our culture’s newfound romance with ice.
The Copenhagen climate talks, though a political failure, nevertheless established an important moment in history – an acknowledgement by the world’s global leadership of one simple fact – the Arctic is melting and may in fact disappear before the century comes to a close.
It is during times like this – when a civilization is faced with a predicament so massive that just a few years prior it would be scarcely imaginable – that the romantic cogs start moving in the hearts and minds of the artist.
In stark contrast, just a decade ago a fleet of newly hatched art students were graduating with high concept pedigrees that would make Duchamp proud, pedigrees which befitted an age when all things were possible. The 90’s boom gave us lots of newly rich collectors and provided a market for artists content to comment on commentary itself, carve question marks out of wax, and disdain all things mundane.
But times have changed. A new batch of young artists are now abandoning their teacher’s surrealist and conceptualist rhetoric and getting their hands dirty, really dirty. They want to understand the environment they live in – both political and physical. They see beauty in charts that plot the ocean floor or climate scientists exploring tiny air bubbles trapper in ancient ice.
SOS is one of those artists. She’s young and gorgeous and that doesn’t help too much when you are already the target of criticism by an elder class of Nordic artists who consider your work “decorative.”
But I had the chance to see one of her installations. Romantic? Yes. Decorative? I suppose, yes, at least for the 12 hours or so in which it remained in its solid form. That would normally be enough to dismiss it outright – like a modern-day arctic Norman Rockwell.
But her piece called "Arctic Between 74N -81N" was definitely moving, especially now that we know the outcome of the Copenhagen summit.
Romanticism, in 2010, now seems perfectly justifiable as a first step to coming to terms with the loss of something so vast and mysterious that we may never really get it fully – just how much we’re losing, how quickly we’re losing it and who the loss is effecting.
Sappy? OK maybe a little. But how arrogant to judge someone’s loss. Because every chunk of ice that falls into the sea is a loss somewhere at some point in the future…might be a polar bear, might be a family in China, might be you. Who knows?
And I won’t deny that as I stood and watched this little piece of ice melting to the sound of fizzling, popping glaciers, I did feel a connection.. however cold and distant. And it made me sad.
- Karl Burkart