What happens when traditional modes of representation fail to communicate urgency, reflect immediacy and represent phenomena that span across vast spatial and temporal scales? How do you document change?
The consequences of sea ice loss stretch globally across the world. Yet, for most people, the Arctic Ocean is a number, diagram or chart depicting temperature, time, and extinction—the negative space framing—but it is very difficult to feel an emotional connection to something abstract, global and already gone.
Project Sea Ice is a process of mapping; a scientific mapping of the Arctic climate system interwoven with my personal mappings of the Arctic Ocean. The goal is to unearth innovative approaches to climate action and education that build bridges between communities, industries, and disciplines and shift the conversation about climate change away from environmental doomism towards the beauty of all there is still left to save.
The history of polar exploration is replete with descriptions of the Arctic as a barren, blank space—a tabula rasa—onto which personal and national identities are projected and inscribed; it is an empty space to conquer.
In 1889, Lewis Carroll wrote of a map with the scale of a mile to a mile. Later, the writer Jorge Luis Borges would write of a similar map that was as large as the territory it represented, calling into question Alfred Korzybski’s expression, “the map is not the territory”, precursor to “the painting is not the pipe”. The goal of year-long MOSAiC expedition (2019) was to collect data for improved climate modeling—a type of mapping. It is not pessimistic to say that soon we will be left with the map, the simulated reality, without the actual environment.
Mapping, as defined by making sense of, orienting oneself in a physical, emotional or theoretical landscape, is a critical lens through which questions of representation precipitate. We project our internal landscapes onto external spaces in micro and macro ways; we make marks not just for communication but for orientation; we chose scales of measure to contextualize and inform meaning. Mapping reveals how we inscribe ourselves into the marks we make when outlining previously unmapped terrains. Maps, as author Jen Hill writes, “make legible and articulate invisible spaces of ideology and national subjectivity.”
Questions regarding mapping and representation are paramount to conversations about climate change. From a scientific perspective, we need more data in order to better understand how the changing Arctic impacts our global climate system. From an educational perspective, we need new ways of teaching science and the consequences of our exploitative systems. From an artistic perspective, we need news ways of communicating climate change, and to critically think through how we represent the Arctic, how we share it, since doing so will inevitably frame future conversation about climate change. As Mary Shelly taught us when she sentenced her ill-fated protagonist to chase his creation across the Arctic Ocean, stories leave lasting reflections of our human ambition and the monsters it can make us.
Amy Lauren is an award-winning filmmaker/artist working at the nexus between research, education and artistic practice. Her work pulls focus on elemental stories of water, earth and air. Turned-toward immersive storytelling and new modes of documentary experience to facilitate impactful climate science education, Lauren combines the perceptual and epistemic aspects of scientific observation into experiential, documentary and poetic portraits that call for engagement and participation in the natural world.
The goal is authentic outreach motivated by questions unearthed from the collision of art and science that bridge the gap between lived experience and learned knowledge. Lauren is a graduate of the Interdisciplinary Documentary Media Practices MFA program at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her work has screened nationally and internationally at festivals, planetariums, museums and other venues around the world. Her VR film, The Arctic Halocline, was rated top ten VR films of 2023 and featured on MetaQuest's homepage. Her latest education and public outreach project combining climate science and slow fashion education premiered at NY Fashion Week, 2023.