The 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris represents years of work in the political and commercial sectors, and it is usually in this light that one reads about any of this. But despite the media circus surrounding the drama in the opening remarks a week ago and the debate over 1.5 degrees or 2.0 degrees Celsius as a goal, there has been a significant amount of effort put in by the international community also to present this historic occasion through the arts.

Throughout the city of Paris (and, indeed, throughout the world in over 54 countries!) art installations, performances, and interactive pieces have come to life, representing the work of dozens upon dozens of artists and environmental organizations seeking to inspire their communities to take a greater part in advocating for the planet.

Of the handful of ArtCOP événements that I have experienced or read about thus far, I would like to discuss two: one that I experienced and benefited from and the other one that sounds theoretically engaging and powerful.

The first work, entitled Ice Watch and by Olafur Eliasson, is located here in Paris, in the Latin Quarter, just in front of the Pantheon and a number of schools of the University of Paris. This installation is an arrangement of 80 tons of ice, carved from a fjord in Greenland, in the shape of a clock. Paris weather, while certainly not balmy, has also very much not been freezing: this ice has been melting away since the day before the conference began, sending a powerful message that time is running out if nothing is done to stop this manmade progression towards a warmer Earth.

Olafur Eliasson's Ice Watch, with France's Pantheon in the background.
Olafur Eliasson’s Ice Watch, with France’s Pantheon in the background.

Public interaction with installation was interesting. Children ran amongst the blocks, kicking the slightly-warmer-than-freezing runoff onto the cuffed jeans of the man yelling against [French President] Hollande while a Catholic priest from the nearby church Saint-Étienne-du-Mont sat eating his lunch outside. One young woman set her small (and fluffy!) dog on top of one of the ice blocks in a furtive attempt to take a picture, but, unfortunately, the ice did not approve and the dog was sent sliding off into the air –landing safely. There was a flurry of activity here on the otherwise lazy streets.

Something else that struck me as I went by it around midday was that there was not much in the way of international diversity. The warm burbling of French filled the plaza in which it was placed, but interspersed amongst it, almost like punctuation, one could heard a pair of English couples on vacation, asking one another whether the ice had been manufactured or shipped in from the sea, or the group of university-aged Germans commenting on the photographs that they had just taken –so while the art was not reserved only for the Francophone, one could certainty tell that one was in Paris. Further, one could find that this was an event for those that live here, but particularly for those who attend the university there: it is a call to action.

People interact with Ice Watch in the plaza.
People interact with Ice Watch in the plaza.

The second work that caught my eye, and, perhaps more accurately in the near future, my ear, is River Listening by Leah Barclay. This piece is made for now: one downloads an app (“Recho” –a fascinating recording sharing and listening app that is based entirely off of place) that will allow one to hear live underwater streams from rivers all around the world while walking along the River Seine through the heart of Paris. Funded by several Australian scientific and artistic organizations, it wants to bridge the gap between a simple walk along the river and a sort-of augmented reality experience that can transport the listener to spaces that share the river ethos as both a home and a source of life for many around the world. To participate in this walking tour, one simply goes to the proper address along the Seine (40 Quai des Tuileries, Paris), activate the app, and begin at any time of the day or night until Dec. 15.

I hope to post my reflections on this work as soon as I have had a chance to experience it and reflect upon it: I think using technology to promote awareness and encourage engagement has so much potential and it might be worth bringing back to Emory in the spring.

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