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A Trip to a Museum for Convincing Americans About Climate Change

An exhibition in Manhattan is first step in a grand attempt to change the national conversation around global warming

Since January 25, after sunset, the shades on a window-walled gallery in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village have rolled up, and the sidewalk outside has been cast in a cool, blue glow. The color comes from a four-and-a-half-hour-long video of ice cores. Inside the gallery, scanned images of samples from the Greenland Ice Sheet are on a continuous loop, representing 110,000 years of accumulation. Watching the footage gives the impression of descending through the ice core and into the past.

The video, 88 Cores, is a new work by the Los Angeles artist Peggy Weil. It’s accompanied by a selection of Weil’s still images of ice-core samples from the National Ice Core Lab in Lakewood, Colorado. Like rings on a tree, the samples have slightly curved bands—the mummification of eons of dust, debris, ash, and moisture. An ambient score by the composer Celia Hollander matches the feeling of the descent in the video with a “downward sloping glissando drone,” as the gallery’s wall text describes it.

The exhibition is the inaugural show of the country’s first climate museum. Housed at the Parsons School of Design, the museum—for now—only consists of the gallery on the corner of 13th Street and Fifth Avenue. After garnering a lot of attention when its founding director Miranda Massie announced the museum’s incorporation in 2015, its first public offering has opened with little fanfare. This is in part because Massie is testing the potential audience for the museum, but also because she’s experimenting with the delicate balance of its content. When she was introduced to Weil through a friend and saw images of 88 Cores, she thought it would not only complement the airy confines of the Parsons gallery, but would also, more importantly, affect people emotionally.

“Hockey stick” graphs have their place, but won’t move the masses to create a “climate citizenship,” says Massie. “88 Cores is a deep dive into one of the aspects of climate change that makes it so hard to grapple with, which is its immense scale. There’s something about trying to encompass the long, deep arc of climate’s time, of Earth’s time, that makes you more aware of the need to act with urgency in this moment.”

photo by Zaria Forman . 'Whale Bay, Antarctica No.4,' soft pastel on paper