A project by
Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing
marking the UN IPCC’s 5th Assessment
Report on Climate Change

26–29 October 2014
City Hall Square, Copenhagen
On Sunday, twelve large blocks of ice, collected from a fjord outside Nuuk, Greenland, will arrive at Copenhagen’s City Hall Square. The ice, displayed in clock formation, is a physical wake-up call: Climate change is a fact. Temperatures are rising. The ice is melting. Sea levels are rising.
Today we have access to reliable data that shed light on what will happen and what can be done. Let’s appreciate this unique opportunity – we, the world, must and can act now.
Let’s transform climate knowledge into climate action.

Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing
Harvesting ice floating in Nuup Kangerlua, Greenland
How are we supposed to react when faced with a piece of news like this one from Le Monde on Tuesday, May 7, 2013: 'At Mauna Loa, on Friday May 3, the concentration of CO2 was reaching 399.29 ppm?' How can we absorb the odd novelty of the headline: 'The amount of CO2 in the air is the highest it has been for more than 2.5 million years — the threshold of 400 ppm of CO2, the main agent of global warming, is going to be crossed this year?' Such an extension of both the span of deep history and the impact of our own collective action is made even more troubling by the subtitle in the same article, which quietly states: 'The maximum permissible CO2 limit was crossed just before 1990.' So not only do we have to swallow the news that our very recent development has modified a state of affairs that is vastly older that the very existence of the human race, but we have also to absorb the disturbing fact that the drama has been completed and that the main revolutionary event is behind us, since we have already crossed a few of the nine 'planetary boundaries' considered by some scientists as the ultimate barrier not to overstep! I think that it is easy for us to agree that, in modernism, people are not equipped with the mental and emotional repertoire to deal with such a vast scale of events; that they have difficulty submitting to such a rapid acceleration for which, in addition, they are supposed to feel responsible while, in the meantime, this call for action has none of the traits of their older revolutionary dreams. How can we simultaneously be part of such a long history, have such an important influence, and yet be so late in realising what has happened and so utterly impotent in our attempts to fix it?

Bruno Latour, from 'Agency at the time of the Anthropocene', 2014
Ice is a wonderful, peculiar substance. Just as the progress of our civilisations has been tied to the coming and going of the ice ages, so, too, are our future destiny and the destiny of ice tied together. Through our actions we are now close to terminating the period of stable climate that served as the condition for civilisations to arise and flourish. Science and technology have made it possible for us to destabilise Earth’s climate, but now that we understand the mechanisms behind these changes, we have the power to prevent them from growing.

Minik Rosing
Towing ice through Nuup Kangerlua, Greenland
NASA satellite imagery of the melting of the Arctic sea ice
In The Ecological Thought I coined the term hyperobjects to refer to things that are massively distributed in time and space relative to humans. A hyperobject could be a black hole. A hyperobject could be the biosphere, or the Solar System. A hyperobject could be the very long-lasting product of direct human manufacture, such as Styrofoam or plastic bags, or the sum of all the whirring machinery of capitalism.

Hyperobjects are nonlocal; in other words, any 'local manifestation' of a hyperobject is not directly the hyperobject. One only sees pieces of the hyperobject at any one moment.

While hyperobjects are near, they are also very uncanny. Some days global warming fails to heat me up. It is strangely cool and violently stormy. My intimate sensation of prickling heat at the back of my neck is only a distorted print of the hot hand of global warming. I do not feel 'at home' in the biosphere. Yet it surrounds me and penetrates me, like the force in Star Wars. The more I know about global warming, the more I realise how pervasive it is. The more I discover about evolution, the more I realise how my entire physical being is caught in its meshwork. The more I struggle to understand hyperobjects, the more I discover that I am stuck to them. They are all over me. They are me.

Timothy Morton, in Hyperobjects, University of Minnesota, 2013
Loading ice at Nuuk Port and Harbour, Greenland
'We know so little of melting,' said the polar bear.
'You are right to be scared,' said the boy, 'but look, I kick my heel into the ice and it makes no mark and neither your claw. I tell you this iceberg is a mountain of glass. We shall stand on it together all the way to paradise.'
'But the water is getting warmer every day.'
'It is too hard a thing to melt.'
But bear did not look so certain.

Jonathan Ledgard, from a forthcoming children's story about an iceberg slipping down the planet from the North Pole to the Equator
Flying over a glacier in Greenland
Video: Minik Rosing
As an artist, I am interested in how we give knowledge a body. What does a thought feel like, and how can felt knowledge encourage action? Ice Watch makes the climate challenges we are facing tangible. I hope that people will touch the inland ice on City Hall Square and be touched by it. Perception and physical experience are cornerstones in art, and they may also function as tools for creating social change. We are all part of the 'global we'; we must all work together to ensure a stable climate for future generations.

Olafur Eliasson
Towing ice through Nuup Kangerlua, Greenland
Pieces of ice from the Greenland ice sheet float in Nuup Kangerlua