Entitled COAL + ICE, the exhibit boasts a collection of more than 50 photographers and video artists from around the globe, with 48 projectors illuminating an immersive 30,000-square-foot purpose-built exhibition space. The exhibit features photography from as far back as 1899 and goes through 2022.
Leah Thompson, a producer of the exhibit, explains spectators will be greeted with stunning suspended photographs of the Himalayan mountains and glaciers juxtaposed against historical and contemporary portraits of coal miners, thereby exploring the relationship between coal and ice. As the visitors wander deeper into the immersive space, the story of the climate crisis unfolds.
“We’ve been doing this around the world for about 10 years in different configurations,” she says. “In 2018, we did it for the first time in an immersive way, where it’s almost completely projection, and it got a great response.”
Bringing the show to the Kennedy Center has been many years in the making, with the pandemic halting things for a bit, but now it’s finally available to those in the Washington, D.C. region.
“When the exhibition is open, you can come without reservations, and just experience these 50 projections and get taken on a journey through a narrative photography arc of climate change,” Thompson says. “We go from humans to landscapes to humans again.”
As part of COAL + ICE, the REACH will offer a six-week festival of new, curated events featuring music, theater, panel discussions, art-making, and more, plus a slate of educational activities. These require reservations in advance.
“In the middle of the landscape section, things transform into a stage with up to 500 chairs for different events, performances, and conversations being held,” Thompson says.
For instance, the Kennedy Center’s Moonshot Studio will offer, “Celebrating the More Than Human,” a suite of hands-on projects and activities, curated in collaboration with artist Caitlin Nasema Cassidy.
Science journalist Alanna Mitchell will give a talk on March 22; the following day, Al Gore will have a conversation with youth climate leaders; then on March 24, a musical homage to the earth featuring Renée Fleming, Martha Redbone, Abigail Washburn, Jiebing Chen, and Sandeep Das.
“We really have something for everyone,” Thompson says. “We have a whole bunch of local and international artists who are doing community activations through their art, mainly about the environment. We’re exploring different topics to get people in the space.”
There will also be special programming to commemorate World Water Day on March 22 and Earth Day on April 22.
“I think a lot more people are aware that climate change is occurring and I hope that this space will be a place for communities of people to come together and talk and have discussions and emotions together about what’s happening.”
COAL + ICE is co-curated by photographer Susan Meiselas and renowned exhibition designer Jeroen de Vries, and led by Orville Schell, the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society.
Not only is the exhibit visually breathtaking, but Thompson notes it drives home the fact that climate change issues are as important as ever.
“This is a unique way to experience photography,” Thompson says. “Immersive exhibitions are becoming really popular, so I think there’s an appetite for this. Climate change is such an important issue, and this exhibition provides people with a different perspective on what’s happening all over the world.”
COAL + ICE is open now through April 22. To learn more about the special events and see which days and times the exhibit is open, visit here.
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