Ice Chess examines the Arctic crisis and inspires viewers and participants to reflect on the situation up north. A map of the Arctic with its indigenous peoples is printed on a chessboard with pieces cast out of ice. Inside the pieces are toy soldiers and that represent the players in the emerging “battle” of the Arctic—the political and industrial figures that have big stakes in oil and shipping that stand to gain from melting ice and the emerging maritime routes as a result, and the pawns that represent the countries that will be affected by sea level rise and that are sacrificed in order to achieve these goals.
In these urgent times, now is not the time to romanticize the Melt. In a game with high stakes, who is responsible? On the edges of the board are freestanding soldiers and figures that represent observer countries and other affected nations, and anonymous figures that represent globally concerned distributed people. The battle is on, and we are all watching with bated breath. Ice Chess uses art and science to interrogate, to speak truth to power, to point to the powerful entities who are primarily responsible for what is affecting the whole planet.
Chess is one of the oldest skill games in the world and has been played for over 5000 years. Chess spread around the world through colonization and trade. The objective of chess is to trap the king—to checkmate him—and it wins the game. Chess is historically played by the wealthy. In this project, it references wealth inequality, one of the systemic causes of climate change.
Chess is metaphorical of how humanity has treated nature—as a game of strategy where we seek to exploit it and each other. It takes this further by actually melting the project with the aid of the players—a reference to how we collectively have caused the Arctic to melt and how we can also put a stop to it.
This game does not intend to pit one human being against the other (or one country against the other), which risks oversimplification. Rather, each player represents a set of alternative possibilities that, when the game is played, clash to produce permutations of consequences. In the game, players and the audience are allowed to view the many entanglements that a wicked problem such as the Arctic crisis can provide.
A primary reason for economic interest in the Arctic is the emerging Northern Sea Route, which will connect Western Europe and Asia. This could make shipping up to 14 days faster than the southern route via the Suez Canal. In 2018, the Venta Maersk, owned by Maersk Line and carrying 3,600 containers, successfully set sail from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg—the first container ship to tackle the Arctic sea route north of Russia.
The Chessboard & The Pieces
The board is a map of the Arctic labeled with indigenous communities, seas, emerging shipping routes—all of these will be names we would hear more about in the coming decades. This map represents the battleground where a literal and figurative cold war is already happening.
The powerful row of pieces—the king, queen, bishop, knight, and rook—represent the Arctic Council nations: Russia, USA, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Canada, and Denmark. The row of pawns represent countries around the world that are and will be most affected by sea level rise. Surrounding the board are Arctic Council observer countries, other nations affected by sea level rise, and anonymous figures that represent globally distributed concerned people.
Climate Change & the Great Lakes
The Great Lakes contain 5,500 cubic miles of freshwater, one of the biggest freshwater resources of the world. It supports more than 34 million people who live within its Basin. These people rely on the lakes for drinking water, fisheries, recreation, and industry. Climate change is already affecting these ecosystems through extreme weather, decreased crop yields, heat waves and consequent poor air quality, stress on water quality and infrastructure, affected navigation and recreation, and impact on wildlife.
Thank you to curators Mark Valentine Sullivan and Antajuan Scott and the rest of the Science Gallery Detroit team!