A cropped image of Caribou Migration by Subhankar Banerjee
A cropped image of Caribou Migration by Subhankar Banerjee

Walk through the door of Whatcom Museum’s art exhibition, Vanishing Ice, and enter another world. Through painting, photography, video, and the printed word, curator Barbara Matilsky has created an environment designed to create an emotional response to ice.

People and animals are often mere specks, as in Subhankar Banerjee’s photograph, Caribou Migration, or in Eirik Johnson’s view of pilgrims climbing to honor glaciers in Peru. Spencer Tunick poses figures on a Swiss glacier in a photograph that makes the viewer question if these basking forms are human or seals. And an enigmatic female figure in Isaac Julien’s video, True North, exists only as a guide to the frozen world that she inhabits.

The loveliness of ice takes precedence. Solid clouds of ice hold menace in Lens Jenshel’s iceberg photograph, Narsaq Sound, Greenland. Painter Anna McKee turns an icescape to soft, silken patterns by using scientific data to create a haunting abstract image, Depth Strata V, and the “tip of the iceberg” is dwarfed by Cynthia Camlin’s image of what lies beneath the water in Melted 4. This glacial world seems indestructible, until the art begins to show its fragility.

Images of European, North American, and Asian icefields in times past are accompanied by photographs of the same places today, showing how dramatically they have diminished. The melting of Arctic sea ice is charted by NASA in startling views from 1979 contrasted with 2012. A black crack in an expanse of pale blue foreshadows disaster in Jean de Pomereu’s Fissure 2, Antarctica, and a timeline reveals that in 2002, an Antarctic ice shelf the size of Rhode Island collapsed into the ocean.

The wonder and power of Vanishing Ice makes us care and think about a loss that will change our planet forever, while providing a bibliography that underpins the art. The exhibition has been extended until March 16. For further information, visit www.vanishing-ice.org.

A series of lectures, discussions, films, and accompanying art shows take place in Bellingham through May, 2014, while a smaller exhibit in the same museum, Washington’s Changing Climate, brings this topic closer to home through visual art and video.

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