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Provoking new responses to the climate crisis

Circular discs of ice
Ice Floor, Wayne Binitie 2019
Photographer: Wayne Binitie
RCA research student Wayne Binitie’s artworks appeal to the emotional and the sensual, prompting viewers to think differently about the complex issues surrounding the climate crisis.

Ice, water, vapour

Three people look at an installation of ice cores
Ice Floor, Wayne Binitie
Photographer: Nicola Webb @nicola_picture_poetry
Wayne’s exhibition Ice Floor at Phase 2, Arup, featured ice cores extracted from the Antarctic and transported to London with the help of Arup and The British Antarctic Survey. Through the course of the exhibition they existed in three states – solid, liquid and gas – taking viewers on a journey from tangible presence to absence.

A specially built temperature controlled room kept the ice cores in their frozen state. The temperature was then allowed to rise in order to reflect the vulnerability of polar ice to warming cycles and rapid disappearance. ‘A significant aspect of the ethics of the installation’ Wayne explained, was that ‘the energy used for the exhibition was sourced from a supplier offering a 100 per cent renewable tariff scheme’.

Letting the ice speak

Detail of bubbles in ice sculpture
Ice Floor - detail, Wayne Binitie
Photographer: Wayne Binitie
Wayne’s work aims to collapse time and space making issues that seem distant become intimate. ‘Glacial water has its own meaning, its own agency and voice’ he suggests. ‘Within the work there are multiple points of entry. This allows a complexity and volatility of narrative around the climate crisis.’ 

The work also features an audio soundtrack made from recordings of air leaving the ice as it melts. ‘The history written within the ice escapes or is revealed when it melts’ Wayne explained. ‘Through the gases that are trapped within the ice, unspoken histories and stories can be discovered.’

For Wayne it is important for the viewer to be a co-creator of meaning in the work, navigating their own way through complex narratives. ‘Science is associated with data, facts and graphs. Presentations of this kind of information can block entry points into the issues. I’m interested in creating material encounters with artworks that might prompt people to think differently or from a fresh perspective.’ The value of data, he claims, is about what you do with it.

Collaborations and support

A person puts their hand into an ice sculpture
Ice Floor, Wayne Binitie
Photographer: Nicola Webb @nicola_picture_poetry
Before starting at the RCA, Wayne initially contacted the British Antarctic Survey. ‘I felt that I had a shared interest with their areas of expertise. I started by having tenuous conversations with them at the same time as applying for the RCA. When I was offered a place on a research degree here, that opened up the possibilities for a collaboration.’

Wayne’s work not only aims to bring scientific research and data to life, it also relies on science and engineering to be made. Through Arup and the British Antarctic Survey Wayne has gained access to the engineering and expertise to realise his ambitions for the exhibition. ‘In the exhibition people could touch and hold history as it is disappearing. I needed science and engineering to make that happen.’

There were also unexpected results of creating the work, creating an understanding that was only possible through staging the exhibition. ‘One of the most striking and unexpected things about the exhibition was that due to the lack of moisture in the room, the water changed directly from a solid to a gas without going through the liquid phase in a process called sublimation. Towards the end of the exhibition we switched the coolers off. This finally allowed visitors to experience 20,000 year old glacial water in its liquid state.’

Researching as an artist at the RCA

A photograph of an iceberg with blue sky above
Wayne Binitie
At the RCA Wayne’s research is supervised by Peter Kennard – an artist and political activist – and Professor Rebecca Fortnum, an artist and academic who was recently a Visiting Research Fellow in the Creative Arts at Merton College, Oxford University.

‘From them I get the best of both worlds’ Wayne stated. ‘I feel I’m being hammered from both ends of the spectrum. They are always pulling me up, and making sure my work has rigour. They ask things like “who are you to speak for the ice?” They have given me the tools to navigate issues and go into depth, which in turn has introduced a greater degree of subtlety to my work.’

An important aspect of researching at the RCA has also been discussions with peers and support from the wider academic body. ‘The RCA encouraged me in continuing with the project’ Wayne explained. ‘Studying here gave me the confidence to apply for an AHRC studentship to support my research, which has been essential in enabling me to carry on with my work and research.’

New perspectives on the climate crisis

Two glass sculptures that look like lumps of ice
Wayne Binitie
Photographer: Nicola Webb @nicola_picture_poetry
When Wayne initially started his research, he was interested in making something permanent from what is disappearing, using glass and sculpture as a way to respond to the shapes and forms of ice that were being lost. The emphasis of his work has now shifted and he is interested in the idea of accumulated histories as well as disappearance. 

Working closely with scientists and engineers is a key part of this process. However, Wayne suggests the gap between art and science is not as wide as people might think. ‘Between art, science and engineering there is a perceived rupture, or divide, that I just don't see. Scientists make decisions by making creative interpretations of the information and data that they gather. Thinking artistically and laterally is needed to connect the dots. A foundation of facts enables imaginative thinking to find solutions or new interpretations.’

Find out more about student research at the RCA in the School of Arts & Humanities.

More information about the Ice Floor exhibition can be found here.