In Human Time

An exhibition in two parts

Whale Bay, Antarctica No. 4, 84x144, 2016 (reproduction)
Zaria Forman

December 20 – January 15

Zaria Forman’s installation will be presented in the Gallery window and can be viewed from Fifth Avenue between 12th and 13th streets, 24 hours a day. The Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries will be closed for the holidays during this time.

88 Cores
Peggy Weil
January 18 – February 11

During Peggy Weil's installation, the gallery will be open daily 12:00–6:00 p.m. and Thursday evenings until 8:00 p.m.


In Human Time, the first exhibition of the Climate Museum, explores aspects of polar ice, humanity, and temporality through installations of work by Zaria Forman and Peggy Weil. The exhibition also includes a timeline with artifacts relating the Arctic's physical history to its cultural influence and to the science it continues to motivate.

The poles of the Earth offer a rich and devastating contradiction. The Arctic in particular has fascinated those of us who come from somewhere else. Implacably vast and frozen; indifferent and unknowable; impossible and impassable. Antarctica is, if anything, even more inaccessible and forbidding.

As many have observed, this vision of invulnerability is false. Every week of climate news confirms that polar ice is profoundly affected by human activity. We are losing it on a scale our minds did not evolve to comprehend. Polar ice, far from being untouchable by humanity, is one the clearest and strongest summaries of the massive changes we have caused with our economy and culture.

How does this contradiction between invulnerability and fragility reflect on us? What does polar ice tell us about ourselves?

Zaria Forman,   Whale Bay, Antarctica No. 4, 84x144, 2016.  Original in private collection; reproduction courtesy of Winston Wächter Fine Art.

Zaria Forman, Whale Bay, Antarctica No. 4, 84x144, 2016. Original in private collection; reproduction courtesy of Winston Wächter Fine Art.

Through the work of Forman and Weil, In Human Time examines these questions. Humans are defined by a capacity for awe, creativity, curiosity, the advancement of knowledge and understanding; for beautiful art and brilliant science; for astounding instances of communication and common action. 

We are, in short, defined by qualities permitting reasoned optimism that we can survive the climate crisis. But we are also defined by a capacity for heedless destruction that unfortunately does not require elaboration.

Our agency, our ability to decide and act, is revealed in this tension. Which side of our genetic and cultural makeup will we choose? Which will drive our actions?

The installations also raise related questions of timescale. The oldest ice in the Greenland Ice Sheet came into being one million years ago, snowflake by snowflake, a hundred times longer ago than we started farming. Forman's drawing may look at first like a photograph captured in a fraction of a second, but the work is revealed to be the product of weeks of touches of blue and gray, drawn by hand. We learn this in a time-lapse video that looks mesmerizingly fast—especially in relation to Weil's four-hour video descent, the apparently slow pacing of which can pull the viewer into a meditative suspension. But some of the one-meter ice cores down which she draws us to the beginning of the Greenland Ice Sheet capture four hundred years of time. The slow film is the fast one.  

These incongruities and slippages bring time into focus. Meaningful shared action demands a stronger awareness of time, of both continuum and urgency, than it is comfortable or natural to hold. James Baldwin said of the struggle for racial equality and our common humanity that "[t]here is never a time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now." Human beings will be living with climate change past the foreseeable horizon. What that looks like will depend on decisions we make together about our thought, dialogue, and action—now.


The Climate Museum is pleased and grateful to present this exhibition in partnership with the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at the Parsons School of Design.