Tipping Point
2021

The performance/installation Tipping Point  was supported by the FORMAS Foundation and it has been developed as a collaboration between Bigert & Bergström and researchers from the Institute for Futures Studies (IFFS) within the framework of the research program Climate Ethics and Future Generations.

Tipping Point is a large kinetic sculpture, sited on the floor of a darkened room. The mobile comprises various rotating rocker arms, onto which platforms and counterweights are hung. These platforms are occupied by actors whose movements set the mobile rocking; the counterweights consist of a slowly melting iceberg and a black sphere. The people moving on the platforms assume different roles; the weather god plays on an old theatrical machine once used to simulate the sounds of weather such as storms and rain on stage. The meteorologist, placed in the centre of a satellite dish, collects information about tomorrow through various weather instruments. On one platform that has a root system on its underside, someone is swirling through a flag dance, and on a rocky formation in a diorama-like cross-section of the wilds, an orienteer is sitting listening to the weather forecast. 


Illustration by Johan Mets

 

The performance is a loop, which completes its cycle every fifteen minutes. Through its imposing scale and unlikely construction, the sculpture induces a feeling of insecurity, the sense that it could all come crashing down at any second. Like the stressed biosphere, threatened by movements towards irreversible cascades of tipping points, the sculpture teeters on the brink of catastrophe. Will it collapse, or will equilibrium and stability be achieved?

“Tipping Point is an embodiment of the complex interactions between our decisions today, climate change, tipping points and conditions for life in the future. The aim is to illustrate challenging questions about the environment, society and morality (…) It is an example of artistic research conducted through mutual exchanges between art and science, in which scientists participate in shaping the artwork whereas the artwork and its impact on the audience in turn inspire the scientists’ work, including in the areas of moral philosophy, sociology and climate psychology.”  (Gustaf Arrhenius, Director, Institute of Futures Studies Professor, Practical Philosophy)

 

Bigert & Bergström. Tipping Point, 2021. Exhibition catalogue.


"Tipping Point," 2021
Mobile construction: aluminum, steel, rubber, cable, electric motors, gears, control panel
1800 × 1800 × 700 cm
Sketches, "Tipping Point"
"Tipping Point," glass sketch
"Tipping Point", film by Mark Goldsworthy

The Iceberg

Tipping Point’s iceberg hangs like a loose tooth, at the end of the lowest of the mobile’s moving arms. It is the counterweight that keeps the rest of the sculpture in balance. If it is removed, the whole structure collapses. The iceberg is placed on a platform at the visitors’ eye-level, making it appear to float in an imaginary volume of water. When the iceberg and the mobile sculpture’s longest arm slowly rotates, it sweeps around the room in a circle 20 metres in diameter. And since the sculpture’s remaining arms and platforms are built on the same foundation they all follow this movement. The iceberg, then, constitutes a pole that stands in opposition to the other parts of Tipping Point, which are populated by humans.

Small grooves are etched into the sides of the iceberg, and small trickles of water flow down them. The water gathers in the pool (shaped like a sheet of ice) to be pumped into the iceberg’s interior and to course down its surface once again. If one approaches the sculpture, however, it becomes clear that the sculpture is not made from real ice, but from paraffin. Paraffin is used, among other things, in the manufacture of cheap candles and is produced from the oil pumped up from deep in the earth. These cavities are now earmarked for filling with carbon dioxide captured by technological solutions known as DAC (Direct Air Capture) and CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage). The sequestered carbon will eventually revert to the mineralised form calcite (CaCO), a crystal that resembles a miniature iceberg. Small souvenirs that could be worn as jewellery, reminders of the vaporised glaciers that were once a feature of the earth, but in future might instead be bobbing around on rising seas in the form of bouncy inflatables.

"The Iceberg," 2021
Styrofoam, wood, paraffin, ice-gel, plastic, water pump, water, aluminum
220 × 250 × 160 cm
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger

THE WICKED PROBLEM

At the end of one of Tipping Point’s mobile arms, a large black sphere hangs from a chain. It is reminiscent of a wrecking ball used to demolish buildings. A ball swung slowly from a crane, so that its great mass is sent crashing into the wall of a structure, which will eventually give way. With each swing of the pendulum, the matter in the wall becomes even less ordered; the black sphere is a harbinger of chaos, swinging through the air. The knowledge of its likely impact is there. Yet it is still difficult to imagine how the new landscape will look once the ball has passed through and the dust once again settled on the rubble.

The black ball might also be seen as a full stop, the end of a sentence where what happens next is unknown. However, at one point during the loop of the performance, a hatch slowly opens on the side of the sphere. Shredded paper then streams out from within. The showers of confetti consist of research reports and articles related to climate change. It is said that a black hole cannot release any information because of its enormous gravity, which is so strong that at its edge, its “Event Horizon”, time stands still. Tipping Point’s black sphere, however, doesn’t seem completely sealed, but rather leaks information. 

Tipping Point’s large sphere could be said to embody the “wicked problem” that climate change represents. Unlike an ordinary problem, that can be solved, the wicked problem cannot be dealt with in the same way. It is too large, nebulous and intricately intertwined with other problems. With each solution comes a new problem.

"The Wicked Problem," 2021
Glass fiber, aluminum, steel, paper, shredder, linear motor, transformer, battery
240 × 240 × 240 cm
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger

THE CLOUD

On top of the highest Tipping Point’s balancing arm, is a platform embedded in cloud shaped scenery. Inside this theatrical cloud, a person dressed in a boilersuit/coverall is manoeuvring the hand cranked weather machines producing the sound of wind, rain and thunder. The machines are inspired by the baroque theatre which had them hidden behind the stage scenery. Here they are presented as main actors and performing sculptures, creating a moving mechanical landscape which resembles that inside a clock. 

The platform generates a soundtrack of the performance, where the machinist acts as conductor and orchestra simultaneously. During the crescendo of the performance loop the machinist activates  Cornucopia – an enlarged goat-horn-like object – from which an artificial snow storm is released. Here the machinist gains the role of a weather god, who transforms the entire scene into a large snow flurry, a mesmerizing cloud resembling the “glories” or “paradises” carrying human angels in the final crescendo of renaissance theatre plays. Or is the cloud made of fine calcite particles intended to reflect unwanted sun beams? Again, switching the scene into a battleground for temperature moderation of the earth’s atmosphere?

"The Cloud," 2021
Wood, stainless steel, pearls, fabric, epoxy, paint, aluminum, snow machine, transformer, battery
200 × 210 × 200 cm
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger

SATELLITE DISH/LIFE RAFT

High up in the air a person is standing inside a satellite dish looking at his/her cellphone. The light flickers and lights up the face of the person, who holds up his/her hand with the phone in an attempt to receive a signal. In the center of the platform a mast is placed, onto which the person starts to attach meteorological instruments and a monitor that shows an animated satellite image of the earth, in a sped-up 24 hour cycle. At one point the platform begins to tilt as if scanning its surroundings.

Is the person inside the Satellite Dish/Life Raft, on the highest beam of Tipping Point, a meteorologist, a climate refugee, or a prophet that knows something that Is everyone else neglecting? When he/she moves around the platform the whole arm that supports it starts to swing up and down like a seesaw since it is connected to the opposing The Cloud platform. 

On that platform the person is also affecting the balancing act and the two individuals are dependent on one another to maintain equilibrium. In many ways these two are the same person but oscillate between different roles and positions that have changed over history.

The oracle becomes the meteorologist, and on the other side the weather god is transformed into a geo-engineer.

 

"Satellite Dish/Life Raft," 2021
Glass fiber, nylon, aluminum, HD video monitor, linear motor, fan, transformer, battery
220 × 180 × 220 cm
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger

OASIS/MIRAGE

A diorama floating in space, the Oasis/Mirage platform is both a vehicle and a stationary point in history. However, these perspectives are fleeting and the bottom side of the platform features a granite stone with moss and lichen elements. The stone base is morphed into a melting drop, to signify that geology, although seemingly stable, is subject to change. It is just a matter of time scales.  

On the platform, a person sits on a stone looking at a map with a headlamp. He/she moves around the platform searching for something, perhaps an orienteering waypoint? After a while, the person dismantles the forest, which can be reconfigured into another biotope, such as a palm-tree paradise or barren bush-covered tundra. The person pauses occasionally and returns to the stone to rest. This time with a transistor radio, listening to historic radio broadcasts of the Swedish sea weather report. The voices from different time periods announcing the same sea weather reports, becomes an audio drill core describing the transformation of human intonation over time. Another example of how certain changes won’t be visible until seen at a distance and in correlation to one another.

"Oasis/Mirage," 2021
Styrofoam, jesmonite, epoxy, paint, plastic, aluminum
200 × 200 × 200 cm
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger

WINDFALL/THE PARTY IS OVER

Placed on the second arm of Tipping Point, juxtaposing the Oasis/Mirage platform, is the Windfall /The Party is Over, a platform with a huge root system underneath taken from a

fallen pine tree. Here the intricate structure of the meandering root system is uncovered, the part of a tree which is usually buried in the ground. On top of the platform lies piles of different flags covering the floor around a central steel pole.

The person on the platform is involved in a dance-like performance activated by the different flag formations. These formations are divided into two main groups; one of nations who in various ways have contributed to climate change, and one group of nations heavily affected by the consequences of climate change. On the platform, the flags of these nations are knitted together in a long rope to use for escape. The European nations with a history of colonizing other nations are all sewn together into a large piece of cloth, which totally drowns the performer as she/he loses orientation under its surface.

The eventful performance with the different flags stands in stark contrast to the opposing Oasis/Mirage platform where its performer seems to move on another timeline. Here, two different chronologies become apparent: one where human involvement has contributed to a rapid transformation of the earth’s systems and one where deep geological time does not seem to notice this velocity at all.

 

"Windfall/The Party is Over," 2021
Wood, jesmonite, paint, nylon, stainless steel, aluminum
200 × 200 × 260 cm
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger

PROCESS

CAPTION

"Tipping Point," funded by the research council FORMAS and the Swedish Arts Council, is produced within the framework of the Institute for Futures Studies (IFFS) research program Climate Ethics and Future Generations, funded by the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (RJ). The exhibition in Skĺnefrö’s warehouse in Hammenhög is produced by Rikstolvan. 

Exhibition producers: Staffan Julén & Bea Tigerhielm
Structural engineering: Lightness by Design, Magnus Fridsell, Martin Öhnström
Production specialist: Fredrik Eriksson
Mechatronics: Lars Hässler
Sound design: Martin Ekman
Light design: Gert-Ove Wågstam
Safety: Riggolle / Dick Granberg
Casting, costume, instruction: Cia Runesson
Needlework: Ylva Vamborg
3D models: Alphaville, Johan Kronberg, Albin Lenéll, Texas Sparring Löthén

Thanks to: Chalmers tekniska högskola (Chalmers University of Technology), Zoltan Schneirer, Sven Olof Bernhoff, Attributverket, Panorama Film, Grimmereds verkstad, Igor Holtermann

With support by Royal Academy of Fine Arts / Institute for Futures Studies / Rikstolvan / Skånefrö