When Records Melt #7: Adam Broomberg

by Unseen2 September 17 2018

With climate change standing as one of the most pressing, imminent issues facing our future, photography is being increasingly used as a catalyst to create the positive reaction required to instigate change. Project Pressure, a charity collaborating with leading international artists is stepping up to the challenge, using glaciers as they remain one of the key indicators of climate change.

This year Unseen Amsterdam will be collaborating with Project Pressure to present When Records Melt, an exhibition dedicated to raising environmental awareness through photography.  Professors in photography at the Hochschule für bildende Künste (HFBK) in Hamburg and The Royal Academy of Art (KABK), The Hague, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin have since become involved in When Records Melt, an exhibition made in collaboration with Project Pressure and on show at Unseen Amsterdam 2018 next week from Friday the 21st to the 23rdof September. We caught up with Adam Broomberg to find out more.

Adam, can you describe your departure point for this project?
We were approached by Klaus, whose obvious primary concern is in ecological and scientific fact. I think the difficulty with that is somehow translating that into a narrative that’s digested not merely as fact. We read endless facts about climate change, but nothing seems to be going in. So, our departure point was actually a literary one. Both Ollie and I, when we were younger, read a story about Paul Auster—an exquisite story that described a young man whose father, in his mid-thirties, tried to climb Mount Everest. During his ascent, he died, was frozen in the snow and they never recovered his body. When the little boy who lost his father grew up and eventually was the same age as his father, he embarked on a similar expedition up Mount Everest attempt to recover his father’s body. When they grew close to where they imagined the father had died and started digging in the snow, Auster dug up his father’s body. And because it was held in the ice for those thirty years, it was perfectly preserved and there was this strange, existential moment where a 35 year-old man was looking at his father, who was exactly the same age. That image just really always haunted the both of us.

Therefore, when Klaus was talking about the glaciers, that came to mind. From the literary story, we conceived this idea of the glacier as an archive. It’s both a beautiful phenomenon but also a testimony to the horrifying fact that these glaciers, as they recede, are ejecting objects that span six millennia, essentially from the Neolithic to late Middle Ages. But everything our scientists discover is testimony to the tragedy of climate change and our impending end as a race.

What did you and your team discover when you went to the glacier in Switzerland?
There was this exquisite leather boot that was obviously hand-tailored and perfectly preserved—there were bodies that were perfectly preserved. Probably the most enigmatic and also haunting artefact we found was this bow—I think it was from between 3000 and 2000 B.C.—a perfectly preserved wooden bow that was so smoothed down from being handled. Just to touch this bow was very strange—almost like time travelling—that had been used by somebody. I think it kind of embodies the ambiguity, which is the beauty of us being able to touch these things and feel them and record them. However, hand in hand with this is the horror that accompanies the fact that we wouldn’t be able to discover these amazing objects without the dramatic rate at which the glaciers are receding.

How did you make the selection of what to photograph? Did you just want to show the variety of these artifacts found or did you have a specific vision of what you wanted to document?
I think it was the discovery of these objects that ignited our vision. There was such an abundance of bodies, skins, and bones and skulls. The moment when we first picked up that bow was truly indescribable.

Unseen Amsterdam 2018 runs from the 21st to the 23rd of September. Check out our programme, get your tickets now and start planning your perfect Unseen experience.

Work in Progress, Bone from 4000 B.C, 2017 © Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanagrin