On 1 August 1861, the British newspaper the Times published the world’s first weather forecast. Its originator, Admiral Robert Fitzroy, had been complaining for years over the loss of human life at sea caused by storms. Telegraph networks had just begun spreading across the land, and Fitzroy convinced the military to give him funds to compile weather data from a number of locations along the British coast. They formed the basis of the forecasts and storm warnings he soon began issuing. Since then, meteorologists’ tools have been refined and forecasts have been honed to an ever more fine-tuned network mapping the complex weather systems of our planet. The Met Office in London, which was founded in the wake of Fitzroy’s forecasts, has one of the world’s most powerful weather computers today. Like the Oracle at Delphi, it answers questions about our future climate, and recently it predicted a 10-year rainy period in the UK.
Artists also make forecasts. But they are significantly more blunt and intuitive. The world is multifaceted, and the role of the artist in interpreting its reflections is extensive. There are as many forecasts as there are artists, but there’s one thing that many of them have in common – they are all trying to embody the invisible. Art is often about translating this enormous amount of data into something that can be physically grasped, something we can put our finger on and be touched by. Our exhibition is an attempt at a physical forecast of the contemporary world. But it is also a grieving process and a memorial to the glaciers and the polar ice that are disappearing.
In the first room at Örebro Konsthall, the visitor encounters a group of melting glaciers from different parts of the world, which also look like annoying mounds of snow. Most of us in Sweden are familiar with these sad remnants of the past winter – a concentrate of dirt and gravel piled up by the snow-ploughs along the streets and squares of the city. The sculptures vary in size and scale, from 1:10 to 1:1,000, thus transporting the viewer from an ant’s perspective to a bird’s-eye view. The sculptures are made of paraffin, a material that is used in candles, and also in theatre and film to create the illusion of snow and ice. Paraffin is a by-product of oil production, which contributes to the paradoxical nature of the works. Their burning wicks contribute to their own demise.
One of the geo-engineering techniques used to protect melting glaciers is to cover up large sections of ice with white or reflective blankets. In the Rhône Valley, the ice caves in the lower part of the glacier have been protected each year with plastic tarpaulins that are placed there in the warm, sunny season. In the summer of 2015, we carried out a similar rescue when we went to the peak of Mount Kebnekaise and placed out a 500 m² reflective gold blanket. Sweden’s highest mountain peak consists of a glacier that has been shrinking for the past 23 years at a rate of a meter a year. The year we were there, there was only 70 cm difference between the glacier of the south peak and the hard rock of the north peak. If these developments continued, the south peak would soon only be the second-highest. And who wants to climb the country’s second-highest peak? The innermost room of the art gallery shows film documentation of this geo-engineering performance, as well as some other works from the project Rescue Blanket for Kebnekaise.
Standing at the peak and pondering over the thought that this landscape of snow and ice would one day be gone, our eyes were opened to the dismal prognosis for the ice and the glaciers. Perhaps it is time to start considering ice and snow an endangered element of nature?
In the long run, forecasts are a way of trying to ensure one’s own survival. And if the climate models that the Met Office’s supercomputer is generating turn out to be correct, we are going to live in a very different world in the future. It is not just ice that will go extinct, but also a large part of humanity who live in vulnerable areas. One consequence of the melting glaciers is that our access to fresh water is declining. So what can we do to turn away these incoming rays of sunshine that are heating up our atmosphere? If rescue blankets aren’t enough down here on earth, perhaps we’ll have to send up enormous parasols into the atmosphere? There are ideas of sending out giant mirrors or balloons that can be blown up to the size of entire celestial bodies. This could create shadowy areas on earth like artificial eclipses. In the penumbra (the shadow created by a solar eclipse), the temperature can drop by a whopping 9°C.
The sequence of photos of solar eclipses on the walls of the art gallery are all framed like wall candelabras. The photos cover a 156-year period, beginning with an eclipse in the United States in 1869. Geologist and astronomer George Davidson mounted an expedition to Alaska to observe the phenomenon. The region was unknown territory, inhabited by the Chilkat tribe, which threatened Davidson and his assistants. But when he told them that the sun was going to be shaded, as if by a giant hand, he woke the tribe’s curiosity and they let him carry on. The next day, when the shadow of the moon began moving in over the disk of the sun, the Chilkat fled into the woods in terror and Davidson could continue his observations in peace. The story illustrates how mathematical calculations can replace superstition. The weather god gives way to the scientist, who, like a theater director, seems to be able to stage a miracle.
The art gallery also contains a replica of an old weather machine. It was used to create the sound of rain. The machine was maneuvered by stage hands in the wings of the Drottningholm Castle theater in the late 18th century. However, the version shown in the exhibition is automated and runs on a motor. The motor is connected to two large solar panels, located in the giant arched windows of the entry hall. Paradoxically, the sound of the rain increases as the sun’s rays intensify outside the art gallery. Yet another short-circuit of logic – the enigma of our era and the theme of the exhibition. For every solution, a new problem. A beautiful summer in Örebro – a torrent of tears in the art gallery.
Bigert & Bergström, June 2018
 Geo-engineering, or Climate Engineering, is a set of ideas, concepts, theories and strategies about large-scale manipulation of the earth’s climate systems, usually to avoid the negative effects of climate change.
Photos: Ove Lundkvist
VMA (Viktigt meddelande till allmänheten / Important Message to the Public)
Photos: Örebro Konsthall
FUSE drawing PERFORMANCE
Photos: Ove Lundkvist The texts, which burned during the performance, were chosen from the messages left by the people of Örebro on the VMA car.