The eerie beauty of nature: The Edge of the Earth

Unsettling soprano vocals echo throughout the main entrance of the Ryerson Image Centre. Along the wall is a long screen showcasing Paul Walde’s Requiem for a Glacier, a definite standout piece at The Edge of the Earth: Climate Change in Photography and Video, an art exhibit dealing with the issues of climate change.

Upon entering the exhibit, Walde’s piece, a combination of music and video, is the first piece to be experienced. It features footage of a choir and orchestra performing an oratorio—a musical composition for a large group—to the empty vastness known as the Jumbo Glacier in British Columbia, which, in 2013, was an area approved by the B.C. government to install a ski resort on. Walde composed the four-movement oratorio in opposition of this decision.

“We are plunged through this video into this absolutely sublime, in the artistic sense of the term, kind of 18th-century idea of the beauty and terror of nature,” explained Merriam Kagan, a volunteer and tour guide for the exhibit.

“The beauty and terror of nature” could serve as a slogan for the entire Edge of the Earth exhibit.

Guest-curated by Montreal-based art historian Dr. Bénédicte Ramade, the exhibit features several artists with a collection of mostly photography and film.

The exhibition, while undeniably full of creativity and knowledge, has constant eerie undertones. The dark possibility of imminent doom due to climate change is presented to us through an artistic lens, almost “seducing” us into paying attention, as Kagan would say.

“Our roots are kind of political because of who we are,” said Dr. Gaëlle Morel, exhibitions curator at the RIC. “We’ve done several political exhibitions in the past, and I thought that it would be interesting to have an exhibition dealing with the topic of climate change and environmental issues through photography and video… how all these different works could dialogue together in the space.”

Morel’s position as an exhibitions curator consists of coming up with the concept of the event itself and working with guest curators, playing a prominent role in bringing The Edge of the Earth to Ryerson.

Though she understands the dark context of the event, Morel explained why it’s important to have these conversations through art as a medium.

“They can be moved or disturbed,” she said. “It’s a difficult subject to grab in terms of the consequences. [Artists] bring something sometimes not as literal as what you can read in a scientific article. With artists, you have more of the aesthetical [sic] and the imaginative realm.”

Aesthetic and imaginative realm would be right, especially with how many pieces and perspectives were involved in the exhibition.

“Artists are interested in this issue and they have different approaches, and when you put them together in the same space, you create something very interesting in terms of interaction with the viewers,” said Morel.

Aside from entertainment and observation, exhibits of this kind are inspirational and educational. One can walk away feeling as though they’ve enjoyed something, but also have absorbed something useful, which Morel says is an important mixture.

“It touches upon something different in the viewers than what you can’t get in school or if you read a newspaper,” she explained.

“It’s a way to question yourself, to be entertained in a smart way…it’s really about how art and education work together. We’re very privileged to have the museum like ours on campus.”

The exhibition is a prime example of learning something for the greater good even if the subject matter is uncomfortable or is exposed in a difficult way. As observers, we are forced to look at our own reality head on, and the art doesn’t hold back or shelter the audience.

The Edge of the Earth is currently being showcased at Ryerson until Dec. 4, with daily tours at 2:30 p.m.

Joel Sternfeld, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: Eleventh Session of the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention and First Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, Palais de Congres, Montreal, Canada, 28 November - 9 December, 2005 Robert Kofi Poamfo, Corporate Manager, Forestry Commission, Ghana. From the series When It Changed. Digital chromogenic print © Joel Sternfeld, courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

Joel Sternfeld, United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change:
Eleventh Session of the Conference of the
Parties to the Climate Change Convention
and First Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto
Protocol, Palais de Congres, Montreal,
Canada, 28 November – 9 December, 2005
Robert Kofi Poamfo, Corporate Manager, Forestry Commission, Ghana. From the series When It Changed. Digital chromogenic print © Joel Sternfeld, courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

Paola Pivi, Untitled (Zebras), 2003. Pigment print. Photography by Hugo Glendinning. Courtesy of Galerie Perrotin

Paola Pivi, Untitled (Zebras), 2003. Pigment print. Photography by Hugo Glendinning. Courtesy of Galerie Perrotin

Documentation view of Hicham Berrada’s Celeste, 2014. Photo credit: Amandine Bajou. Courtesy of the artist and kamel mennour, Paris

Documentation view of Hicham Berrada’s Celeste, 2014.
Photo credit:
Amandine Bajou. Courtesy of the artist and kamel mennour, Paris

Adrien Missika , Documentation photograph of Darvaza, Turkmenistan, 2011. Courtesy of the artist

Adrien Missika , Documentation photograph of Darvaza, Turkmenistan, 2011. Courtesy of the artist

Chris Jordan, CF000313: Unaltered Stomach Contents of Laysan Albatross Fledgling, Midway Island, 2009. From the series Midway: Message from the Gyre. Ultrachrome Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist

Chris Jordan, CF000313: Unaltered Stomach Contents of Laysan Albatross
Fledgling, Midway Island, 2009. From the series Midway: Message from the Gyre.
Ultrachrome Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist

Paul Walde, Requiem for a Glacier, 2012–2014. Still from 2-channel video installation with sound. Courtesy of the artist

Paul Walde, Requiem for a Glacier, 2012–2014. Still from 2-channel video installation with sound. Courtesy of the artist

Paul Walde, Requiem for a Glacier, 2012–2014. Still from 2-channel video installation with sound. Courtesy of the artist

Paul Walde, Requiem for a Glacier, 2012–2014. Still from 2-channel video installation with sound. Courtesy of the artist

The Edge of the Earth: Climate Change in Photography and Video
September 14 – December 4, 2016
Guest Curator: Dr. Bénédicte Ramade
Ryerson Image Centre