Melting Into Darkness: "A World Without Ice" at Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum


A World Without Ice

All A World Without Ice photos by Christopher Porter.

"It's making me uncomfortable but it's relaxing, too."

My kid's succinct review of A World Without Ice at Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum likely captures the sensation U-M music professors Michael Gould and Stephen Rush, along with Dutch electronic-media artist Marion Tränkle, had in mind when they created their multimedia installation with climate scientist and U-M professor emeritus Henry Pollack (co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore). 

Pollack's book A World Without Ice inspired the exhibit, which artfully illustrates through sound, music, and visuals the glaciers melting and asks us to consider our role in their disappearance.

Rush created a dark, ambient composition that drones discretely in the background as Tränkle's film -- featuring Pollack and associate's gorgeous images of the Arctic and Antarctic -- plays on a curved screen. But as you sit in the blackened room and your ears tune-in to Rush's music, the soothing and menacing tones are punctuated by the seven floor-tom drums arced around the front of the exhibit. (Presumably, seven toms for the seven continents, all of which will be affected by climate change.)

A World of Ice

Above the drums, Gould has suspended ice domes that melt and spill onto the toms, which have each been tuned to a different pitch. As the water randomly pours from the ice dome's flat colanders, it feels like a prolonged stab into the heart of Rush's atmospherics, heightening the room's tension. Chimes might even join in to signify the Earth's highest temps, joining the overall visage like a Greek chorus commenting on the scene.

But when the water stops streaming, your eyes might jump back to the stunning pictures in the film, and you start to feel more relaxed while getting lost in the images once again.

The peace won't last long, though: The exhibit's ice never stops melting, just as the glaciers will never stop rapidly decaying unless radical climate change efforts are implemented immediately. Ultimately, the room is a quiet protest against governments who treat global warming with skepticism or outright denial instead of absorbing the undeniable science that proclaims the Earth is on fire.

A World Without Ice

A World Without Ice is a small part of the overall experience at Hands-On Museum, which is a tremendous resource in Ann Arbor. While the exhibit competes for children's attention amid the museum's cool science playthings, kids will still get something out of seeing A World Without Ice, whether it's learning about climate change and recycling or just sitting there and taking in the sights and sounds.

They might even find the whole thing simultaneously relaxing and uncomfortable. You certainly will.

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.

"A World Without Ice" runs through January 5 at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.