(Copenhagen)—Thank you Niels Heilberg for hosting the first Arctic Ice Chess tournament in your boat, the beautiful MS Arno, as well as these first images and video! The game was played by Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, lecturer at the Institute for Strategy at the Danish Ministry of Defence Academy, and the environmental activist and candidate for mayor, Gorm Gunnarsen. The tournament, played in between Denmark’s Climate Week and Art Week, was a draw, which feels very metaphorical of the Arctic crisis. Thank you, Niels, as well as curator Malou Solfjeld and Copenhagen arts organisation SixtyEight Art Institute, for supporting this work. It takes a village! I’m happy for the conversations this work is generating, and look forward to future tournaments that SixtyEight ArtInstitute will be hosting in the weeks to come. Follow their IG for more!
Text and images by Niels Heilberg: Art week ombord 🎨🌍🧊
Vi var i går vært for kunstværket Arctic Ice Chess skabt af den filippinske kunstner @catherinesarahyoung. Under kurator @malousolfjelds kyndige vejledning spillede klimaordfører for Enhedslisten Gorm Anker Gunnarsen med forsvarets Arktis-ekspert Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen et spil om klimaet og verdens stigende vandstande, altimens skakbrikkerne smeltede og der blev diskuteret politik og udvekslet erfaringer.
A quick shout out to my friends in Copenhagen who are organizing the Arctic Ice Chess tournament starting tomorrow! This is the first time this game will be played, and fittingly, it will premiere in one of the Arctic Council nations. I am so thrilled this is happening and happy it is being cared for by curator Malou Solfjeld and the team at SixtyEight Art Institute. Art can provide engaging spaces for us to discuss challenging things, and so I hope you have fun with the game while discussing serious climate issues in the Arctic and beyond.
Kudos as well to the previous residencies who hosted me as I was developing this game, namely China Residencies and Saari Residence, and the UNSW Design Futures Lab for their assistance as I was shipping the work.
On Saturday 25 September, SixtyEight invites you to view a chess tournament on the subject of climate change, which will be initiated in the Copenhagen Harbour; and as part of the curatorial research project Memoirs of the Abyss: Three Ecologies and More, curated by Malou Solfjeld.
The first Arctic Ice Chess match will take place on the prow of the MS Arno, docked at Langebrogade 1C, Saturday 25 Sept. at 12.00-14.00.
The artwork Arctic Ice Chess is a project created by the Philippine artist Catherine Sarah Young; where plastic toy soldiers are frozen in ice cubes and take up positions as standard chess pieces; and where the ice pieces melt as this classic strategy game unfolds throughout the playing period.
The first game will be played by Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, lecturer at the Institute for Strategy at the Danish Ministry of Defence Academy; versus the environmental activist and candidate for mayor, Gorm Gunnarsen. And as the melting chess pieces move throughout their match, both will discuss issues related to the world’s rising sea levels and geopolitical and economic interests emerging in the Arctic region.
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
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!