Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas


A Greenland Glacier: The Scale of Climate Change, Photographs by Terry Evans
  • A Greenland Glacier: The Scale of Climate Change, Photographs by Terry Evans
  • 07-Feb-2009 - 24-Mar-2013
  • see Venue records

What’s it like for an artist who has revealed ecological issues in her photographs of the American landscape to turn her attention to one of Greenland’s Glaciers? What can her work bring to that of University of Kansas scientists who are studying the same glacier?

In conjunction with the International Polar Year (March 2007-March 2009) and the exhibition Climate Change at the Poles, the Spencer commissioned Chicago-based artist Terry Evans to make a body of work about Jakobshavn Glacier that would involve the research of KU’s Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS). CReSIS is studying the thickness of the Jakobshavn Glacier over the Greenland landmass to determine the volume of the ice. Throughout her career, Evans has demonstrated an earnest and thoughtful commitment to ecological issues such as water use and land use. She began with a series of photographs taken at CReSIS on the KU campus. The project next took Evans to Ilulissat, Greenland, where she connected with CReSIS and NASA scientists and had access by air and sea to the Jakobshavn Glacier, the Ilulissat Icefjord, and Disko Bay. The resulting work expresses the beauty of the land- and seascapes, the immense but fragile ecosystems that are under threat, and the pragmatic, day-to-day work of the scientists dedicated to extracting and analyzing data from the glacier.

"Before I went to Greenland,” Evans says, “I imagined that my work would be about describing the Jakobshavn Glacier for an audience back home, much like photographer William Henry Jackson did in 1871, when he accompanied Dr. Ferdinand Hayden, geologist to Yellowstone, bringing back gorgeous photographs of that uncharted territory.

“My reality was different. I did aerially photograph, from a helicopter, the ice fjord leading to the calving front of the Jakobshavn Glacier and I did photograph the glacier front and its surface, but what I saw was confusing and frustrating. I could not understand what I was seeing because there were no human markers below me on the ice. I had no sense of scale. Was that chunk of ice twenty stories high or knee high?

“Looking at my pictures at home gave me no clarity. I later learned that the front of the glacier is about 70 meters high, about like a 20-story building. Finally I remembered that the heart of the work that CReSIS is doing is measuring the depth of the glacier and the rate at which it’s melting and thereby being able to predict the rate of climate change and that understanding climate change is a challenging task. My own frustration in trying to understand the scale of the glacier pointed out to me that understanding the scale of climate change is equally difficult."