Katie Paterson (Project 3: Place in Art – Exercise 2)

“Have a look at the work of Katie Paterson. In particular consider: http://www.katiepaterson.org/vatnajokull/

“How would you define this piece in terms of media?”

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Fig 1. Paterson, K. Vatnajökull glacier (2007-08)

I decided to start with Vatnajökull (the sound of) and then look at her work more generally.

Vatnajökull (the sound of)

I undertook the exercise quite literally initially and so listened to, and researched a little about, Vatnajökull  (the sound of) (2007-08). The idea is truly brilliant. We are given a mobile telephone number to call, which would allow us to hear the Vatnajökull glacier melting. In effect we are being asked to listen to what global warming sounds like. There are however, so many layers of thought behind the work. (Sadly, the number no longer works.)

The melting of glaciers is something that doesn’t happen close to many of the world’s inhabitants. Given the very fixed position of Vatnajökull , Patterson brings the melting glacier to us. This in turn changes the nature of the ‘place’ of the glacier. We are connected to something that was distant, but is now close and so fits within our realm of experience and comprehension.

The effects of global warming work on a much slower timescale than human timescales. Another effect of this work, therefore, is to shrink time. We can hear global warming happening now, within a 30 second telephone call rather than watch time-lapse images and/or diagrams illustrating the effects.

Paterson’s choice of this glacier for her work is also interesting. According to the Glacier Guides website (2017), Vatnajökull  is “…by far the largest glacier in Iceland and the largest glacier mass in all of Europe…” It goes on to say, “Like so many other glaciers around the world, rising temperatures and reduced snowfall mean that this ancient icecap is melting. In one of the most recent reports from the Icelandic government’s Committee on Climate Change, it warns that by the next century, Iceland’s glaciers will no longer exist.” So Paterson has chosen the largest glacier in Iceland to allow us to experience climate change with a sense of immediacy and proximity; in our place at this time.

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