Pages from the Frozen Sea is a scattering of photographs of the ways that ice can freeze a moment in time. Against a background of disappearing ice, the gathered photographs explore different ways to hold on to memory and emotion. Is it possible, as ice is melting more quickly than expected, to create a temporary stopgap? A photograph proposes a suspension of an experience, of an emotional state. It’s a suspension of disbelief, as if it might allow us to stop and steady ourselves, and find a way to think straight again (and reimagine the future).
Sarah Stengle and I wanted these explorations of ice to float in a digital sea. We wanted the pages to be fragmented and free, but to be considered a book all the same. We sent out an open call and received submissions from the US, Canada, England, Finland and Germany which we posted to a Facebook and an Instagram page.
Burning carbon is creating exponential change to the climate. Yes, fire and ice have always fought it out on this planet, but we’ve been working on the side of fire all these years now. Fire is winning. It would be wonderful to tell humans to cool it, because the rapid melting of the polar ice caps is terrifying. In the face of extreme weather, of upheaval and chaos, I think we feel frozen in our tracks. Freezing up is its own defense, and we lock down our fear inside ourselves.
Kafka imagines an interior emotional landscape that is trapped in ice. He writes, “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” A book can break through by delivering life-affirming warmth, truth, inspiration, art and craft. You need to be free. Your wellspring needs to flow.
In thinking about extremes of temperature and art, Sarah and I talked about Olafur Eliasson’s glacier melting in Paris, about Andy Goldworthy’s icicles and David Hammons’ sidewalk sale of snowballs. We thought about the decentralized spirit of Yoko Ono’s work, and her instructions to: “use things until they melt.” The material and the moment change completely in the hands of each artist.
Sarah and I are now the caretakers of photos floating in a digital sea, gathering around an idea. It seems to me these floating photos possibly reverse the idea of a glacier fragmenting. Instead of dissipating and becoming less, they have the potential to become more. Maybe our book is a gathering of ice, a growing of ice. If Kafka’s book is an axe, maybe this book of ours is a crystal.
Aylin Green’s photo is of a frame frozen in ice: a freeze frame. It’s a portrait without a face, and darkly I feel I could know it well. There’s something important here, and if only it could be carefully melted, lovingly cared for, it would be revealed. Ice is very personal after all. They call this the Anthropocene age. Our stories are lurking everywhere on this planet, and this planet is lurking everywhere within us too.
Karian Blank seems to be documenting geology and her photo could easily belong in a natural history museum. Photographed in the cold, clear light of day, this specimen tells a prehistoric tale. When I learn that it’s pure invention and that the marks are the imprints of vintage buttons, I have to marvel at the power of stories we tell ourselves. The marks then may be seen as a form of human fossils.
Veronika Irwin’s photo of wire lace frozen in a thin layer of ice is mysterious. She expresses mathematical concepts through delicate lines that gain strength through repeated patterning. Her lines are vulnerable and loopy and yet they suggest strength and a quiet musicality. They prove a logic capable of replicating themselves ad infinitum. Inhabiting a pale light, for the moment, they bubble with possibility.
Sarah and I have felt our imaginations stretched as we viewed these and the many other submissions we received. As artists ourselves, we too have been creating ice pages. Sarah’s art is always alert to the drama that occurs when strangely ordinary materials come into relationships with one another. In her photo, there are what look like nails scattered on the floor of what could be an invented ice cave. I see elements of rough construction work below contrasted with finely crafted and futuristic-looking angles above. What Sarah was doing was not quite what I am seeing. Her method was simple but not obvious: she recorded what happened to blue ink, water, straight pins and the force of a magnet in freezing temperatures. Nature had a hand in creating her fiction.
My process was to freeze a photograph from a magazine into a chunk of ice, leaving the image trapped in a stubborn form (see picture at the top of the page). An image of snow-covered trees appears, as if it were a mirroring of beautiful surroundings, but it’s only a torn sheet of paper. An illusion. I don’t know if Kafka’s axe needs to break it open to reveal its emotions.
Sarah and I will keep growing our crystalline book of ice when we announce another open call for 2018. The form may change in a year’s time. The weather may change. This winter there were not enough cold days in Sarah’s Minneapolis or my New Jersey to freeze our art outside and, anti-heroically, our explorations happened in our kitchen freezers. This year was an El Nino year, and so our hope is that next winter will be colder. Pages from the Frozen Sea needs more cold to come together.
Eva Mantell is co-curator with Sarah Stengle of Pages from the Frozen Sea. Other curating projects include Start Fresh at the Arts Council of Princeton and Windows of the Future at Carrier Clinic, NJ. Eva’s artwork has been exhibited at the Hunterdon Museum, Jersey City Museum, the Brooklyn Museum of Art and in ongoing projects with the arts collective Overflow. Upcoming exhibits include Natura Mathematica at Central Booking, NYC and Animal Architecture at the Monmouth Museum, NJ. Eva has a BA from Penn and MFA from the School of Visual Arts and lives in Princeton, NJ.