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RCA PhD Student Takes Exhibition to COP26

Immersive science-art exhibition (@RCA) opens at Glasgow Science Centre (@gsc1) for #COP26 

The Polar Zero exhibition opens 2 October at Glasgow Science Centre

A new immersive art exhibition, Polar Zero, opens at Glasgow Science Centre this weekend  (2 October), injecting an artistic and cultural dimension to the climate negotiations at the  Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26).  

Polar Zero will communicate cutting edge climate research as never before, bringing the  worlds of scientific and arts research together in a unique cross-disciplinary effort. 

Polar Zero, a collaboration between the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC),  British Antarctic Survey (BAS), global engineering and consulting firm Arup and the Royal  College of Art (RCA). 

The Royal College of Art’s Wayne Binitie is an AHRC-funded PhD student and the artist  behind Polar Zero. His work is inspired and informed by the urgent need to address the  climate crisis.  

The centrepieces of the exhibition are: 

  • A cylindrical glass sculpture encasing Antarctic air from the year 1765 – the date that  scientists say predates the Industrial Revolution. 
  • An Antarctic ice core containing trapped air bubbles that reveal a unique record of  our past climate.  

Ice cores are cylinders of ice drilled out of an ice sheet or glacier. They contain information  about past temperature, and many other aspects of the environment. Crucially, the ice  encloses small bubbles of air that contain a sample of the atmosphere – from these it is  possible to measure directly the past concentration of gases (including carbon dioxide and  methane) in the atmosphere. 

The 1765 Antarctic air sculpture encases an air sample extracted from an Antarctic ice core  and preserved forever within the sculpture. This air connects us with a pivotal moment in the  Earth’s history, the dawn of the industrial revolution. BAS ice-core laboratories reveal 1765  as a crucial date after which human activity began to fundamentally accelerate the growth of  greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. 

Arup’s engineering expertise was critical to realising Polar Zero. This is the first time that  anyone has attempted to extract ancient air from an ice core and encase it within a glass  sculpture. Exhibiting an ice core without it melting completely is a technical feat that requires 

precise calculations and creative thinking to construct the right level of insulation while still  allowing the visitors to get up close to the ice. 

Visitors to Polar Zero will also experience the sound of ancient air bubbles popping as an  Antarctic Peninsula ice core emerges from an insulated tube. As it drips and melts away it  captures the fragility of the polar ice. Audio recordings of these ancient gases escaping from  ice cores have been incorporated by the artist into a musical soundtrack that evokes the  sense of time ticking away, completing this intimate multi-sensory experience.  

Personal anecdotes, memories and oral testimonies from national and international  scientists and experts whose lived experiences of the Arctic and Antarctic will also be  displayed as part of Polar Zero as a tribute to the science that inspires the artworks. 

Polar Zero is made possible by funding from the Arts & Humanities Research Council.

Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC Executive Chair, says: 

“Polar Zero epitomises the power of the arts and arts research to tackle pressing  contemporary issues such as climate change.  

“It translates crucial but complex scientific research in a way that will resonate deeply and  emotionally with diverse audiences to inspire lasting change.  

“AHRC is proud to support this ground-breaking exhibition which demonstrates what can be  achieved when the arts and sciences come together.” 

Artist and AHRC-funded RCA PhD student, Wayne Binitie said:  

“About five or six years ago I formed a unique relationship with BAS and Arup. 

“Our collaboration involves artistic creativity, ice core science and advanced engineering.  

“It’s my hope that people who experience these works will gain a better understanding of  humanity’s impact on the natural environment and its climate systems.” 

BAS Glaciologist Dr Robert Mulvaney says: 

“Our ice core research reveals the human impact on our climate. This research collaboration  with Wayne will, I hope, encourage people to think about the past, present and future.  

It has been a journey of discovery for artist, scientist and engineers, involving high levels of  creativity that I’ve found very exciting. Exchanging ideas in the ice core lab or over a coffee  was stimulating and I hope that people visiting Polar Zero get a sense of that.  

“Antarctic ice is an archive of the Earth’s hidden climate history. The skill of the artist is in  helping us tap into human emotion to provoke curiosity, action and hope for the future.” 

Dame Jo da Silva, Global Sustainable Development Leader, Arup says: 

“Art is very important because it can encapsulate a lot of complexity.  

“With a subject like climate change – which is so incredibly complex – we need to engage  emotionally. 

“When you look at a piece of art that has been stimulated by climate change, it sets your  mind turning over and you contemplate things in a different way.” 

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