Interview with Ap Verheggen
Ignacio Zamora (IZ)
Please tell us more about the moment you came up with the idea of creating a project like SunGlacier.
Ap Verheggen (AV)
I traveled for many years through the Arctic and witnessed the speed of climate change. It became every year more visible that climate change and its impact on local communities were of scale that nobody could have thought before. Meanwhile, in the rest of the world people were overloaded with difficult scientific reports explaining climate change/global warming, and the discussion was mainly focused on: naming, blaming and shaming – not my piece of cake – I believe more in focusing on solutions and see the future in a positive daylight.
To get more people involved in the discussion, I came up with the plan to build an Arctic Art Project: “Project Cool (E)motion”: I placed 2 huge sculptures on a drifting Iceberg, showing the audience the speed of Arctic processes. For example: a huge iceberg can easily drift with a speed of 2 km/hour, which means 48 km/day. After placing the sculptures, the Iceberg started to drift and everybody around the world could follow the voyage, by the attached GPS devices. Instead of floating for at least 2 years, making the trip through the Arctic, the Iceberg already collapsed after a couple of weeks. Instead of -20C, it became +20C, for the first time ever recorded on this Arctic location. The project was overruled by reality.
I am not an activist, but somebody who believes in a positive future: we need to focus on solutions. Mankind always managed to adapt their culture to climate changes, so we now have to do the same. The Inuit had no other options and adapted their way immediately to their changing environment. They succeeded in order to survive.
My new Art Project is meant to show people worldwide that we can find solutions by ourselves, even with using current technology. A kind of positive vibe against all negative messages.
I came up with the idea of building a glacier in a hot and dry desert: a huge challenge, but creating an impact that would transmit the idea of ‘the positive future’. A next challenge was making this glacier autonomously running: water out of the air, powered by solar energy. In 2010 we started to build a climate laboratory in Zoetermeer (The Netherlands) and copied desert conditions. Our first goal was to make as much as possible ice with the lowest amount of energy.
While becoming experts in making desert ice, and learning a lot of extreme cooling, condensing and solar energy, the project was overruled by the global demand for water. I had to change my goal, temporarily, and decided to focus only on water.
That’s how SunGlacier started.
Why you decided to implement a solar power source of energy to your piece?
The sun is available everywhere. It’s a source of energy that can be used for off-grid applications. I like as well the part of my project called: “autonomously running”, although last one is not completely true. My challenge is focused on: “How far can we go?”
Why the desert environment? What would be the main contributions of your piece?
The earth is warming up, but not everybody knows that warm air contains much more water than cooler air. It’s raising exponentially. Qatar can have up to 5 times more water in the air, than we have in The Netherlands after a huge burst of rainfall. A desert is usually an ocean of water, but nobody can see it. This contra-intuitive effect is part of my project.
Where are the boundaries between public art, activism, and technology development behind projects like SunGlacier?
I am not an activist, my role is focused on a positive contribution for the future. I want to show people that we have options to adapt our society to a changing climate, being prepared for new challenges. My communication is by Art Projects, easy to understand for many people. In the background I work together with a team of experts in the fields of solar and cooling technology. They help me to make the projects as simple as it can get. The audience needs to see the sculptures as if they are already part of everybody’s live. That’s the power of the Art. Next question could be: How did they do it?
How do you conceive your role as an artist by creating this project? How would you define this generation of artists that combine art and science with the aim to raise awareness about environmental issues?
In 2010 I introduced my project to a team of scientists and experts. They all told me that I am crazy and never would succeed in my idea. The amount of moisture that you can extract from air was in their view not worth to harvest, compared to the amount of energy that is required.
I still managed to get a few but excellent experts on board, and we were completely surprised by the first outcomes of the tests. It showed that it needs empirically tests to get an idea of the results. If this project wasn’t launched as an Art Project, it would have never existed.
Now we are in a phase where I have a new role as an artist. We entered in a world where nobody was before and the interpretation of our testing results also requires a discussion about shapes and optimizing the systems.
I am not so much interested in raising awareness: everybody can witness that action is required, even from everybody’s own backyard. The phase of raising awareness is for myself past time. Not only artists, but also architects, city planners, etc. as well, in one word: creative minds are definitely needed to find new ways to cope with our current problems. Societies are changing rapidly and we need urgently new solutions. It’s for me clear that current actions are not enough, as reality shows us clearly. It’s now 5 after 12, but mankind is able to switch it to quarter to 12.
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