Witness the Larsen C Ice Shelf’s Breakup—in Downtown Chicago?

A public art installation by Luftwerk puts Antarctica’s climate change woes at the center of urban life.

August 16, 2017

White Wanderer rendering

Courtesy of Luftwerk

You’ve probably already seen the shocking satellite and aerial views of the Larsen C ice shelf’s 120-mile-long fracture by now, along with the Delaware-size iceberg it spawned in July. We watch these far-flung Antarctic images flit across our screens and social media feeds at a cold distance. But this September, Chicagoans will be able to experience this remote manifestation of climate change up close and personal, in the form of an immersive public installation by the art team Luftwerk.

White Wanderer will feature a massive vinyl rendering of the Larsen C crack on a building façade to make Two North Riverside Plaza appear as if the structure itself is ripping apart. As passersby confront the great divide, they’ll hear iceberg “songs”— recordings of the low-frequency sounds made by melting and splitting Antarctic ice—emanating from speakers.

“I was actually awestruck by how haunting they sound,” says Luftwerk’s Petra Bachmaier. “To me, it’s almost like crying.” She and fellow artist Sean Gallero were working with NRDC on creative ways to make climate change resonate with the public when they first heard the recordings by University of Chicago glaciologist Douglas MacAyeal.

Soon the creaking and crackling of ice will haunt the 30,000 people who pass through the plaza each day too. The artists hope the routines of these commuters and tourists will, at least for a moment, be interrupted by the reality of what’s happening at the bottom of the world.

As the Trump administration continues to fuel distrust of science, Bachmaier says art can offer an alternative route into the hearts and minds of the public by expressing something without pointing fingers or telling people what to think. “Art doesn’t want to be preachy,” she says. “It’s on a different emotional level.”

And melding a massive example of Chicago’s urban architecture with colossal calving ice sheets makes an impact. “These landscapes that are under threat, they really dwarf our cities,” Bachmaier says. “I hope that people become aware, for a second, that nature is far larger.”

Rendering of the Larsen C Ice Shelf crack

Courtesy of Luftwerk

White Wanderer will be on display at Two North Riverside Plaza, Chicago, from September 7 through October 1. Click here to learn more.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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