Artist Refik Anadol brings climate crisis to a scorching Basel with AI-generated glacier installation

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A large-scale projection by the Turkish artist Refik Anadol showing glaciers disappearing across the globe will be presented on the façade of Theater Basel this week (daily until 18 June). “The idea is to draw attention to the glaciers, which are the most inspiring but fragile phenomenon,” says Anadol.

Previous iterations of the publicly accessible work, called Glacier Dreams (2023), were unveiled earlier this year at the Art Dubai fair and at the i Light Singapore festival; the next part is due to be shown at Serpentine in London later this year (November-February 2024).

“The London show will be the conclusion, showcasing the behind-the-scenes process and the datasets used [to create the work]; different glaciers will unfold in the show, from Patagonia to Greenland. [Serpentine artistic director] Hans Ulrich Obrist helped us to fine-tune the work,” says Istanbul-born Anadol.

The artist used algorithms to create the simulation, processing more than 100 million images from online and institutional archives; he also drew upon his own collection of images collected in Iceland, Greenland and Antarctica. “The piece took four years to research; we worked with institutions such as the Iceland Space Agency,” he says.

Parts of the work are also generated by artificial intelligence (AI). “We used an AI model and came up with an inspiring scent formula, evoking the scent of freshwater after a glacier melts,” Anadol says.

He adds: “By the end of the project, we think our AI model can construct many types of glaciers—for example, in Iceland there are 269 glaciers. We have also researched climate data; it will be a scientific tool that can be used by researchers.”

Glacier Dreams was commissioned by the Swiss private bank Julius Baer as part of its arts, science and technology initiative, Next.

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