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Why Artist Olafur Eliasson Hauled 100-Tons Of Glacial Ice To Denmark Only To Watch It Melt

His latest sculpture only lasted four days, and that was kind of the point.

One hundred tons of glacial ice is currently melting in front of Copenhagen’s city hall. The 12 huge chunks of ancient ice–fished out of a fjord in Greenland by divers and then carefully shipped in refrigerated containers to Denmark–were brought in by artist Olafur Eliasson and geologist Minik Rosing as a physical reminder of climate change.

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The blocks of blue ice, formed over hundreds of thousands of years, were timed to start melting as scientists published the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Unlike the 2,000-page report, or fact-filled headlines in the news, the sculpture is something that visitors can touch. Eliasson hopes art might be a way to spur more people to action. “I think we need to use all means to communicate climate change, and art has something to offer here,” he told Co.Exist in an interview.

Group Greenland

Of course, the ice traveled to Copenhagen via cargo ships running on dirty bunker fuel. But Eliasson thinks the journey was worth it. “It did, indeed, cost energy to bring the ice to Denmark,” he says. “It is part of the story, but I do think it worthwhile when you see how many people have visited the City Hall Square, listening to the ice, touching it, tasting it, and when you look at the online resonance.”

The sculpture is almost entirely gone. “The ice is melting fast,” Eliasson said yesterday. “We had planned for the 12 blocks to be distributed to local Copenhagen schools tomorrow at noon, but as it stands now, nothing will be left. But this is also a powerful message to pass on to the future generations.”

“I often make works with ephemeral qualities–I think ephemerality is a great tool to make us feel ourselves, feel present, feel ourselves feeling,” he adds. “With Ice Watch, the ephemerality also introduces real urgency to the work–we are running out of time.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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