How to See Climate Change Make Waves in the Art World

Clifford Ross’s “Digital Wave 9” displayed on LED wall. Copyright Clifford Ross

Clifford Ross’s “Digital Wave 9” displayed on LED wall. Copyright Clifford Ross

Spoiler alert: Coal + Ice is not an Instagram art installation. You probably could Instagram it, and you most likely will, but it was not specifically conceived and realized to maximize your hashtag potential. If your excitement level for art is directly proportional to your selfie game, this exhibit may only elicit a single heart-eyed emoji face. But if you want to see something really fucking cool, you need to check it out.

The Coal + Ice Project is a documentary photography exhibition and climate festival coming to San Francisco this fall to amplify the conversation about climate change. It features the work of over 40 photographers and video artists from around the world, visually narrating the consequences of the continued use of fossil fuels and following the trajectory of climate change across the Earth. 

The highlight of the exhibit is the debut of Light Waves II, a new digital art installation from Clifford Ross. Ross's work is composed of two 18 foot x 18 foot LED walls, which will play a five minute video program made up of five different works. Each computer-generated wave in the video contains over 3,000,000 dots, which are displayed on the 1,982,464 LED bulbs that make up each wall. The videos that open each cycle, Wave 9 and Wave 11, were directly inspired by Jackson Pollock and Morris Louis.

Light Waves II is entirely computer generated. Ross spent decades creating still photographs of hurricane waves, and became interested in creating a way to capture the movement as well. After discovering that traditional video filming techniques didn't capture waves the way he wanted, he developed a computer animation technique to re-create their movement and power. The photos above and below are still shots from the installation, but you can see it in all its full-motion glory  in September during Coal + Ice.

The U.S. premiere of Coal + Ice in San Francisco—September 4-23 at the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture—is scheduled to coincide with Governor Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit, (convening in the city September 12-14). Coal + Ice—and Light Waves II—will be on display at the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture in Landmark Building C. Hours are Sunday—Thursday, 10am–5pm, Friday, 10am—9pm, and Saturday 10am—6pm. Admission is free, and conveniently timed to overlap with Off the Grid on Friday nights. You know what to do.