Last November, as world leaders met in Paris to hammer out an agreement on climate change, Inuit hunters from Greenland–dressed in furs and seal skins , and with a traditional sled–walked through the city, posing by landmarks. Later, just outside the city, a team of seven French poodles pulled the sled down a garden path.
Artist Mel Chin, who planned the event, wanted to visually conflate the Arctic and Paris to make the point that what happens in the Arctic affects the rest of the world. “The life threatening, sweltering summers experienced in Paris, the Syrian drought that destroyed the agricultural economy and sparked its violent crisis, and the increase of flooding and tornado activity in the U.S. are not flukes but effects of Arctic climate destabilization,” he says.
The poodles stood in as a symbol of France–and Chin thought that having them pull a sled down Paris streets (with carefully hidden wheels, due to the lack of snow) would bring attention to the Inuit leaders’ message in a way that speeches might not.
Training poodles to pull a sled was très difficile. “It is not something they do naturally,” he says. “I brought in an exceptional French dog trainer, Catherine Collignon, who ‘interviewed’ each dog for compatibility, looks, and strength, then put them through a rigorous schedule that left trainer and dogs exhausted each evening.”
Just as filming was set to begin, the Paris attacks shut down the city. So Chin chose to photograph the hunters with landmarks, and move the dogs to the countryside nearby.
In a Kickstarter campaign, Chin is raising funds to finish a short film about the event. “I really wanted to make something that would extend beyond the Paris COP21 conference,” he says. “A film can have its own life–it can travel around the world quickly, it can catch the attention of people with its unusual imagery and powerful, sobering message, can be seen in a short time, shared, used in classrooms to spark discussion.” He is also creating a website, The Arctic Is.
As he says in the campaign video, the Arctic is everywhere: The Arctic is Paris, the Arctic is Des Moines, the Arctic is Damascus. “The writer, Gretel Ehrlich, talks about the Arctic driving the climate of the temperate world—what happens there affects us all,” he says.