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Gallery Review | ‘Seeing Glacial Time’ vividly captures climate change

Published: Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 08:02

Walk into the upper level of Tufts University Art Gallery this spring and you might catch a chill. Displayed in the Tisch Family Gallery, “Seeing Glacial Time: Climate Change in the Arctic” is a special exhibition which uses art to explore the effects of climate change on the Arctic. A blue and white space, bedecked with images of snowy peaks and dusted in some corners with a light sprinkling of glitter, “Seeing Glacial Time” may at first create for visitors the impression of entering a winter wonderland. Yet the impression of glacial and climate changes that the exhibition offers is anything but romanticized.

Introductory materials in the gallery reference “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006) as one of the first attempts to educate the public about climate change and environmental issues by telling a story, and the movie is one source of inspiration for the exhibition. “Seeing Glacial Change” takes up the gauntlet with the help of eight artists featured in the show: Subhankar Banerjee, Olaf Otto Becker, Resa Blatman, Diane Burko, Caleb Cain Marcus, Gilles Mingasson, Joan Perlman and Camille Seaman. The combination of these artists’ works is a blend of photography, paintings, 3D sculptures and a video installation that chronicles changes in the Arctic.

Prime examples of this, Becker’s photographs are paired to give contrasting views of identical locations photographed approximately a decade apart. These before and after shots are perhaps the most pronounced and an empirical way in which the show articulates the immutable effects of climate change. Surprisingly, however, while some pairs show dramatic changes, others show remarkably little variation. This result is complicated — a choice to portray both Arctic change and stability rather than cherry-pick sensationalist shots for shock value.

This refreshing take persists throughout “Seeing Glacial Time,” an exhibition dedicated to offering visitors material as complex and thought-provoking as it is beautiful. The work of Marcus, a photographer who uses low-horizon photographs to capture his landscapes, provides an interpretation of the Arctic as immense and eternal. In sharp contrast, the photographs by Seaman show both icebergs and glaciers captured from a distance and under stormy conditions. Seaman’s icebergs — which the artist likens to an endangered species — therefore most often appear surprisingly vulnerable: small white crests alone in a sea of indigo or dark turquoise. The fact that the works of these two artists are displayed not only in the same show but also directly across from one another in the gallery is a testament to the range of perspectives that “Seeing Glacial Time” includes.

A must-see of the exhibition, Perlman’s 10-minute video installation shows a meditative and thoughtful view of the glacial change in motion. Before the audience’s eyes, the icy remnants of an iceberg change, rocking with the swells of the ocean. Through capturing these changes on screen, Perlman succeeds in giving an impression of the ice structures as being strikingly mobile — even eerily alive.

“Seeing Glacial Time” is a thought-provoking and beautiful exhibition well worth a visit. The show provides a collection of compelling and diverse experiences with the Arctic as captured by eight artists’ unique perspectives. One helpful tip for visitors: take advantage of the magnifying glasses provided by the gallery: they can aid in seeing some intricate details that should not be missed.

For those interested in learning more, featured artist Burko will give a keynote address entitled “Polar Investigations” on April 3 and special walkthroughs of the exhibition will occur on Feb. 26, March 9 and April 9. Some events may require visitors to RSVP. “Seeing Glacial Change” opened for general admission on Jan. 30 and will remain at Tufts until May 18. During the semester, the gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday through Sunday, and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Admission is free, with a suggested $3 donation.

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