‘Solutions to climate change require long-term decisions, long-term investment, long-term planning. We need to see accountability by politicians, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years into the future, long after the politician's dead and gone. We get a lot of science ... but it's fair to say that it's often very disembodied. It is knowledge that doesn't have a physical sort of storage; there's no memory of it in our bodies... One of the things that art can do – and it's not the only thing – is it can sort of bring a physical narrative to something that one knows. I think we have a better ability to translate our critical enquiry into action once we have a physical relationship with the world. Bringing an experiential narrative to knowledge ... gives you a certain empowerment. We have a situation now where the whole planet has become conscious about climate change. I think we see a trend how to translate our climate knowledge into climate actions. I hope it's the beginning we are seeing, and not the peak.’ – Olafur Eliasson in the CNN article ‘Olafur Eliasson on what art can do to fight climate change’, 2019
‘A tree on the moon at night’, 2020. Photo: Jens Ziehe
‘Rainbow ellipse progression’, 2020. Photo: Matthias Kolb
‘The weather project’, 2003, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London (The Unilever Series). Photo: Ari Magg
We at the studio read this week’s IPCC report, which outlines updated research on carbon emissions and the global climate change trajectory, with sadness and dismay. It notes ‘many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia. … This includes changes to global sea levels, oceans and ice sheets’. Sea levels are ‘committed to rise’ due to continuing ocean heating and the melting of ice sheets and ‘will remain elevated for thousands of years’.
When Olafur Eliasson undertook ‘The glacier melt series’ in 2019 – a continuation of ‘The glacier series’ from 1999 – we reflected a lot on the IPCC’s research then, and its ramifications for the Earth’s future and our place in it.
‘I expected the glaciers to have changed (with in the last twenty years), but I simply could not imagine the extent of change. All have shrunk considerably and some are even difficult to find again. Clearly this should not be the case, since glacial ice does not melt and reform each year, like sea ice. Once a glacier melts, it is gone. Forever. It was only in seeing the difference between then and now – a mere twenty years later – that I came to fully understand what is happening. The photos make the consequences of human actions on the environment vividly real. They make the consequences felt. … Every glacier lost reflects our inaction. Every glacier saved will be a testament to the action taken in the face of the climate emergency.’ – Olafur Eliasson
Visit this link to see ‘The glacier melt series 1999/2019’ in detail and watch Eliasson in conversation with Katherine Richardson, professor of biological oceanography at the University of Copenhagen and leader of the Sustainability Science Centre, about systemic change and social tipping points.