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Our Disappearing Future

By Alyssa Stein

On Sunday, September 21, artist duo Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese held a public art installation to coincide with both the People’s Climate March and the launch of the Clinton Global Initiative. The installation, titled “Dawn of the Anthropocene,” consisted of a giant ice sculpture of the words “The Future.” While the installation was placed in the Flatiron District, Canadian consortium Cities for People sponsored a live-stream of the event for viewers across the globe. Additionally, Cities for People’s assistant producer Todd Lester arranged for a “writers residency,” where 10 writers attended the event in two-hour increments to write short pieces about climate change, as well as participate in a social media campaign. World Policy Journal editorial assistant Alyssa Stein sat down with Ligorano and Reese to discuss their hopes for what the installation will inspire worldwide.

WORLD POLICY JOURNAL: There are so many phrases that could summarize the human impact on climate change. What made you decide on “The Future” as the phrase for the climate march?

NORA LIGORANO: I think that “The Future” really talks about not the singular, not the ‘I,’ but the collective ‘we,’ and not only what the impact is on our generation but on the future generations to come.

MARSHALL REESE: In the beginning, it seemed like to do an ice sculpture around climate was a very easy thing to do. It seemed too easy, so I resisted for a long time.  I just think that to have an ice sculpture of the words “The Future” made sense because we have to act now if there will be a future, or a future that will be sustainable and tolerable for life.

WPJ: You have created numerous other ice sculptures over the past few years, all statements on various facets of the political situation. What makes ice sculpting your preferred artistic medium for activism?

LIGORANO: Ice is a very tangible and accessible material for people to wrap their brains around because they can physically touch it. They really like to interact with the ice. Ice sculpting is also a time-based art, as ice is a material that will disappear. There is the whole poetry behind that that’s of interest.

REESE: Well first, we call them “temporary monuments.” I think we live in a temporal time, more than making a statue of somebody on a horse with a sword in hand. Our time is about things in flux. I think that using a material that’s both solid and ephemeral makes sense and is appealing. Also, the forces at work in the world right now are not visible, so I think that this makes visible things that are beyond apprehension.

WPJ: This installation is the first ice sculpture you have created about an issue directly related to the environment. How does it feel to be working with a medium so closely related to the topic you’re protesting?

LIGORANO: I do think that this is what Marshall’s saying, that it’s facile to work with ice and to take it in this direction, but that in another way, in terms of public art, this really connects to the masses in a way that we may never be able to connect to in a situation where there’s hundreds of thousands of people interacting with art.

REESE: I think it makes a lot of sense. If it wasn’t this phrase, I don’t think I would have done it. We could have done “Earth.” We also could have done “Polar Ice Cap,” but those are too obvious a connection. But to really suggest that it’s “The Future” that’s disappearing, that makes it something different.

(Photo above taken approximately 7 hours into the melting process)

WPJ: What suggestions would you make to people who are looking to develop more of a commitment to environmental sustainability?

LIGORANO:  There’s only so much recycling that we can do. We can do the simple things and they are important, but the really important thing is to change policy and to talk globally. Grassroots and local initiatives are good, but there is this whole other aspect that this march brings out that is a global voice. 

REESE: People need to be more vociferous and active in making our leaders take this seriously. When you think that for over a decade the Bush administration and corporations like Exxon spent millions and millions of dollars to suggest that the science around this problem was not real or subject to dispute, this is unconscionable. A lot of time was lost to make the world more sustainable.

WPJ: You are using numerous different social media platforms to broadcast this event in real-time. What do you envision will happen online both now as the event is taking place as well as afterward?

LIGORANO: Every time we do these projects, we have more and more outreach in terms of social media. This is the most sophisticated it’s ever been. I think it is a great way to go viral and spread the word, and have people talking about these issues. If they’re not able to be here, it brings them in to a virtual community.

REESE: We want to broaden the message. We want to create the possibility for people to comment on what an artwork like this suggests or can mean. I would like to think that melting “The Future” can become symbolic for the movement or to create a movement of its own.

Visit MeltedAway to watch a time-lapse video of the installation and to read pieces written by the writers-in-residence.  

To see other artwork done by LigoranoReese, click here.

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Alyssa Stein is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.

[Photos courtesy of Alyssa Stein]

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