Our Time in Ice reflects on a fragile spring at Brighton's ONCA Gallery

By Mary Stevens | 01 May 2013

Exhibition review: Our Time In Ice, ONCA Gallery, Brighton, until May 31 2013

A photo of a sign bearing various climate change slogans
As spring finally wins the struggle against icy winds, Brighton’s ONCA gallery curates a creative response to climate change. Our Time in Ice aims to bring us closer to understanding Arctic landscapes and life, using collaborative artwork and events to communicate the impact of Arctic ice melt on us.

This is the second exhibition at ONCA (One Network for Conservation and the Arts), a registered charity drawing on a global network while working with local people, institutions and business to bring art, conservation and community together.

The frost-themed frontage is inspired by the thoughts of children from Brighton’s Balfour primary school on melting glaciers.  The gallery window glass is layered with words reflecting the laminate structure of the Arctic ice, but actually created from salvaged Perspex.

Entering on a gloomy day, eyes are drawn to the most immediately striking work: Gold Dust by Dario Vargas. This portrait, of a glacial blue sea and skyscape painted in oil on metal sheet, shines and reflects light in the way ice might, subtly changing according to perspective.

A small bronze polar bear sculpted by Alison Bell, precariously balanced on the edge of a crumbled block of alabaster, encompasses the fragility of the Arctic ecosystem. Titled On the Brink, it is unimposing and almost overlooked, bringing to mind how the predicament of the distant Arctic environment is at risk of neglect.

Other works include sea themed prints paired with the eco-poetry of Susan Richardson and a commissioned mixed media collage, Arctic Meltdown, by Dafila Scott – the granddaughter of polar explorer Sir Walter Scott.

In the cave-like basement, an evocative video installation, Ruth Le Gear’s Alchemical Waters, is projected.

Twelve minutes of ice melting, light melding and sky mirrored in water is calming and meditative on one level. But coupled with knowledge of the potential impacts of melting ice, it becomes quietly threatening.

Expedition photographs of human visitors intruding on glacial spaces serve to juxtapose this. One of them, Siobhan Davies’ Dance Troupe, depicts a column of prominent art world figures trooping in line over a pristine icescape, like a column of ants crossing a sugar bowl.

The striking simplicity of the images in Our Time in Ice belies the complexity of the systems that have sustained them throughout the ages, and the risks to us of their unravelling.

The contemporary relevance of this has been confirmed by meteorlogical specialists, who recently attributed our stunted spring to changing air and water temperatures caused by ice melt.

Emerging from the exhibition into a temperate spring, we are left reflecting on the fragility of all our times.

  • Onca Gallery, St George's Place, Brighton. Open 12pm-7pm (11am-6pm Saturday and Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday). Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @ONCAnetwork.

More pictures:

A photo of a painting of a waterfall over arctic ice

A photo of the inside of a small gallery
A photo of a group of children looking out the window of a gallery
© Simon Bottrell
A photo of blocks of ice on an arctic sea at night
A photo of a painting of a tribal man

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