Courtesy of NYU Abu Dhabi
HOLOSCENES, erected in the middle of NYU Abu Dhabi’s Central Plaza, is a large-scale performance installation featuring performers engaged in everyday activities inside a glass cube that slowly fills with water. The installation is intended to serve as a harrowing display of the insidious nature of rising water levels and climate change that we remain almost oblivious to as we carry on with our daily routines. The piece also comes into context among a series of installations on Saadiyat, centering on Manarat Al Saadiyat as part of the Abu Dhabi Art festival.
In light of the United Nations climate talks at the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties held in Marrakesh this week and the threat of repudiation of the landmark Paris Agreement by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, HOLOSCENES came at a politically relevant time. Serving as a poignant reminder of the destructive nature of climate change, the installation attempts to inform viewers about the gravity of the issue as well as the dangers of our indifference towards it.
Lars Jan, director of HOLOSCENES, drew his inspiration for the project from multiple events. In 2005, the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina made him more attuned to the many devastating floods happening around the world. In 2010, Jan came across a photograph taken by Daniel Berehulak that depicted flood victims in Pakistan swimming through chest-high waters scrambling for food aid. Jan was taken aback by how such a horrific event could be captured so beautifully — the photograph subsequently served as a model both aesthetically and philosophically for what was to later become HOLOSCENES.
As he reflected on these events, Jan was struck by a fleeting vision of a man reading a newspaper as water started to fill the room around him — instead of reacting to this as if it were a crisis, the man continued reading on, completely immersed in water. Jan found himself returning to these visions many times. Upon meditations on these mental images, he drew an arc between the floods that he learned about, Berehulak’s photograph and his own ideas, which then developed to become HOLOSCENES.
Jan read extensively about the different approaches climate paleontologists, big data analysts and behavioral scientists applied to the study of climate change. Ultimately, however, he wanted to create an art piece that would “distill all the research [and] to create something that wasn’t didactic but a platform for curiosity, something that engaged people so they have a visceral experience. Perhaps they are moved by collision of human body and water, and ask what this is and why this is and perhaps have a conversation with the person next to them.”
For NYUAD’s Executive Artistic Director Bill Bragin, HOLOSCENES serves primarily as a “vehicle for conversation.”
In conjunction with the installation, NYUAD will also be holding panel discussions with speakers from the fields of public policy and the arts.
“A piece like this, with profound scientific and public policy implications is not limited in its interests to people who think of themselves as arts people. It is important for us as the Arts Center to present work that can connect to people across the entire campus. Displaying it in the center of the campus, in the crossroads, allows faculty, staff and students to contend with this piece of art, what it means to them personally, and what it means to family back home,” says Bragin.
Abu Dhabi is made up of several islands, thus making it vulnerable to the deleterious effects of rising water levels. Placed in the middle of the NYUAD’s Central Plaza, the walls of HOLOSCENE’s aquarium reflect our Campus Center on one side and Reem Island on the other as the performers drown in the water inside. Through this illusory interplay between rising water and the city, HOLOSCENES is a chilling display of the real world implications of our indifference to a crisis only seemingly out of our grasp.
Alyssa Yu is Creative Editor. Email her at [email protected]