COAL + ICE is a project of the Asia Society which premiered at Three Shadows Photography Art Centre in Beijing in 2011. Since its inception, the exhibition has traced a photographic arc from deep within the coal mines to the greater Himalaya where greenhouse gasses are warming the high altitude climate and melting the glaciers at an accelerated pace, disturbing the great rivers of Asia that flow from the Tibetan Plateau, with extreme consequences for the billions of people downstream. COAL + ICE has traveled across China and around the world, using art to highlight the need for collaboration between the largest global carbon emitters – the U.S. and China – in addressing the climate challenge. In 2018, COAL + ICE made its U.S. premiere at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture as a fully immersive experience, and expanded its imagery to visualize the global consequences of the climate crisis. COAL + ICE is overseen by Orville Schell, the Arthur Ross Director of Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations.
The entryway of COAL + ICE forms a riddle. Suspended above the visitors’ heads, stunning photographs of the Himalayan mountains and glaciers are combined with historical and contemporary portraits of coal miners. The relationship between coal and ice is not immediately apparent. As the visitor continues deeper into the 30,000 square-foot immersive space, a story of the climate crisis unfolds.
The first group of projections present coal miners from across the world—their work, their lives, and their struggles—from the distant past to the present.
At the center of the exhibition, large-scale panoramas show landscapes altered by coal mining and climate change, including the vanishing glaciers of the Himalayas, melting polar ice, and devastation caused by hurricanes and floods. Exiting the vast landscapes, the final series of projections show humans facing the consequences of climate change, including droughts, floods, wildfires, and forced migration.
COAL + ICE is about climate change, but it is also about the resilience of humankind. The exhibition ends with an opportunity for reflection and response.
Situated at the center of the exhibition space and fully surrounded by climate imagery, the programming stage hosts creative conversations and artistic interventions including performances, panels, DJ sets, and featuring special guests.
Bernd and Hilla Becher
Peter van Agtmael
Kadir van Lohuizen
Major E. O. Wheeler