Ice (St)Ages 1: An Irretrievable Loss? Moving Environments, Fleeting Encounters and Performative Gestures

19–20 May 2021

Ice (St)Ages 1: An Irretrievable Loss? Moving Environments, Fleeting Encounters and Performative Gestures

19 & 20 May 2021

8-11am (MEZ) – 4-7pm (GMT+11)

This series of events will kick off with a comparative discussion on experiencing loss as the assumed core elements of Icy Imaginaries. Starting with travel expeditions to the polar regions in the 19th century and the explorers’ difficulties of moving forward, we go on to explore the mythical dimensions of eternal ice and its early meaning as a figure of existential crisis, reflecting the numerous catastrophes in the context of polar travel. In modern day and age, ice remains a sign of irretrievable loss, but rather than reflecting the tragic disappearance of adventurers, it signals the destruction of entire ecosystems and even mankind itself, as it is communicated and interpreted in scientific reports, Anthropocene Art and performance culture.

In literature, losing oneself in snow and ice means total disorientation and probable death, as it can be seen from 19th-century polar narratives up to Katrin Passig’s 2006 award-winning essay “Sie befinden sich hier” (“You are here”). In the field of science, the major hurdle of the polar expedition “Mosaic” to find a viable floe as a basis for its scientific exploration in 2019/20 lead to a reflection on how much sea ice has already been lost including its threatening effects. In contemporary arts, the experience of ice melt as an ecological disaster became tangible in the installation “Ice Watch” (2018) by Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing in front of the Tate Modern in London, which enabled the audience to touch massive ice chunks from a Greenlandic fjord. The melting that had begun in the polar region accelerated far from the Arctic and became a physical experience at the moment of encounter. Existential experiences of estrangement and loss of words in the face of looming disaster were impressively staged and translated into suggestive musical structures in the opera “Violetter Schnee” (“Violet Snow”), which premiered in 2019 in Berlin.

This symposium asks about the causes, but also the strategic use, of Icy Imaginaries in the fields of science, literature, arts and performance. As an agile and ephemeral material, ice not only functions as a topic or metaphor, but increasingly becomes an active agent of scientific and artistic communication about the melting poles. Therefore, we wonder: How can the hidden dynamics of Icy Imaginaries be described in the various disciplines? And in how far is the figure of melting ice used in order to stage the loss of entire ecosystems?

Due to the time difference, the event will take place on Zoom and in English on two early mornings – 8-11am (MEZ) – and evenings – 4-7pm (GMT+11). Its aim is to consolidate a network for mutual projects and publications, at a time of crisis when joint interactions have become as urgent as they are problematic.

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Ice (St)Ages 1 is generously supported and hosted by the Alfried Krupp Institute for Advanced Study, Germany. Registration will be soon available.

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Zoom details to be advised.

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About the series of events

Ice (St)Ages: Experiencing Environments in Science, Arts and Spectacle

The change of climate might be the most dramatic, appealing and unnerving performance that has ever existed. It is enacted through increases and decreases of water in its various forms: snow, ice and frost. Through their affective qualities and disastrous effects, they turn the world into a stage and its inhabitants into a global audience, or, rather, witnesses. As a consequence, the communication of climate change in arts and science is faced with balancing inner participation and distant reflection, stressing urgency and responsibility at the same time.

When Bruno Latour – one of the central voices in the discussions on the Anthropocene – chose the circus for his play on how to talk about climate change, he interwove the performativity of the melting and freezing ice with reference to sensational experiences rooted in the modern culture of spectacles. In current scientific and artistic practises, ice can even become part of performances or artworks themselves, thus repeating and transforming the ‘global play’ of climate change in a smaller but no-less-appealing scale.

The idea of staging ice springs from interrelations between the history of (popular) science and the culture of entertainment, which is traceable, for example, in: panoramic installations from the 19thcentury, ice rinks and touristic routes leading to marginal zones, mimicking adventurous research expeditions to the poles. The increasing popularity of ice within everyday life led to an aesthetic of Icy Imaginaries, which this series of events examines in their cultural and political dimension up to today. In order to understand the deep interrelations between the awareness of climate change and the aesthetics of performativity, we ask the following questions: What are the scientific, anthropological and cultural dimensions of snow and ice and what kind of image of stable or unstable ecosystemsdo they promote? What can the visualisation and reception of ice teach us about the (inter)connection of ecological and cultural changes? And is there anything we can learn from the diverse staging strategies – e.g. of ‘Ice Clowns’, ‘Frost characters’ or ‘Snowy Travellers‘ – for the aesthetic negotiations and scientific claims of a new relationship between humans and nature?

This series of events explores the phenomena of ice and snow with a special emphasis on Performance, Entertainment and Literary Studies as well as Art History and Arctic Studies. In addition, the cultural significance of snow in its various forms for native Polar communities can sharpen the critical view of Western rootedness of Icy Imaginaries, leading to a discussion on a higher responsibility of climate-neutrality within industrialised nations.

The series of events will be co-organised and co-hosted by Dr Anne Hemkendreis (Freiburg University, Germany) and Dr Anna-Sophie Jürgens (CPAS, Australia). The challenge of organising an event between Australia and Germany (time difference, language barriers, academic conventions) is part of the concept; it reflects the difficulty of establishing a dialogue that spans the world as well as its necessity in times of global crises.

Dr Anna-Sophie Jurgens