Warming to cap art

Burning Ice charts the voyages of climate change crusaders Cape Farewell, as Tamzin Lewis writes.

Burning Ice charts the voyages of climate change crusaders Cape Farewell, as Tamzin Lewis writes.

The names are familiar. Novelist Ian McEwan, sculptor Antony Gormley and artist Rachel Whiteread. The location is less so. Tempelfjorden is one of the most inaccessible places on the planet, located on the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic.

Last year, McEwan, Gormley and Whiteread travelled 60km across Svalbard on snow scooters over mountains and glacial valleys to reach the schooner Noorderlicht, locked in ice at minus 35 degrees Celsius.

They were part of a crew of 14, including choreographer Siobhan Davies, photographer Gautier Deblonde and ecologist Dr Tom Wakefield. Their trip was the third voyage to the Arctic organised by eminent artist David Buckland, who established Cape Farewell six years ago. The idea behind Cape Farewell was to take artists as well as scientists and teachers to the Arctic to make art in response to the melting ice cap.

By doing so, Cape Farewell takes the climate change issue beyond scientific papers and colourful computer models predicting temperatures, to a very emotional level. The artists and writers tell the story on a human scale.

Siobhan Davies choreographed a dance piece called Endangered Species featuring a dancer becoming slowly trapped and speared by metal rods. David Buckland made a video of a heavily pregnant naked woman walking across the ice. Antony Gormley and architect Peter Clegg carved coffins in the ice. Clegg points out ominously: "One kilogram of CO2 at atmospheric pressure occupies 0.54 of a cubic metre. This is roughly the volume occupied by a coffin, which is perhaps an appropriate symbolic unit when we are talking about the destruction of the planet."

Burning Ice: Art & Climate Change is a large format, nearly 200 page book charting the three voyages made by Cape Farewell. It is a no-expense-spared beautifully designed publication, dense with information, photographs, maps and charts.

Buckland introduces the book by explaining how he was first introduced to the National Oceanography Centre. He writes: "I felt there was a need to find a different way of communicating their important message as the scientific delivery was being ignored. I hatched a plan. I would ask artists, because they are our most creative communicators, to join a group of scientists and educators to sail north on an extraordinary expedition to the front line of climate change."

There have been three voyages, the first two in 2003 and 2004 involved sailing to Svalbard on routes which were previously icebound but are now passable. These excursions involved traversing the aptly named, stomach-churning Devil's Dance Floor in the Barents Sea.

For the book, Buckland asked world-renowned climate scientists and thinkers to explain their concerns in detail. For those who don't know the north end of the Atlantic conveyor from the south end, these short essays are readable and pretty easy to understand.

And because the book is filled with stunning photography, it is certainly a more manageable way of getting to grips with the science than ploughing through an academic journal.

Oceanographer Dr Valborg Byfield explains the basics, Charlie Kronick of Greenpeace illustrates a model energy efficient village, Dr Tom Wakeford goes from Gaia to geopolitics, Professor Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research warns of tipping points and the government's chief scientific advisor Sir David King encapsulates that climate change is, "the biggest single global challenge that we face."

There is even straighter talking from novelist Ian McEwan, who writes: "We are fouling our nest, and we know we must act decisively, against our immediate inclinations. But can we agree among ourselves?"

To break up the essays are lots of photos of work either created in the Arctic or back in the UK as well as stills from videos. The most powerful series of pictures was taken by Gautier Deblonde in a strange deserted Russian mining town, Pyramiden and the last remaining Russian settlement in the Arctic at Barentsburg.

The book is full of surprises, including the Hermaphrodite Polar Bear by artist Gary Hume, a painting based on the discovery that chemical pollution from Europe and North America is poisoning and causing hermaphroditism in polar bears.

* Burning Ice: Art & Climate Change is published by Cape Farewell, priced £19.99. Order through York Publishing Services on 01904 431213

www.capefarewell.com

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