Disappearing Ice and Missing Data Visual Culture of the

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            Disappearing Ice and Missing Data: Visual Culture of the Polar

                            Regions and Climate Change

                              Lisa E. Bloom and Elena Glasberg

                                           Dec 12, 2009

Whole Earth as 1960s Icon

      The now familiar 1969 NASA satellite image of Earth as seen from

space might have remained a state secret if not for Stewart Brand‘s public

campaign. Inaugurating his Whole Earth catalogue with the newly

released ―blue marble‖ earth, Brand‘s activism transformed the image of a

fragile earth once censored by Cold War secrecy into a symbol of

responsible environmental practice.1 [Fig 1] Yet as lasting as this earth

image may be, the environmental concerns it symbolizes have shifted. No

longer organized by the threat of nuclear annihilation, contemporary

environmentalism focuses on issues such as regional water shortages or

population increases within a concern for environmental justice. Most

overwhelmingly these issues are integrated under a concern for climate

change. With the focus on climate change comes a marked concentration

1 Wikipedia‘s entry for ―Whole Earth Catalogue‖ cites that ―in 1966 Brand initiated a public
campaign to have NASA release the then rumored satellite image of the sphere of Earth as seen
from space.― See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whole_Earth_Catalog

in the way the earth under environmental pressure is being represented.

Brand‘s iconic whole earth has today been displaced by just two

representative regions -- the Arctic and Antarctic -- parts that now stand in

for a whole that is on the verge of catastrophic disintegration. And the

struggle against government control of data has followed this geo-

representational shift. Extending a Brand-style policy of open access to

data, the Clinton administration released on September 15, 1999 Cold

War spy satellite images of Antarctica dating from 1975 to help scientists

gauge the effects of the depleted ozone layer and show the changes in ice

surface and thickness in Antarctica. 2

    Yet after the relative openness of the Clinton Administration, the second

Bush Administration reinstituted censorship of images and data,

particularly of the Arctic region. Despite administrative attempts to

minimize the scientific evidence of global warming, the public in recent

years has belatedly started to come to grips with the urgency of the

climate crisis. Considering the contestation over satellite images and

other forms of information about earth in the context of a revival of interest

2For an analysis of the RADARSAT map of Antarctica and how cartography practices of the cold
war now map the hot war of environmentalism see: Kathryn Yusoff, ―Visualizing Antarctica as a
Place in Time: in Space and Culture, vol. 8, no. 4, November 2005, 381-398. Also, see Bipolar
Catalogue, 2008, and ―Clinton Releases Spy Satellite Photos of Antarctica,‖ by Arshad
Mohammed, 15 September 1999

in environmental activism and art movements of the 1960s and 1970s, 3

this essay examines how recent artistic visualization practices engage

with the controversies over climate change, appropriate official data, and

offer scenarios to counter data either missing or non-existing in official or

scientific accounts. This essay connects the modes of visualizing data in

work by artists Subhankar Banerjee, Annie Pootoogook, Lillian Ball, Jane

Marshing, Roni Horn, and Andrea Bowers that rework the political and

visual drive of Brand‘s whole earth globe as it circulates in a highly

fractured universalist political landscape of environmental crisis.

A New Visual History for the Poles

         Although the Polar Regions are often linked through almost daily

reports on their shrinking ice masses4 and in widely circulated images of

3 The desire of environmental artists such as Newton and Helen Harrison, Bonnie Sherk, amongst
others, from the 1960s and 1970s, to draw our attention to the relation of humans to specific sites,
constructed environments, and the ―development‖ of land to transform public policy through artistic
practice has been an important influence on some of the artists whose work will be examined in this
article. Also see ―A Conversation with Peter Frend‖ with David Joselit and Rachel Harrison in
October 125, Summer 2008, pp. 117-136 for an extended conversation about Peter Fend‘s work
with satellite images through Ocean Earth in the 1980s.
4 Satellite pictures of Antarctica from the RadarSat satellite system from 1997 and then again in

2003 are frequently downloaded from the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska
Fairbanks See: http://www.gdargaud.net/Antarctica/RadarSat.html. The RadarSat system dating
from 1997 is seen as a major improvement over previous maps of Antarctica. The advent of
satellites changed the view of the shorelines while the center, all white, flat and out of view of all but
the most polar orbits stayed uncharted till RadarSat's mission in 1997. In contrast, it was not until
2009 that similar images of the Arctic appeared in the US. Scientists from NASA and the University
of Washington in Seattle conducted the most comprehensive survey to date using observations
from NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite, known as ICESat, to make the first basin-wide
estimate of the thickness and volume of the Arctic Ocean's ice cover. See
http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/icesat-20090707.html. In July of 2009 the Obama
adminisration released hundreds of historical spy satellite images of Arctic sea ice. See:

Arctic polar bears and Antarctic penguins trapped by melting ice floes,5

their geopolitical and geophysical situations are quite distinct. In the

Antarctic, a scientific truce known as the Antarctic Treaty System has

remained in effect since 1959, designating the continent as a ―frozen

laboratory‖ for science.6 It lacks natives and the Treaty defers competing

national claims into the future of 2049. The Arctic situation is markedly

different. Its regions are variously populated by native inhabitants and by

multiple colonizations and nationalizations. In the north, warming has

created an open polar sea for the first time in human history – and with it

many economic opportunities of sea passages and ports. The

circumpolar north has increasingly become the site of commercial and

territorial conflict as the U.S., Canada, and Russia map the underwater

continental shelf in order to stake claims to what are believed to be vast

deposits of oil, gas and minerals.7 Further, the very distinct political

―Government Releases Spy Satellite Images of Arctic Ice, by Dan Vergano:
ice.html. However, starting in 2006 satellite images of the Arctic were available on-line such as
those from the European space agency GESA, See:
5 This paper develops further ideas put together for a special online issue of The Scholar and the

Feminist (issue 71.1, Fall 2008) co-edited with Elena Glasberg and Laura Kay. Please see
http://www.barnard.edu/sfonline/ice/ for texts and images by some of the artists and writers
discussed in this article; and writings by Lisa Bloom and Elena Glasberg on artists working on both
the Arctic and Antarctic.
6 Although the Treaty defends territorial claims, scientific activity has long been understood as its

stand in. And station building, ever on the rise (literally, in the case of Japan‘s new highest base
achievement) attracts little questioning.
7 In the Antarctic, a scientific truce remains in effect whereas the Arctic is increasingly becoming the

site of commercial and territorial conflict. The U.S., Canada, and Russia are mapping the
underwater continental shelf in order to stake claims to what are believed to be vast deposits of oil,

histories arising from indigineity in the north and its lack in the south

create different histories of possibility for visualization and for acting upon

global warming.

         With the exception of the international geophysical year in 1957-58,

the last time the Polar Regions have received such intense popular

attention was during the height of colonialism in the late 19th and early

20th centuries. A surge of broad cultural interest in the Polar Regions

since the late 1990s, however, has seen recent reprintings of original

narratives of exploration, new biographies of explorers, and even ―reality

TV‖ simulated re-enactments of their ―heroic‖ journeys.8 One hundred

gas and minerals. See: "Arctic in Retreat". New York Times. 8 September 2008. Also see: "World's
Leading Superpowers May Soon Launch War for Arctic and Antarctic Riches". Pravda. 12 April
2007; and "Russians Say Soil Samples Prove Arctic is Theirs." Reuters. 20 September 2007; and
"Riches in the Arctic: The New Oil Race". The Independent. 25 July 2008.; Patrick Goodenough,
―As UN Deadline Passes for Seabed Claims, Russia Gives Arctic Warning,‖ May 14, 2009 in
http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/48130. This article reports that as ―a deadline passed for
countries to file claims with the United Nations for the right to exploit seabed beyond their
coastlines, Russia hinted at the possibility of future conflict over energy reserves the resource-rich
8 See, for example, recent biographies such as: Stephanie Barczewski. Antarctic Destinies: Scott,

Shackleton, and the Changing Face of Heroism. London: Hambledon & London, 2008; and others
reviewed in: Al Alvarez. "S&M at the Poles." The New York Review of Books 54:14 (2007). See
also: Rebecca Farley. "By Endurance We Conquer: Ernest Shackleton and Performances of White
Male Hegemony." International Journal of Cultural Studies 8.2 (2005): 231-254, for an analysis on
how these accounts are sometimes used by both the adventure travel industry and by business
management consultants to promote men's leadership skills. A partial list of recent re-enactments
include the following: the expedition of Englishman Simon Daglish along with polar guide Geoff
Somers, 56, Daglish, Daly, and Roger Weatherby, 44, and Ed Farquhar, 40, who in January, 2009,
went to the South Pole along Captain Robert Falcon Scott's 1912 route with the same antique type
of gear that the British explorer used. (See: How to Retrace the 1912 Race to the South Pole, text
by Joe Robinson; photographs by Geoff Somers, see:
trek/lessons-learned.html.) A similar expedition was taken in 2009 by Tom Avery who retraced
Robert Peary's journey using the same techniques and equipment that the American explorer had
used in 1909. See: ―Young Explorer Retraces Peary's Historic Journey to North Pole By Julie
Taboh, 13 April 2009, in: http://www.voanews.com/english/archive/2009-04/2009-04-10-

years ago, the US planting of the flag at the North Pole by Robert Peary

was understood to signiy the supremacy of US technology. And the 1911-

12 race to the South Pole between Roald Amundsen of Norway and

Robert F. Scott of Britain represented a complex apotheosis of European

global rule at the very moment it began to break down in modernity and

postcoloniality.9 But while the postcolonial has transformed the academic

world since the 1970s, the literature on the Polar Regions rarely reflects

these political-intellectual shifts. In some senses recognizing the

postcoloniality of the Polar Regions has been delayed both by the

perceived lack of salience of under-populated territories remote from the

imperial centers (an irony worth noting) as well as by the challenges

presented by the material unconformity of ice. Without further

exceptionalizing the Polar Regions as either sublime wilderness or as

wastelands to be appropriated, this article attempts to redress the neglect

of these territories and in approaching their representations think through

how to see the Polar Regions.

9 See E. Glasberg,―Virtual Antarctica‖ in PoLAR,1995 for a problematizing of Antarctica as fantasy
and geographic territory within modernity. As Lisa Bloom has written in Gender on Ice, polar
exploration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was integral to the social construction of a
distinctive nexus of technological superiority and nationalism that was crucial to reifying a particular
form of white masculinity.[1] In the early 20th century both the North and South Poles represented
one of the few remaining masculine testing grounds where "adventure and hardship could still be
faced."[2] The role of women and people of color, in this vehicle for nation- and culture-building and
the advance of scientific knowledge, was significantly elided at this historical moment. For an
article on the philosophical implications of Cook‘s exploration far south see, Mariano Siskind, XX ,

        In asking how to see the Polar Regions, this article begins with the

position that the Arctic and Antarctic are no longer the site of a privileged

white masculinity and nationalist technological superiority, and these

regions are no longer understood as just remote areas, but rather as

spaces closely, if complexly, connected to globalized forces that reveal the

magnitude of our environmental crisis. But the artists discussed here

challenge traditional modes such as the sublime as well as the

overproduction of images of polar exploration‘s heroic past and of the

growing present day tourism industry devoted to promoting an aesthetic

and commercial object. In contrast to the images that tourists bring home

of the poles as a pristine and epic landscape, the artists that we will be

examining confront the new scientific and social realities, integrating data

and political concern in distinct ways. Climate change has thus become

the new historicity and organizing network of contemporary polar culture.

Climate change is the new territorial imperative, the new apocalypse, even

the new draw for ―disaster tourism‖ that exploits concern for the survival of

pristine polar territory.10

        In this essay we will tease out the implications of these converging

political, cultural, and representational forces, arguing that Antarctica and

10The Obama Administration, along with 28 nations have agreed to limit tourism to Antarctica,
which — like the Arctic — has become an increasingly hot destination as global warming threatens
to change the icy landscape. See: ―New Limits to Antarctic Tourism,‖ 18 April, 2009, BBC News:

the North Polar Regions, including Iceland and portions of the US Arctic

territories, while long being constructed under the sign of the sublime, of

the remote, the heroic, or as the excess (or waste) of the global system,

has entered into a new phase of meaning and practice. The poles are

crucial to the resurgence and eruption of territorial empire, the advance of

big oil, and of national aggrandizement through science programs and

installations. Implicated within this network of global contestation is the

crucial issue of measuring sea ice – as its changes effect potential territory

and marine routes and as an index of climate change. Artists have

entered the fray with work that does more than illustrate ice fields or

measurement practices,11 but rather questions how to measure, amass,

and visualize (much less analyze) a process called climate change.


        The topic of climate change in the US develops in relation to the

issue of active censorship during the Bush years 2001-2008. 12 This

censorship took many forms, sometimes involving tacit media complicity,

11 Climate Change: Picturing the Science (Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wolfe, eds., Norton 2009)
offers an array of realist photographs as well as more manipulated computer-generated imagery,
and varieties of maps, and some charts and graphs documenting the science of climate change as
well as climatically changing enviroments themselves.
   The documentary Hot Topic (Peter Bull, 2007), explores how bi-partisan political and economic
forces prevented the U.S. government from confronting global climate change during the Bush era.
Also see Naomi Oreskes, ―Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change‖
Science 3 December 2004:Vol. 306. no. 5702, p. 1686, and Naomi Oreskes, ―Global Warming –
Signed, Sealed and Delivered,‖ The Los Angeles Times Monday 24 July 2006.

and other times more direct suppression of images and data.13 Camera

and cinematic images play a vital role in the development of our

understanding of climate change. 14 For example, at the same time iconic

images of Arctic polar bears were on the cover of Newsweek magazine15

and documentaries such as Al Gore‘s An Inconvenient Truth (2005), Oil

on Ice (2005), Out of Balance: ExxonMobil’s Impact on Climate Change

(2006) and fictional films such as The Day After Tomorrow (2004) I Am

Legend (2007), Children of Men (2006), and The Terminator series (1984,

1991, 2003, 2009) depicting climate ravaged futures were screening in

theatres across the country, the Bush administration played a direct role in

denying and suppressing climate evidence.16

         The photographer Subhankar Banerjee first attracted national

attention in 2003 when his images of flourishing wildlife and Native

American culture provided a visual counterpoint to the Bush

administration‘s debate about whether the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

13 Suzanne Goldenberg and Damian Carrington, ―Revealed: The Secret Evidence of Global
Warming Bush Tried to Hide,‖ in The Observer UK, 26 July, 2009. See:
http://www.truthout.org/072609T, Also see, Daniel Glick, ―Polar Distress,‖ May/June 2008, Audubon
Magazine, see: http://www.audubonmagazine.org/features0805/habitat.html
14 For a more extensive list of films that deal with climatic disasters and global warming see the ―List

of Disaster Films‖: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_disaster_films
15 Newsweek featured two cover stories on Arctic polar bears during the summer of 2008. See:
June 9 , Jerry Adler, ― The Race for Survival,‖ and again on Jul 28, 2008 by Daniel Stone, ―On Thin
16 Suzanne Goldenberg and Damian Carrington, ―Revealed: The Secret Evidence of Global

Warming Bush Tried to Hide,‖ in The Observer UK, 26 July, 2009. See:
http://www.truthout.org/072609T, Also see, Daniel Glick, ―Polar Distress,‖ May/June 2008, Audubon
Magazine, see: http://www.audubonmagazine.org/features0805/habitat.html. Some of the
documentaries that deal with the Bush administration‘s censorship includes Oil on Ice on ANWR;

(ANWR) should be opened up for oil drilling during a bitterly contested

Senate debate in March 2003. Because his photographs and writing

provided counterevidence to the vision of Alaska as a blank site of

exploitable national resources, Banerjee‘s work became embroiled in a

national debate when his photographs were displayed on the floor of the

United States Senate floor to help argue against oil drilling in the Arctic

National Wildlife Refuge.17 So intense was the Bush administration‘s

desire to suppress the concept of climate change, that Banerjee‘s

exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution was censored to remove

Banerjee‘s own captions detailing his concern for the possible effects of

drilling. Stripped of their captions the photographs themselves, with their

perfect lighting and composition, appeared more akin to calendar art and

other mass media.18

         But the beauty of Banerjee‘s images is not intended as an anodyne

pleasure. Trained as a scientist, since 2001 Banerjee has been working

as both an artist and activist for the protection of the native Inupiat and

Athabaskan Gwich'in against incursion and contamination by the fossil-

fuel industry, which was already dangerously close to the Arctic Wildlife

17 The documentary of the Senate Hearing on ANWAR, Oil On Ice (cited above) included footage of
a Senator displaying a blank chart board in order to illustrate what he insisted was the character of
the territory under discussion.
18 See Ingrid Sischy. "The Smithsonian's Big Chill." Vanity Fair. December 2003: 242-6; and

Suzanne Boettger, ―Global Warnings,‖ Art in America, June/July 2008: 154-161, 206-7.

Preserve in the oil and gas fields known as Prudhoe Bay. For these

indigenous communities, fuel resource development conflicts with food

resources, thus becoming a human rights issue.19 Banerjee's images --

which serve as both art and as scientific data -- are inspired by Alaska's

native people and the wildlife on which they depend. Unlike most

landscape photographers who sojourn through sites to capture fugitive

images, Banerjee‘s conservationist ethics show through his commitment

to spend lengthy periods of time in the field. [Figure 2] Banerjee‘s

photographs connect the Arctic to other lands and oceans on the planet by

providing visual proof of how hundreds of millions of birds migrate from

every continent, thousands of miles away, to the Arctic each spring to nest

and rear their young.

        Banerjee's photographs remind us that scientific projects also have

an aesthetic dimension, perhaps not apparent in scientific accounts.

Though at first glance, his color photographs of Alaska invite comparison

to those of Ansel Adams, father of modern landscape photography,

Banerjee undermines his conservationist precursors by deliberately

photographing several ecologically and culturally significant areas of the

  See Subhankar Banerjee, ―Land-as-Home versus Environmental and Political Imperialism in the
American North,‖ The Scholar and the Feminist (issue 71.1, Fall 2008) co-edited with Elena
Glasberg and Laura Kay. Also see: Subhankar Banerjee, Seasons of Life and Land: Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge, The Mountaineers Books, 2003.

American Arctic that were being targeted for oil, natural gas, and coal

development. Much of Banerjee‘s photography of migratory patterns

impose an aerial or god‘s eye perspective that recalls a sense of the

sublime to his work yet also suggests very different ways of seeing and

understanding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Because his aerial

approach often erases all ideas of a horizon, it takes a moment to reorient

perspective in his photographs and to recognize the caribou herds, or

other wildlife moving through his images as real and not abstractions, and

that the absorbing and detailed visual drama playing out across the 60‖ x

72‖ large color print is a mobile civilization being threatened by the global

need for inexpensive fossil fuels [Figure 3]. Banerjee‘s version of the

―god‘s eye view,‖ rather than promoting a human-centered imperial sense

of ownership over a grand, inviolate landscape, invites intense concern on

the part of the viewer, who may anxiously track the signs of animal

migration across a non-human purposed terrain that becomes less map-

like and more fragile under the close attention its size and scale visually

demand. Banerjee shifts the purpose of his images from documenting

landscape that makes it look available for the taking to developing a form

of art photography that creates data that didn‘t exist before to further a

discourse of environmentalism.

Missing Data

       Like Banerjee, Lillian Ball in her 2007 project ―66,32,50‖ also sees

the Arctic as a key site in the negotiation of global environmental politics

as well as a space on the verge of catastrophe. [Fig 4] But rather than

work with the way that photography fixes its subject, Ball underscores the

fragility and ephemeral quality of ice by creating her work as a video

projection on actual melting ice that will inevitably disappear. And like

Banerjee, she is also compiling new data that didn‘t previously exist, in her

case specifically of the dwindling Arctic ice cap that project into the future

from 1990-2040. However, Ball moves away from traditional photography

and its tropes of capture, development, and display and instead draws

from new media technologies less attached to material permanence and

linear time frames. When Ball made her project in 2007 for the Swedish

Embassy, over 1,000 satellite photographs were also being withheld from

the public by the Bush administration that offered further evidence that the

ice in the Arctic is disappearing. These images that were not released to

the general public until late July of 2009 by the Obama Administration,

provide troubling evidence of how ―more than a million square kilometers

of sea ice, were missing‖ in the summer of 2007 compared with the

previous year. 20Without the help of these satellite images,‖ Ball created

her own data through extensive research that included collaboration with

scientists and conversations with local Sami people who confirmed that

warming was apparent because they noticed ―how the tree line is rising,

how reindeer here are starving for lack of lichen, and how below zero

weather never lasts as long as before.‖21 Ironically, Ball‘s dire projections

have actually been surpassed as the North Pole has become an island for

the first time and both the Northwest and Northeast passages have been

opened by melting ice. Shipping companies from around the world are

already planning to exploit the first simultaneous opening of the routes.

Given this momentous historical development, the rivalry for the Arctic‘s

formerly inaccessible resources has intensified and in a way that recalls

earlier imperial histories.

         Jane Marsching, in collaboration with Mitchell Joachim, also

creates her own data (in this case purely fictional) that projects into the

future in a virtual world that she creates titled, ―Terreform 1 Future North,‖

2008 [Fig. 5] but unlike Ball, whose data projections are based on

scientific modeling, Marsching imitates Gore‘s An Inconvenient Truth-style

20 See Suzanne Goldenberg and Damian Carrington, ―Revealed: The Secret Evidence of Global
Warming Bush Tried to Hide, ― in The Observer (UK), 26 July, 2009.
21 See Lillian‘s Ball‘s statement for ―66 Degrees, 32 Minutes, 50 Years,‖ in Lucy Lippard‗s Weather

Report (Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art Catalogue) available as a PDF on

power point presentation. The 3 minute videotape begins by asking the

viewer ―What would life be like to live at the North Pole in 100 years?‖ By

way of an answer a computer simulation depicts earth‘s major cities

floating off and converging in the Arctic. An operatic voice singing the

headlines from a Google News search for the ―North Pole‖ on March 21,

2007 creates affect for the dire prognosis of a drowned high civilization.

Yet the visualization itself resists emotional inflections, emphasizing

instead a purposeful, playful fantasy of cosmopolitanism as the world

cities each in turn drift away to re-assemble at the north pole in an almost

satisfying orderly apocalypse of massive urban migration. 22 As shocking

and unlikely the scenario of a new supercontinent centered on the

formerly remote north pole may be, Marshing‘s animation nevertheless in

imitating the speeded up modes of simulation cleans up the

conceptualization of disastrous climate change and human mass

migration – a vision that may be even more chilling in its directed


22Andrea   Polli interjects emotion through music and sound in her work Ground Truth: Monitoring
and Measuring the Social Geography of Global Climate Change. She adds the effects of weather to
highlight the tensions between the abstraction of photographs of the landscape and the
transformation that is taking place that is otherwise not very visible except through satellite imagery
and climate data. Like many digital artists she is not happy with the flat nature of the image that she
creates, which is simply a dead-pan image of the Arctic weather station that is projected in her
installation, an image of herself in front of the sound machine, or a projection of data (see images
from Ground Truth installation at The Atlas Center for Art + Technology at The University of
Colorado Boulder, 2008) Her work deliberately denies the power of the image, and instead
establishes a relationship to place and data through sound that brings a sense of the sublime as
well as tension into her work through the dissonant sounds that she brings back.

Degraded Originals

         While digital virtual modes lend themselves to post-apocalyptic

fantasies of a clean re-ordering, indigenous artists such as Annie

Pootoogook depict a more grounded but no less fantastical visualization of

the effects of unchecked industrialization on their culture. [Fig 6] Over the

past few decades, scientists have discovered the ―Arctic paradox,‖ in

which the most remote spots on earth turns out to be among the most

polluted. One of the effects of the Arctic paradox is that people living in

the Arctic are unable to eat much of the local fish and of necessity turn to

a Western diet. Pootoogook‘s images of unsettling domestic social

interactions among Inuits at Cape Dorset in Nunavut suggest an untold

story of adaptation under pressure. Her ironic and anti-heroic look into the

world she inhabits with all its messiness from unfolded clothes to domestic

violence is the antithesis to past Inuit art that emphasized the vistas of the

natural world and traditional tools and ways of life that Southerners have

come to associate with Inuit art. 23

23Debora Root, ―Inuit Art and the Limits of Authenticity.‖ This article was originally published in
Nancy Campbell's Annie Pootoogook, published by Illingworth Kerr Gallery in Calgary and
Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown in 2007. Nancy Campbell, ―Annie Pootoogook‖
The Scholar and the Feminist (issue 71.1, Fall 2008) co-edited with Elena Glasberg and Laura Kay.
Please see: http://www.barnard.edu/sfonline/ice/gallery/pootoogook.htm This article was originally

         How do carefully penciled images of eyeglasses, peanut butter jars,

and even the very crayons used to create the images themselves attest to

Native ways of seeing? By drawing what she sees in front of her eyes and

– and throwing these disturbingly drab and degraded sights back in the

face of the Non-Native art buyer, Pootoogook offers yet another layer of

counter-discourse to imperial history and science and art collaborations to

tell the story of modernity through Native traditional form [Figure 7].

Pootoogook cleverly refunctions and redefines art historical and social

categories that have historically often had the effect of controlling her

people by taking up the ―primitive‖ medium of child‘s crayons and by

―playing Eskimo‖ while pointedly refusing to display the crafts and outdoor

scenes of her foremothers.24 Instead, Pootoogook parody of auto-

ethnographic documenting of personal cultural breakdowns disturbingly

echoes the ―Arctic paradox‖ effects caused by off-site industrialism and

visited in disproportion on the least industrialized.

         Pootoogook‘s art and its reception within the field of Inuit art history

helps complicate the suppression of information motivating, for example,

Banerjee‘s creation of a counter-archive to government policy. In the case

published in Nancy Campbell's Annie Pootoogook, published by Illingworth Kerr Gallery in Calgary
and Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown in 2007.
24 ―Playing Ekimo‖ gestures to Philip Deloria‘s concept of ―playing Indian‖ (Playing Indian: Yale UP,

1998) byy which he refers to white America‘s fantasy of inhabiting or connecting to Indianness to
justify actual expropriation of land and culture. Pootogook turns this fantasy of unequal
incorporation around yet again, performing her Eskimo-ness for an art market she simultaneously
courts and confronts.

of Pootoogook, art historical clichés and pathologizing frameworks in

which Pootoogook becomes a degraded or less authentic Inuit or a

feminized victim entirely miss her new evidence of an ―inner geography‖ of

on-going disaster that parallels the stories and data collected by Banerjee

and Ball as they produce counter-archives of a warming polar region

within an indigenous frame.25

Documenting Ice/land

         ―Inner Geography‖ is Roni Horn‘s term for the non-apparent

relations of identity to place, relations that often appear in discourse as

nationalism or gender or individualism. Inner geography is both

psychological and geological; it combines forces of science and art as an

on-going relation to being, perception and knowing. Horn‘s work, though

most often confined to in-house conceptualism,26 might be better placed

within a trajectory of post-1960s activist and specifically feminist art and

politics. Horn has been archiving her relations to Iceland since 1975 in

various media and always related modes of drawing, photography,

sculpture, written and printed words, letters, talks, books, archives,

installation. Horn has joked that her first impulse was to retire and

25 Note Innuit projects looking to auto-ethnography of climate as ―missing data‖ or unsought or
uncoordinated data that supplements and counters Non-Native environmental struggle.
26 Roberta Smith, Review of Roni Horn‘s Whitney Retrospective titled ―Gaining a Voice and an

Identity in Minimalism, New York Times, 5 November, 2009.

catalogue all the island nation‘s stones. Elsewhere she has referred to

her ―absurd‖ impulse to collect Iceland. Yet in a way, she is doing just that

-- amassing, organizing, and displaying an encyclopedia of Icelandia, from

stones to stories and in the process opening up the definition of data

beyond its stricter use in science.27

         Roni Horn‘sVatnasafn/Library of Water (2007) is an environmental

protest piece that assembles Icelandic materials: precisely distilled glacier

ice, oral histories, and weather observations by natives permanently

installed in a picturesque-modernist former public library situated on a bluff

in Stikkisholmer, Iceland. Horn placed 24 floor to ceiling length tubes or

encasements filled with ice in various stages of capture. These tubes

mimic the shape of the major form of glaciological research: the ice core –

but they are instead melted, in the form of water.28 Core samples are a

form of timed or sedimented evidence and they are processed into data in

a multitude of ways. They are in a way the ―terroir‖ – the particularity of

origin – of ice. Much of the data derived from ice cores founds global

warming science. Horn documents the scientifically precise gathering of

the waters from various locations, its storage in labeled plastic containers,

27 ――Inner Geography‖ is the title of a 1982 Science article by Simon that describes new techniques
of the Earth‘s shape. It opens with a reference to Jules Verne‘s Journey to the Center of the Earth.
28 In Antarctica these samples are painstakingly drilled, often by hand, and just as often hand-

carried back to centers of scientific research by the very field scientists who applied for the grants
to drill.

and siphoning into the tubes that make up the library installation. [Figure

8] Horn‘s process and installation both mimics and comments on scientific

data-gathering and presentation.

       As part of Horn‘s encyclopedic aspiration for documenting Iceland,

Vatnasafn Library of Water also collects the stories of Icelanders about

their place of living. To experience the piece one walks through it, through

the former ―stacks‖ refunctioned as data-collection, a literal and

metaphoric library of water. And like the ungovernable collections of

public, circulating libraries, the material here is always threatening to

escape, to leak, to refuse containment. The (presumably waterproof)

rubberized floor is embedded or tracked through with words for ice, the

many linguistic repertoires for capturing the changeable medium. In

passing through, circulating like water and ice, which flow, albeit at

different speeds, Icelanders become complicit -- and potentially drowned -

- in data. The ever-present threat of the data – the water – to burst its limit

as collection indicates the protest nature of Vatnasafn/Library of Water.

       Horn plays with the distinction between science‘s approval of data

and specimen by dirtying up this former library. It is impossible, for

example, to gaze into the serene and encased liquids, some colloidal in

appearance, tainted by Iceland‘s expanding industrialism and its

pollutants, others more translucent and nearly colorless, some looking as

if they were festering, others pure, to not think of similarly encased

conjoined fetuses in formaldehyde of the mad scientist. Hucksterism,

menace, and urgency collide in Vatnasafn, the un-scientific use of data as

entertainment, as power enforcer, as meaningless undifferentiated

accumulation (or as collection driven by irrational desire), as arbitrary –

the underside of an orderly universe or state-ordered knowledge. But the

very impossibility and irrationality of the drive to archive and display is also

a function: its purpose is to exceed science and to create an affective

possibility for data. In this case the pathos is created by the collected,

distilled, and displayed, and perused data pointing to a complex disturbing

system implicating all Icelanders – that the end of the earth is already

legible. The problem is not only censorship from above and special

interests, but the will to change on the part of citizens. In Iceland the

problem is local to some extent and quite contemporary. Iceland‘s

industrialism, coming 100 years after Europe‘s has almost too quickly

arrived at crisis. Even Iceland‘s more recent international banking

success was short-lived, ending in domestic turmoil with the global

financial ―melt down.‖

       Horn‘s archive is devoted to demonstrating the distinctiveness of

Iceland‘s geophysics, culture, and as in the example above, economic

history. Yet the piece is equally interested in the flow or connection of this

water archive. On the website of the installation maintained by Archangel,

Inc. is a series of photographs taken through layers of distortion [Figure 9].

Horn sets the lens to pierce the tube of water, which in turn is located in

front of one of the library‘s windows. A layering of media produces a view

of the countryside – a placid enough semi-suburban scape -- but that seen

through these troubled and troubling lenses, unleashes panic and

dissolution. These containing frames – the way water contains itself, its

surface tension – Iceland itself -- promises to deliquesce beautifully, and

yet tragically. These monumentalized, giant test tubes of data arrayed

against the industrialism-poisoned waters of Iceland deeply disturb the

conventional distinctions between how science and art make meaning, as

well as their distinct modes of creating affect. When data is arranged (or

analyzed) as art, the visualization practices of science become implicated

in all the mess of the cultural. Both ends of the art/science status quo --

art as beyond culture or as pure aesthetics and science as pure

knowledge -- cannot survive Horn‘s sculpting and melting.

       In her 1982 short story ―Sur,‖ Ursula Le Guin disturbed the flow of

imperial history by retroactively inserting an alternative story of the

discovery of the South Pole by South American women, who arrive in

1910 before both Amundsen and Scott. Yet their choice to leave ―no

footprints,‖ is a form of resistance to grand narratives of possession and

conquering. Instead of monuments to themselves or their nations, the

women engage in small scale and site-specific practices of survival,

including art making. One of the characters sculpts using the only local

medium available: ice. But her sculptures, like the footprints and claims

the women refuse, will never be known to the rest of the world; it will never

properly become historical. In the words of the narrator‘s hidden diary,

―That is the price of sculpting in ice.‖

       Horn seems willing to pay the price of sculpting in water, or of not

becoming properly disciplined through time, practices of evidence, or in

scope – or even in relation to the art world so far from Iceland. Yet for all

of the remoteness of Iceland as an object, and Vatnasafn as an

installation piece for the art world, or even the environmentalist movement,

Horn sees her medium -- water -- circulating among and within all bodies,

connecting and equating them. While this profound data set flows through

Horn‘s vision and enacts a politics, water‘s many flows are non-identical

and her work is devoted to documenting and indeed undergoing

irretrievable change. The containing inequalities of water flow create an

apt metaphor of the paradoxes of history as well.

       While certainly retaining its conceptual scope and depth in the way

Library of Water as an absurdly ambitious collection project incorporates

even the concept of integration itself – in its parts and in its openness to

additions of data, ever changing weather through its picture windows, and

in the flow of people through its public use rooms, Library of Water

contains inner geography -- or the internalization of power -- to conceive

and thus change the world through images.

        The idea that the people could change the world through image-

making was a major effect of Brand‘s campaign to release the whole earth

image. His account of how the image came to him in 1969 looking out

over San Francisco city skyline tripping on LSD underscores the way that

his vision connected individual, located, and embodied experience to a

vision of wholeness, which inner geography updates through a feminist

genealogy.29 The last section of the essay assembles the practices and

histories of feminism, native-centered environmentalism, and the politics

of gallery art versus installation of site-specific political protest within new

narratives of image-making and world-changing.

Narrative Data

        Contemporary artists too young to have been part of 1960s art

activism and who may not even desire to engage quite so directly with a

political purpose nevertheless are creating new connections between art

29See Stewart Brand interview for the PBS documentary program American Photography: A
Century of Images. The transcript of the interview where Brand explains the idea behind the
photograph of the whole earth is available online at:

practice and global environmental activism. Andrea Bowers‘ fall 2009

multimedia gallery installation titled ―Mercy Mercy Me‖30 connects

G‘winich‘in Alaskan struggles against oil corporation‘s development plans

to Nigerian resistance to its government‘s collusion with Shell Oil in the

1990s. Bowers incorporates her own drawings, videos she created

herself or found and refunctioned, directs collective beadworking 31 with

G‘wich‘in women, and redisplays a protest banner from the time of the

Exxon Valdez oil spill. The installation integrates native, ecofeminist

gallery and craft, and local and global modes of image-making and

display. Although the Exxon Valdez protest produced a legal settlement as

conclusion to a narrative of struggle, the banner‘s redisplay in a gallery

setting along with Bower‘s integration of the story of Nigerian struggle

offers a new kind of image-making and world-changing through

renarration of native protest.

        The banner is painted black oilcloth, a fabric traditionally used on

boats, and is frayed and worn with use, time, and probably rough storage;

it has been rescued and placed in this setting but not materially restored.

[Figure 10] The banner, which once hung on a troller in the Kachemak

Bayfeatures the slogan ―Alaskans/ Still Fighting‖ encircles a free hand

30 Andrea Bowers exhibition, ―Mercy Mercy Me,‖ was held from October 24-Dec.5 2009 at the
Andrew Kreps Gallery, 525 West 22 Street, New York. Also see: http://andrewkreps.com/
31 Bowers collaborated with G‘wich‘in women Syndee Crice, Karen E. Palmer, C. M. Pico, Michele

Rowe, SnoCat, and Julie Anderson for the banner memorializing Saro-Wiwa‘s last words.

painted re-rendering of the iconic whole earth. But this earth differs

significantly from the mechanically reproduced, even banal versions so

common in advertisements and all form of visual culture. This version,

remade by local hands, quotes yet exceeds the phenomenal iconicity and

circulation of the Brand globe. As the banner represents the local Native

protests against the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident itself and the incomplete

and inadequate clean-up as well as the long-term consequences for the

Natives, the struggle is always between Native and citizen (or ―Alaskan‖)

positions, with their separate yet forcibly aligned histories. Bowers‘

collaboration with G‘wich‘in artists exceeds the spaces of the local and the

gallery in the story of struggle against big oil. The distinction between art

and activism comes under pressure, especially in the consideration of

what kind of data is produced in collaborations between outsider (artists)

and Native artists who draw on indigenous practices of crafts like

beadwork, reading, and observation and it brings into proximity anti-

corporate indigenous struggle from around the globe – all under the

banner of Brand‘s re-functioned whole earth icon.

       In ―Ken Saro-Wiwa‘s Last Words,‖ [Figure 11] Bowers enacts the

visual logic of the connected, integrated earth (echoed in the show‘s title

quote of ―Mercy, Mercy Me,‖ Marvin Gaye‘s 1960s US protest movement

soundtrack) by weaving together to the Alaskan Native struggle the

struggle of Nigerians against the colonialist Shell Oil. Fashioned

collectively between Bowers and G‘wich‘in artists, the beadwork banner

depicts Saro-Wiwa‘s last words before being murdered (along with 8

others) by the colonialist Nigerian government for colluding against Shell

Oil‘s strongarm tactics for maintaining their economic empire to the

detriment of the Nigerian people.32 The outcome of the legal case against

Shell and their payment of 1.5 million in reparations (or hush money,

depending on perspective) evokes issues of evidence within the context of

law and how the language and regimes of the state and the oil giants who

devastate indigenous land can work both ways – to kill and to save. In

―Ken Saro-Wiwa‘s Last Words.‖ Bowers is stringing together ordinarily un-

integrated territories, peoples, and struggles in the way beadwork

assembles fragments of a suppressed history, presenting a trace of what

wasn‘t there before. Yet the exhibit and its banners do more than rework

and string together images of suppressed resistance to oil conglomerates.

In re-memorializing the struggle over the Exxon Valdez oil spill and its

near-forgotten and incomplete ―clean up‖ from the point of view of the

people who must live with the damage, the exhibit dirties the data and

refuses the cleansing of amnesia and denial. Not all their inner

32See: Joshua Hammer, ―The Making of a Legend: A Dissident‘s Ghost is Still Rattling the Junta,‖
in Newsweek 18 December,1995; William Boyd, ―In Memoriam: Death of a Writer,‖ New Yorker 27
November, 1995; Ed Pilkington, ―Shell Pays out 15.5m over Saro-Wiwa Killing,‖ in the Guardian 9
June, 2009.

geographies align. For the G‘wich‘in their inner geography is outside the

national and thus not legible within colonialist narratives of masculinity and

technology that would repress Native knowledge by cleaning it up.

       Horn too is creating knowledge not picked up by scientific

discourse. This activist practice produces not just visual data, but creates

narratives in which the images take on communicative political meaning, a

register made evident by the use of words as visual motifs beyond their

instrumental or rational signification. As with Pootoogook, this reflective

refunctioning of a traditionally commodified craftwork challenges

assumptions about what Natives do and know. Crafts as denigrated forms

are redefined and placed in a gallery de-commodified, or at least put on a

different market, one that does not expect a pleasing Native, but can be

open to confrontation both earnest and ironized. These crafts and life

practices circulate publicly, not through private monetary exchange. Nor

are they artifacts of a defunct activism from another time. Rather, the

gallery exhibit keeps in circulation – or life – the whole earth concept.

Damaging Data

       We conclude this article against a background of renewed attacks

on the basic science of climate change as representatives from 200

nations meet in Copenhagen to begin discussion on a new international

climate accord. As many scientists, artists, and activists were hoping that

the battle over the reality of human-driven climate change was finally

behind them, skepticism about global warming persists. Much of the

artwork we discuss anticipates that the denial and disagreement over

climate change will continue in certain quarters, since the stakes are so

high. The struggle against the US government‘s control of data might not

be now as overdertermined by the need for release of suppressed data as

it was under the George Bush administration. However, climate change is

still seen internationally as a highly contested narrative. The recent
controversy over politicized bias and manipulation of data                     underscores

the difficulties in narrating and representing data on climate change, even

within scientific communities in which probability, not certainty shapes the

presentation and analysis of data. As such, science leaves room for

skepticism and uncertainty, whether it is about the extent or pace of global

warming, or about the data assembled or the analytic methods

themselves. Moreover, popular docudrama and fictional film thematizing

climate change tend to be apocalyptic and present only the thinnest and

most cliched representation of the issues. It is no wonder that

populations, corporations, and governments invest in resisting the kinds of

 Andrew Revkin and John M. Broder, ―Facing Skeptics, Climate Experts Sure of Peril,‖ in the New

York Times, December 7, 2009, pp. 1 &8.

economic restructuring acceptance of the climate change models would


       Disturbing or confrontational images such as Andrea Bowers‘

banner memorializing the murder of Nigerian environmental activist Ken

Saro-Wiwa remind us of the political violence that often goes into

suppressing data and the human consequences of activism against big oil.

Roni Horn‘s memorial of monumental test tubes filled with water from 14

of Iceland‘s melting glaciers might not seem as shockingly confrontational

about the finality of the environmental damage it visualizes. Yet its more

gentle invitation to participate in documenting environmental processes

also implicates populations and perhaps indicts short-sighted local

economic progressivism, as its layering of distorting lenses echoes the

basic non-transparency of seeing as an embodied and represented

practice. The critical perspective of Annie Pootogook‘s work also

complicates narratives of progressivism in her apparently direct visual

translation of the damage unfolding in front of her eyes in the Arctic. In her

drawings Pootogook is trying to visualize Native knowledge – about

damage and violence of her Inuit community and the Arctic, connecting

documentation to the act of witnessing. The power of Andrea Bower‘s

tattered protest banner from 1989, stems in part from the material fraying

of the banner itself. The damage it has sustained – the material holes

and incompleteness, as well as the paradox of its memorializing of an

ephemeral, time-specific object stands in for the violence of a near-

forgotten and incomplete ―clean up.‖ Although seemingly addressed by

progressive law and environmental technologic regimes, the on-going

effects of the spill remain unassimilable from the point of view of the

people who must live with the damage. Both Bowers and Pootogook

reveal in their works the human consequences of corporate and

governmental abandon that paradoxically takes place under the ―banner‖

of progress and modernization – and even justice.

       As both poles face a speeded-up version of industrialization, it is

crucial to think knowledgeably, as well as critically, about these regions

around which so many vital concerns revolve. New oil drilling, as well as

the vast increase in tourism and shipping is having an effect on local Inuit

populations, the environment and wildlife, and is leading to a reappraisal

of Arctic and Antarctic international law and practice. As the stakes of

environmental debate rise, and more and more nations and institutions

become involved in the either trying to profit from or control access to

polar regions so quickly and astonishingly changing in geophysical

character, the shifting ice of this evolving circumpolar world requires

equally shifting practices of creation and scholarship.