… on Ice Watch, his climate change installation with Olafur Eliasson
Every second in Greenland, 10,000 tonnes of ice breaks away due to climate change. ‘Ice Watch’ is the work of Copenhagen University professor of geology Minik Rosing with artist Olafur Eliasson – 30 small icebergs transported from a Greenland fjord to London. They are melting fast outside Tate Modern and Bloomberg
A scientist/artist collaboration – how did that come about?
They are different but parallel ways of understanding the world and our place in it. Art can make you want to go somewhere and science helps you get there. On the board at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art I’ve always liked to work with artists involved in the environment – Olafur is among them. You have to make people want to learn. Art facilitates this.
And what exactly was the carbon footprint of the artwork?
We worked to quantify this exactly with Julie’s Bicycle, an emissions monitor for cultural projects. We looked at the emissions of the harvesting, refrigeration, installing and team flights and it turns out that the carbon of transporting one block is about the same as a return flight to Greenland. But we are bringing this to tens of thousands of people – the possible carbon mitigation impact of the piece is far larger than not doing it.
Given the seriousness of the problem, wouldn’t art-based direct action have had more impact?
Every possible method of highlighting climate change is welcome and we’re acting where we think we can be most effective. Icebergs are beautiful and non-confrontational. Put your ear to them and the popping sound they make is air, trapped in time, being released – containing half the CO2 that is currently in the atmosphere. They are unique and almost human in their vulnerability, and once they’re gone, they’re gone forever. We don’t want people to act out of fear or anger. The impetus should be not to save the planet but to make a better world for ourselves.
As a major carbon contributor, how can the construction industry help?
Ten years ago architects dealt with sustainability almost as a formal thing, but now you see emphasis on re-use, adaptation and using more sustainable materials like timber. Architecture in my view has matured by going analytically into the core of the matter – rather than superficial tinkering around the edges. They’re looking at far better building and material performance. And with a growing middle class in China about to burgeon with housing need, it’s an enormous global challenge.
And one thing we can do as individuals?
Individuals are not all the same. The argument to move to a plant-based diet is interesting but in Greenland where I grew up our main diet was sourced from the sea. It’s not one size fits all. What we eat has an enormous impact but non-intensive farming methods for instance could create pressure on land and reduce bio-diversity. Educate yourself – be aware of your context!