Ice (St)Ages 3: Play with Senses - Aesthetic Communication and the Performativity of Ice

29–30 September 2021

29 & 30 September 2021

8-11am (MEZ) – 4-7pm (GMT+11)

Extreme cold, sublime glow and a tremendous soundscape make up the sensual dimensions of ice, and have equally inspired science, art and technology since the 19th century. They generated the fantastic character of cosmological models used to explain the world, such as Hanns Hörbiger's 1913 "Welteislehre" (‘World Ice Theory’), which was largely inspired by the conquest of the North Pole. These entered the history of science and popular culture through a sophisticated, broadly-effective communication reaching out to experts and layman alike To this day, events such as the “Antarctic Biennale” of 2017 – which aimed to bring together a hundred "artists, scientists and visionaries" on an expedition ship – bear witness to the close intertwining of polar regions, environmental research and arts.

Future knowledge and design are based – following the current trend in "ice research" – on physical experience and its sensual communication to an audience. There is a fine line between objective-knowledge generation and emotional involvement for the purpose of communicating urgency. This tension has its roots in the 19th century. Inspired by the search for the lost “John Fanklin Expedition” (1845), Arctic panoramas, dioramas and theatre plays were created in Europe and the USA as spectacular productions in which science communication and entertainment were inseparably linked. Technical innovations, such as dramatic lighting to suggest an aurora borealis, caused the audience to be sensually affected by icy immersion effects that evoked direct participation in the polar expeditions. To this day, ice in climate-critical art and science communication serves as a strategy for a hybrid mode of reception that oscillates between emotional and epistemological participation. This results in a close collaboration between scientists and artists – or even artists and activists, as the 2007 action by Greenpeace (together with composer Enrico Enaudi) shows. Enaudi played his "Elegy of the Arctic" on an artificial ice floe in the Polar Sea, while the melting ice formed its own dramatic soundscape in the background. Similarly, in collaboration with the “Alfred Wegener Institute” in Bremerhaven (Germany), the radio station "Deutschlandfunk Kultur" developed a radio play in 2016 in which the reports of “Ernest Schackelton's South Pole Expedition” (1901-1903) were cross-faded with current recordings from the “PALAOA Observatory's” underwater microphones.

The climate-critical communication of urgency thus goes hand-in-hand with attempts to generate and stage aesthetical evidence. The resulting proximity of art and science and its historical roots are central to the symposium and will be examined with a focus on mediating environmental knowledge in scientific and artistic performances and popular entertainment.

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