As average global temperatures rise, the Arctic staggers under record ice losses. Many decry the resulting sea level rise, but Peter Handler raises an even deeper question. Arctic ice is a massive ecosystem, accelerating toward collapse. Its demise will have far-reaching ramifications. Polar bears depend on ice for hunting and breeding. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined the bears’ survival is “threatened” by human-induced climate change; indeed, some now drown from exhaustion swimming vast open seas to reach a shrinking ice pack. Their deaths manifest the danger to a host of other plants and animals and – because ecosystems are interconnected – to us from relegating Arctic ice to extinction.
When I use art to talk about climate change, my thinking tends to be fairly concrete. I look at where we are seeing evidence in the world that climate change is something happening now, not something we can put off worrying about until some point in the future.
When I set out to work on this series of pieces, I needed a reference point. What came to mind is the concept of the Canary in the Coal Mine — the sacrificial bird that would die when the air got bad, before humans would even notice, and, by dying, warn that unbreathable air or an explosion was imminent.
As climate change gradually creeps up on us, we tend to adjust to the new normals and do not recognize ongoing events for what they are: signals for us to take heed and to make changes, to stop what we are doing and restore a livable order to our world.
I use here the concept of the Reliquary, a container to save a sacred relic, as a symbol. What we are losing is Arctic Ice, and with it the polar bears.
Artist’s website: http://www.handlerstudio.com