Art of Science: Time and Ice Melt Away at COP21


If you‘re hosting a big gathering, you can always count on Olafur Eliasson to bring the ice. Two years after he brought chunks of an Icelandic glacier to MoMA PS1 in New York, Danish-Icelandic artist Eliasson has trucked 80 tons of Greenland glacier to Paris, where the UN Climate Summit (COP21) is being held.

The installation, now melting slowly in front of the Panthéon , is called Ice Watch. The twelve boulders of ice are arranged like a watch, or clock face, to indicate the passing of time. Visitors can see the ice dwindle over the course of the summit, observing for themselves the disappearance of ice which has endured for centuries. You can see photos and video of the gradual melt on Studio Olafur Eliasson’s Instagram account. (So far they seem to be holding up pretty well.)

Eliasson, who created the work in collaboration with geologist Minik Rosing, specifically chose calved chunks of icebergs made of compressed snow for the installation, to highlight the importance of ice in preserving history.  As Rosing explained to the New Yorker, “Inside the iceberg, you see snow layers in sequence as you go back in time. Because it is compressed, the air between the snowflakes that fell thousands of years ago is trapped in tiny bubbles.”

Besides watching the melting, visitors to Ice Watch can hear the ice cracking as it releases air that is thousands of years old. Says Eliasson, “It is a little pop that has travelled fifteen thousand years to meet you in Paris, and tell the story of climate change.”



The Art of Science: What’s a Wirbelwerk?

Wirbelwerk, 2013
Wirbelwerk, 2013

I’m crazy about Olafur Eliasson’s Wirbelwerk, an installation of colored glass, metal rods and a light source that throws constantly changing patterns over every surface of the atrium at Munich’s LenbachhausWirbelwerk, which means vortex or whirlpool, looks like a glittering, light filled cross between a tornado and an icicle. The piece combines three longtime preoccupations of Eliasson’s work: weather, light and space. Not to mention packing in plenty of engineering and optical physics for us nerds. Lots more photos here.