Ice (St)Ages 2: Heroes on Ice? Conquests and Doomsday Visions

28–29 July 2021

28 & 29 July 2021

8-11am (MEZ) – 4-7pm (GMT+11)

Since the great expansionist ambitions of Europe, the idea of eternal ice has functioned as a media stage for heroic Western narratives. In reality, however, the ever-changing shape of icy polar regions jeopardised any strategies of staging and witnessing. For example, the impossibility of permanently leaving traces in the ice during the multiple trials of conquering the North Pole let to an ambiguous explorer narrative that still exists today. These narratives rely on the ignorance of traces of those who were already there. Thus, we ask: what kind of evidence and mediation is needed for a heroic deed to become accepted, influential and remembered?

Since the pole expeditions, the notion of a first-time occupation of virgin snowy areas – emanating from a masculine heroic image – is contrasted with the demonic unpredictability of ice. It finds an echo in science fiction stories, in which the extreme conditions of the polar regions gave rise to imaginary concepts of apocalyptic ice deserts. Here, the last survivor makes his grand entrance without an audience. If one of the core ideas of heroisation is that heroes cannot proclaim themselves as such, but are fit into their roles by media and the dynamics that emanate from them, then the question arises whether or not apocalyptic heroism is conceivable in fiction alone. Today, not only films, comics, interactive games convey an idea of heroism, but increasingly social media. As a consequence, we understand the different staging strategies of heroes as a productive process which blurs the boundaries between documentation, science and science fiction.

This online symposium explores the western and gender-specific shaping of polar heroes on ice as a performative and highly unstable construction. This idea is accompanied by an investigation of national, economic and ecological interests performed with ice by using its visual and sensual qualities. Overwhelming aesthetics, immersion effects and doomsday scenarios are rooted in a culture of spectacles, which will be investigated from the 19th century to its emergence in contemporary scientific communication, Post-Anthropocene Art and popular entertainment. The aim is to explore the use of ice – but also its agency – as a dynamic staging strategy for global (i.e. ecological, historical and cultural) change.


Ice (St)Ages 2 will be hosted by the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 948 “Heroes – Heroizations – Heroisms: Transformations and Conjunctures from Antiquity to the Modern Day” of the University of Freiburg, Germany. Registration will be soon available.

Zoom details to be advised.


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