Here are several photos of the Mt. Waddington Reliquary, installed at Francine Seders Gallery Oct 11, 2013 to November 2, 2013. See the previous post for a description of the fabrication and inspiration behind this piece.
In Medieval and Renaissance Europe, reliquaries were created to house a relic, usually a body part of a saint. Many cultures have a version of this; Buddhist stupas hold the bones of lamas and rempoches, Greek tombs held vials of blood, even the Egyptian pyramids are a form of reliquary. The relics are recognized as sacred and honored as such.
I am fascinated with the idea of Geomancy (literally “foresight by earth”), an ancient belief system that assumes the earth holds an immense tome of wisdom. Scientists interpret geologic samples like rocks, plant matter and ice cores to understand our past and predict our future – much like priests and shamans have done for millennia. Metaphorically, these samples are sacred objects offering us a deeper insight into the physical world.
I visited the Mt Waddington Ice Core field camp in British Columbia in 2010 (read about that journey here). That experience, as well as journeys to Antarctica and other Northwest glaciers, Inspired me to create an immersive art installation that captures a sense of the scale and frailty of these environments as well as visually convey some of the insights this science is yielding. I built the Mt Waddington Reliquary as a permanent record of this research and as a study for developing the exponentially larger WAIS Divide Reliquary.
I fabricated the relics as a visiting artist in the ISOLAB at the University of Washington. They offered access to small samples of water from the ice cores that are left over after isotope testing. It has been invaluable to have their input and support on this project.
The “relics” are really ampules, made from lab glass tubing, cut and sealed, containing 0.20ml of water from each meter of the ice cores. There are 142 ampules corresponding to the 142 meters of ice drilled. I made each tube by first cutting lab glass into short lengths, sealing one end and firing them in a kiln to bake on the numbers.
Each tube was then filled with a small sample of water from each meter of the core. This water is left over after analysis takes place. Even so, I carefully followed lab procedures to eliminate the possibility of cross contamination that could alter the isotope ratios.
Finally, I melted the open end with an oxygen/gas torch. There was a bit of a learning curve to properly seal the tubes, but I eventually figured out a process to completely seal the ampules. The Mt Waddington ampules are contained within a reliquary that I made with bookbinding board, silver leaf and a small topaz to mark the drill site.
I also made 142 silk organza “ice core” tubes that will hang at eye level to define a large circle, creating a sanctuary for the reliquary. Each tube is ten centimeters in diameter by one meter long that I printed with a high resolution scan of one of the core sections. They are a full scale model of the entire Mt Waddington Ice Core.
I am excited to announce that the first installation of this sculpure will be at Francine Seders Gallery, opening this October 11, 2013, until November 2, 2013. Sound Artist Steve Peters has made a beautiful 8 channel sound piece using recordings that he made during a hike to the Easton Glacier on Mt Baker.
Special thanks to Peter Neff; Eric Steig; Andy Schauer and Kyle Samek at the ISOLAB; and Angel St Teresa, who interned with me in 2012 and assisted me in printing and finishing the organza tubes.
All photos – Anna McKee
Last month I attended the annual WAIS Divide Ice Core Project Science Meeting to give a presentation of my artwork. It was a fascinating experience to be in a room full of about 100 of the most distinguished ice core scientists and graduate students in the United States and reassuring to see the rigor, integrity and brilliance these folks bring to climate science research. Their primary agenda is to more fully understand glaciers and the dynamics that drive global climate processes. Having worked around these folks for the past several years, I can say that there is a high level of self monitoring and critique. Even minor discrepancies in data are scrutinized thoroughly, only the most ironclad conclusions ever make it through their review and are published.
I was honored to give a short presentation about my art project to this crowd. It was a nice milestone to summarize the past several years, researching and developing artwork about ice cores and glaciers. It was even more nice to get a genuinely interested response to the presentation. They were glad to have an artist show up interested in their work. But also, I think that my images and story offered a unique view to their work, just as their research gave me new insight into my work. To have this cross communication was one of my primary goals and satisfying.
After returning from the conference, I jumped back into the studio, madly getting the paintings and prints ready for exhibitions at Francine Seders Gallery and the Gage Academy of Art. It is a bit difficult to shift gears from creating new images, to the various tasks involved in preparing for two shows and public presentations. I have so much more to explore with this work and part of me wants to stay buried in the studio to wander in the big white and clear spaces of this subject. But it is also valuable to have the work seen, to brave the public’s response – whatever that may be. It will be interesting to have that perspective, however, I look forward to the next year, making more prints about the WAIS Divide field camp and creating a catalog with stories and images of this journey.
I just returned from an amazing journey into the heart of the British Columbia Coast Range. Mt Waddington sits about 15 miles inland from the inside passage and being the highest peak around, captures a huge amount of precipitation from the Pacific Ocean. This is why Eric Steig (Professor, University of Washington), Doug Clark (Associate Professor, Western Washington University), Peter Neff (graduate student, University of Washington) and a team of other scientists are camped out at 10,000 feet on Combatant Col, directly below the summit. They are there to extract approximately 250 meters of ice from the glacier. This ice will be the first from this region to be analyzed and should offer lots of new information about the climate history of the north pacific, an area without a long record of detailed weather data.
The trip north into the Coast Range took me through a glaciated landscape that looked as if it had recently emerged from under the ice. In fact the land is relatively fresh; the last glacier receded from these valleys less than 13,000 years ago, a blink, geologically speaking. I thought a lot about West Antarctica winding through these valleys. Both of these areas have had ice covering them, are next to a coastline and if (or when) the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melts, it will have an inland water body surrounded by mountain ranges, very similar to the northwest. I began to think about the ice as a shell, covering the earth and suppressing the potential for life. The valleys we drove through felt young and raw.
Once at the White Saddle Ranch, we settled in to wait for good weather and the need for a helicopter trip to bring down ice core from the field camp on the Col. My husband Paul and I spent the next day sketching and made dinner for graduate student Kelley Sterle, who was coordinating logistics and supplies. That night we heard from the field camp that the weather was stable and they had 20 meters of ice core to be taken down to a freezer truck waiting at the Ranch. I was in luck, so began tossing through all my equipment to head up early the next morning. I had to take a full compliment of mountaineering gear in the extremely unlikely event that we would have to climb to a lower elevation (I chose not to contemplate this too deeply). I also took up some sketching supplies and what I hoped would be treats for the research group.
Yes, the helicopter trip was amazing. The exceedingly competent pilot Les pointed out various features as we flew over the valley towards the peaks of the Coast Range, including where he had grown up. The helicopter rose above the green and browns of the lower elevations and into a white and granite land. I was surrounded by glaciers swirling between peaks, broken and cobbled ice falls, steep avalanche slopes striped with crevasses. There were several aqua blue melt lakes glowing in the middle of the scimitar glacier. In about half an hour we crested the edge of Combatant Col, gleaming white in the early morning sun. From our height, the tents of the camp looked like little dots, but the tower of the drill was distinct and I saw several folks waiting at the landing site ready to load the cores drilled the night before.
Camp leader Niki Bowerman gave me a tour and then, like most of the other team, retreated to her tent for much needed rest. Summer daytime temperatures can reach well into the 60’s on the Col, so the team drilled, logged and packed up the cores at night. I set myself up to sketch the two peaks, Combatant and Waddington, that defined the col like two bookends. The other two edges of the Col dropped away steeply to flow down the Scimitar and Tiedemann glaciers creating a slightly bowed table of snow about the size of two football fields. Looking Southwest, dark gray granite spires poked above white and blue and the Homathko Ice Field spread like cheese cake across a range in the distance. To the north, endless peaks floated into the distance. Though not visible, the coast and densely populated Vancouver Island were less than 20 miles away. Unbelievable to me as I contemplated overland travel and listened to avalanches rumble off of Mt Waddington.
To avoid being sunburned to a crisp, I popped back and forth between my solo tent, the group tent and sketching on the snow. I took a short nap and prepped food for dinner, wanting to stay awake for part of the drilling operation. It turned out to be a good idea given the night ahead. Various members of the crew emerged and retreated throughout the day, but at about 7 pm everyone gathered in the group tent looking for coffee and food to prepare for the nights drilling.
Set apart from the camp, the drill tower stood outside, secured by guy wires. A small box housed the motor and controls to raise and lower the cable and drill. This drill has been operating on remote glaciers throughout the world for several decades, though most of the parts have been replaced over that time. It is a simple, but effective design for drilling shallow cores. The seasoned drill operator, Bella, uses experience and finesse to fine tune and troubleshoot variable conditions. The DISC drill used for the WAIS Divide Ice Core Project, on the other hand, must cut through 2 miles of ice, and preserve the ice at a much colder temperature. This state of the art drill is housed inside a metal arch building and is operated remotely using a complex computer program that receives input from multiple sensors mounted on the drill. I admit to feeling biased towards the relatively low-tech machine, as it appeals to my anachronistic tendencies. But I know that it isn’t capable of pulling up ice and atmosphere trapped in the ice sheet 100,000 years ago.
Now back at my studio, I am using my sketches of the peaks and col to create a triptych of drawings. I grapple with the range of scales and tones of white. The glacier landscapes have a beauty that is so frail and a strength that I am incapable of fully grasping. The white and the wind pushes all other thoughts aside. So I work on the images, my goal to convey a tiny glimpse of these astounding places.
A couple of weeks ago, I gave a presentation about the WAIS Divide Ice Core Project for 8th grade art and science classes in the Seattle Public School system. I am grateful to the brainstorming sessions with Heidi Roop, a scientist that I met at the WAIS field camp. She has teaching experience and is a very creative thinker for developing activities for kids to learn about science. Our goal was to have the kids understand how particles and gases get into ice sheets. I also wanted the students to look at patterns and shapes in the core as a launching point for learning about natural processes. Heidi came up with the idea to use marshmallows as the ice and sugar sprinkles for particles. I cut plastic sleeves used to protect florescent bulbs into lengths for the ice core and made wooden “tampers” to form the cores.
The art and science class presentations were a little bit different from each other. I first visited an 8th grade art class at Eckstein Middle School. In this particular class, the kids have chosen to take art as an elective for the entire year so I had a luxurious 1 1/2 hours for our activity. We began by talking about precipitation; visualizing snow falling through the air and what it would encounter on its way to the ground. I then distributed the tubes, “tampers”, and the marshmallows and particles. Each table of 4 kids were instructed to press the particles into marshmallows and add them to the core tubes. As the “crystals” accumulated, they tamped them down to mimic the pressure of more accumulation. At a certain point I yelled out “Volcano” when they were instructed to dump a little pile of Nerd candy to create an ash layer. This turned out to be a very exciting moment; they were very interested in seeing the Nerd layer in the cores they created. The kids then were asked to make drawings of the cores. They blew me away with their talent and focus. I love the variety of the styles. Scroll down to the bottom of this post to see some of their drawings.
The following week I joined Emily Elasky’s 8th grade science classes at Mercer Middle School. There were four classes back to back (whew), with a lunch break in the middle, so I had to make sure everything could be set up and cleaned quickly. Again the kids worked in groups of four students and were predictably agog over the opportunity to do a science project with marshmallows. The students made their cores and were then asked to write responses to several questions: What events in nature would affect the distribution of different particles? How would you test the core to determine the distribution of particles? What could you learn about the climate from testing for particles? The project reinforced several concepts about climate, how glaciers form and how the ice traps particles.
After the activity, I showed them pictures from my journey to Antarctica, talked about the National Science Foundation artists program and showed a video about the drill operations (thanks to Heidi Roop and Thomas Bauska). I wanted the students to see how similar the pursuit of science and art can be and to illustrate the myriad ways that we can all learn more about the world around us. Of course it is impossible to gauge the influence that my visit had on these kids. I know that they rarely get an opportunity to learn about the diverse ways that artists develop ideas. Or to consider the wide range of opportunities that are available for scientists, artists or virtually any occupation. I assumed I would never be able to travel to Antarctica, certainly not to create art. But once I determined that it might be possible, the path to this project opened up for me.
Drawings from Erin Shafkind’s 8th Grade Art Class at Eckstein Middle School