For some creative minds, climate change represents not impending gloom but opportunity—a chance to imagine a world reshaped by warming, to rethink the way they work by using green methods and materials. David Buckland, a British photographer, filmmaker and designer, founded a pioneering endeavor called Cape Farewell, named after the tip of Greenland, which organizes expeditions for scientists and artists to sail through the Arctic waters—only now passable because the ice has melted. The voyages often result in powerful works that express newfound appreciation for the wonders of the natural world as well as regret, bewilderment and anger about global warming. "These changes are fertile ground within which the artist can work—not the pending dark of a sunset but the morning light of new possibilities," he says.
The project, which Buckland inaugurated after realizing there was "no imagery for climate change," aims to give audiences as well as artists new ways of grasping environmental issues. After joining a trip in 2005, Booker Prize-winning novelist Ian McEwan published reflective essays one of which notes that out in the frozen fjords, with the "pure air and sunlit beauty, we find ourselves in a state of near constant euphoria." Another alumnus, contemporary-dance choreographer Siobhan Davis, created "Endangered Species," an energetic 2006 performance-art piece that ends with the character's extinction. Buckland's own works include projections of words like "Sadness Melts" on walls of sea ice. Cape Farewell art has been made into a book and a documentary, and has been shown in exhibits around the world. This year's journey will include a TV crew and writer Vikram Seth, who is expected to blog on the trip.
At other forums, artists work even more closely with climate researchers. Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute hosts an annual conference to bring together top scientists and artists; after the 2005 meeting, British architect Peter Clegg built dramatic silos of ice blocks based on computations of each person's carbon emissions. The Sharjah art biennale, scheduled from April to June in the United Arab Emirates, chose the environment as its motif this year. Among the most striking works: "Cloud," a 27-by-42-meter canopy made up of more than 16,000 sheets of recycled paper. Finnish artist Tea Makipaa, who works in Germany, is actually attempting to live by the rules outlined in her Sharjah piece "10 Commandments for the 21st Century." Part performance art and part concept art, her manifesto (recycle, do not fly, etc.) is depicted through postcards, posters and a public diary of her efforts to keep the commandments. She has already adapted her lifestyle in accordance with the work: she plans to reach Sharjah without taking a single plane.