Amazingly, climate change all seems a bit 2008 now the mass media has turned its attention away from all things environmental. But a new installation by United Visual artists (UVA) at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is raising the spectre of rising sea levels in a powerful, unsettling way.
High Arctic in the museum’s new £36 million Sammy Ofer wing came about after UVA’s Matt Clark travelled to the arctic with the Cape Farewell project, which takes artists from a range of disciplines to see for themselves how the world is changing. Matt followed in the footsteps of Jarvis Cocker, Antony Gormley and Ian McEwan, and came face to face with vast tundra, monochromatic rainbows, huge crumbling glaciers and even polar bears.
The installation has all the hallmarks of the UVA style – immersive, layered and beautiful –
with different areas representing the arctic through the ages, clever voiceovers and interactive elements which visitors use ultraviolet torches to move, illuminate and destroy. There are also some 3,000 white columns representing 3,000 glaciers that could be wiped out by the year 2100 if things continue as they are.
Lead UVA designer Ben Kreukniet admitted it was a challenge to interest people in an issue that many have been left exhausted by. “We are used to reading facts about climate change in newspapers or other media, but statistics and numbers filter through to you in a very different way in an immersive installation where you use multiple senses,” he said.
“We wanted to convey the beauty of the arctic, rather than flooding visitors with facts and figures. By using interaction we want people to realise that they do have an impact on what is happening, so it engages them on a completely different level.
“If artists can help engage people on a different level than scientists can, it is definitely a cause worth exploring.”
Every 15 minutes the whole show freezes (excuse the pun) and a haunting poem written by Nick Drake is read throughout the room – “I cannot pretend it’s going to be business as usual/Things are going to change.”
It’s a fantastically effective piece, all the stronger for being quiet and spooky rather than brash and hectoring.
High Arctic is open until January, 10am until 5pm, and tickets are £6/5/4.