THe Neon Heater Art gallery
When the Winters Were Still Really Cold
September 13 - October 28, 2018
Usable Space in Milwaukee, WI
Featuring work by:
Clint Sleeper, Misha Rabinovich, Wanda Sullivan, PlantBot Genetics (Wendy DesChene & Jeff Schmuki) and William Lamson
Setting the stage:
More than 100 major wildfires are raging across the American West, including the largest blaze in California’s history. Deadly heat waves around the globe have toppled temperature records from Africa to the Arctic Circle. And torrential storms are battering the East Coast of the United States. (1)
In Bethel, Alaska, walls are splitting, houses are collapsing, and the main road looks like a kiddy rollercoaster. In the coastal town of Kongiganak, sinking cemeteries prevent Alaskans from burying their dead in the ground. The village of Shishmaref, located on an island five miles from the western Alaska mainland, has eroded so much that it is contemplating total relocation. (2)
Hundreds of fjords, their surfaces a mirror of blue sky and cloud bottoms, divide the territory. In the gaps between them, the terrain folds over itself, hill over hill, descending into obsidian lakes. The turf is covered in the waxy pastels of alpine dwarf willows and the dull white of age-bleached lichen. (3)
Hidden about 400 feet inside a mountain on a remote island between mainland Norway and the North Pole, the vault stores valuable seeds from crops all over the world. (4) Encased in permafrost, the earth around the vault that has been frozen for thousands of years was meant to protect the seeds indefinitely. But according to The Guardian, unusually warm temperatures and heavy rain flooded the entrance to the vault — although the water didn’t reach the seeds inside. (5)
These quotes were pulled primarily from the opening paragraphs of articles sourced through a Google search for "melting permafrost." Cobbled together as if from a singular source a world begins to form, one that fluxuates between realms of specificity and vaguery, between dire straits and halcyon days. Certainly these quotes were not from the same article, because that's not how articles work, but that is how worlds work.
The exhibition is not meant to question the veracity of climate change, but the manner in which we discuss it. The space of ambiguity created by both sides of an arguing population that is or isn't currently being roasted to death by their own home, is far more interesting than the truths that they claim to espouse. The Earth is heating up. The Earth is not heating up, and even if it is...did we have anything to do with it? The discussion of climate change has affected it's own change of the climate in the media, where words like "doomsday' and "apocalypse" have become common parlance, meant to shock an overwhelmed audience into action.
When the Winters Were Still Really Cold was conceived in response to the multitude of articles that appeared in May of 2017 about flooding that took place at the Svalbard seed vault. The flooding was due to higher than normal temperatures on the Norwegian archipelago, resulting in a mix of thawing permafrost and rain during a period that would usually see snow. The media quickly wandered into the realm of hyperbole, and a project which was created to endure such cataclysmic end times was experiencing them first hand. Little does it matter that those thawing temperatures quickly subsided and the flood waters in the entryway froze into a comical ice rink guarding a treasure trove of the world's seedlings like a booby trap for a post-apocalyptic agrarian Indiana Jones.
As many scientists will attest, there is a lot we don't now about climate change. Be it truth or speculation, the internet has created a platform at which all information about the subject is available to us immediately, and the media is facing the need to provide that immediacy as well. But this immediacy is left open ended, the stage is set, the world of 100 wildfires is introduced, the plot thaws out, and the audience is left without a clear ending. It's the media's job to keep you abreast of what's happening, but it's become the audience's job to find out what happened.
The seed vault was fine, it always was, but the wildfires are still burning.
Exploring the role of the artist in the conversation of climate change, When the Winters Were Still Really Cold builds part of the stage for The Setting, the first part of a nine month series of exhibitions called The Temperature.
The Temperature is a curatorial project of The Neon Heater, an artist run space in Findlay, OH. As part of their seventh year of exhibitions, The Neon Heater will be curating a series of 30 exhibitions across the United States between September 2018 and May of 2019. A loose conceptual narrative will connect the exhibitions via a monthly framework that unfolds throughout the course of the year. The narrative is a critique of the Art world and capitalist art market, American nationalism and exceptionalism, and universalized Hollywood blockbusters. September's monthly theme is The Setting.
Other exhibitions in The Setting include:
Raw Hide at The Neon Heater in Findlay, OH
Lines on Map Mean Little to Eyes in the Sky at Southern Project Space in St. Augustine, FL
Different Registers at Camayuhs in Atlanta, GA
Truth & the Flood at Real Tinsel in Milwaukee, WI
The Neon Heater is Ian Breidenbach, Emily Jay, Jordan Buschur and Maria Iafelice. For more information, please visit
1 - Posted on MIT Technology Review - by James Temple, August 14, 2018
2 - Why Thawing Permafrost Matters - by Renee Cho, January 11, 2018
3 - The Zombie Diseases of Climate Change - by Robinson Meyer, November 6, 2017
4 - Posted on Business Insider - by Kevin Loria, May 19, 2017
5 - Vice News - by Hillary Beaumonth, May 19, 2017