PROVIDENCE — Ice in Greenland is melting faster than it has in 400 years, the journal “Geophysical Research Letters” reported in March, a dangerous development. A gorgeous and troubling show at Brown University’s David Winton Bell Gallery, “33°/ Olaf Otto Becker, Jacob Kirkegaard, Camille Seaman” takes viewers to the dwindling, otherworldy Arctic landscape.
Jewel-like photographs of icebergs surround Kirkegaard’s womblike sound installation, “Isfald (Icefall).” The space is almost completely dark. Speakers beneath the floor rumble with thunderous sounds of glaciers calving, like a keening mammoth. In the real world, hear this and you’d run.
Then: The plop of a water drop, a crunchy gurgle of ice against slushy ice. These intimate, moist, almost bodily noises feel close to the surface, unlike the calving, which seems to echo deep below. Both sounds signal the thaw, but pitch and texture juxtapose the epic and personal and bring a big, abstract process into focus.
Ice holds the light in uncanny ways. Photographs by the three artists, and photomurals installed around campus by them and others, are luminous. The massive, craggy berg that rises from the calm green sea in Seaman’s “Bottoms Up, Qassiarsuq, Greenland, September 2009” glows with fiery blue light; it seems more a mystical presence than a block of ice.
In a chilly counterpoint to a sunny spring day, one of the murals, James Balog’s “Greenland Ice Sheet, 28 June 2009, Adam Le Winter surveys Birthday Canyon,” depicts limpid turquoise water snaking through a snowy crevasse. A tiny figure pauses at the canyon’s edge. The landscape could swallow him up.
But in Becker’s “Point 660, 2, 08/2008, 67°09’04’’N, 50°01’58’’W, Altitude 360m” several tourists bumble about on the tundra, snapping pictures. They look as if they have blithely barged into a place they don’t belong. It could be a parable for humanity’s relationship to Earth: boldly going where no one has gone before, discovering untold beauty, and trashing the place in the process.
33°/ Olaf Otto Becker, Jacob Kirkegaard, Camille Seaman
At David Winton Bell Gallery, Brown University, 64 College St., Providence, through May 27. 401-863-2932, www.brown.edu/bellgalleryCate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.