“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950’s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.” IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Report, Geneva, Switzerland, Summary for Policymakers,1.1.p.2

Our landscape is restless and a storm is coming. In 1940 Walter Benjamin prophetically wrote about the ‘angel of history’ who faces the past while wreckage upon wreckage is thrown at his feet. History is a pile of debris that we see as a series of events but the angel sees it as one single catastrophe. The angel would like to stop to fix or make whole what has been smashed. However a storm is blowing from paradise blowing him backwards into the future. This storm is called Progress.1

The image of the angel watching our historic debris pile high unable to act as he is being propelled backwards has a strong poetic and visual resonance. The hindsight of history only serves if you do not repeat what has gone before, however the IPCC has analysed the past, like the angel, and has gazed into our future issuing predictions and projections. Our debris is reaching to the heavens and this storm is an extreme weather event with no signs of abating.

RISING WATERS is an ongoing project that utilises data from the National Tide Centre and the IPCC 5th report 2013, to construct mean sea levels documenting current and future sea levels. Projected rises of CO2 levels in the atmosphere with concentrations from 700-1500 parts per million is predicted for 2100, currently we are above 400 parts per million. The timber markers are a tangible and visual cue showing increases of mean sea levels if green house gases continue to be released into the atmosphere unabated.

Acknowledging science data and creating a visual form allows each marker to act as a visual prompt, making a global phenomenon visible at a human scale. Minimal in form and aesthetically calming in colour, the markers are anything but innocuous as they symbolise ocean acidification, warming, loss of species and habitat offering a simple visual warning.

  1. Benjamin,Walter.1969.Illuminations,ed.Hannah Arendt, trans.Harry Zohn (New York) Schocken Books cited in Haynes, Deborah J.1997.The Vocation Of The Artist. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press,p.224.

Heather Hesterman, Lab-14, Carlton Connect

RISING-Port Phillip is an art intervention in the form of a series of timber markers displaying current and future Melbourne sea water levels placed temporarily in Melbourne environs; schools, businesses, public spaces and private residences. Each marker acts as a visual cue showing the rise of mean sea levels if green house gases continue to be released into the atmosphere unabated. By 2100 if CO2 levels are 700-1500 parts per million, (currently they are above 400ppm), mean sea levels are projected to rise in the order of 52-98 cms. (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 5th report 2014).

The markers make a global phenomenon visible at a human scale, prompting a response and generating conversation about the dramatic effects of rising sea levels on coastline communities around the world.

This art project was part of Creative Spaces Lab-14 Residency, Carlton Connect and supported by the City of Melbourne.

IMAGE sea level marker at Point Gellibrand, Williamstown 2017

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