For most people, seeing a glacier requires a visit to a foreign country or remote corner of wilderness. But not for New Yorkers, at this particular moment. Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson has imported pieces of a crumpling, melting glacier from Iceland into a New York City art gallery. National Geographic reports:
Entering the gallery is an awe-inspiring experience. (This is especially true in the heat of the summer.) You are in the middle of a white, frigid room, surrounded by several glaciers scattered around seemingly at random. Each glacier has its own unique tint, shape, and character. Some are rhombic and upright, others curl like fists into the floor, and others are belly down on the ground, almost gliding, like stingrays. Colors range from pale blue to clear (the bluer the ice, the denser the glacier). Some were smaller than a porcupine, while others were larger than a black bear.
The glacier chunks came from Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in Europe, which is actively melting. Eliasson and his friends only collected pieces of the glacier that had already fallen off, and they used cold containers normally reserved for transporting fish in order to bring the glacier pieces to New York. Each piece, they estimate, has been frozen for around 800 years.
In order to preserve the ice’s shape, NatGeo reports, the museum transformed a walk-in gallery into a freezer.
As some critics have pointed out, keeping the room sufficiently cool requires a lot of energy, although the air conditioner at PS1 is fueled in part by the museum’s recently installed solar roof panels. The temperature ranged from 5°F to 20°F on the day of my visit.
If Eliasson gets his way, however, the energetic costs of temporarily preserving the glacier will be worth it. His exhibition aims to educate people about climate change, with the ultimate hope that they will become more engaged in the issue after taking an up-close look at climate change’s effects.
The glacier can be seen at MoMA PS1 in Queens until September 2. After that, the ice will be relinquished to its fate, as a melted puddle.
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