Ice (St)Ages: Icy Imaginaries in Science, Arts and Spectacles

More about the events

Scientific Organizers: Dr. Anne Hemkendreis (Greifswald / Freiburg im Breisgau), Dr. Anna-Sophie Jürgens (Canberra, Australia)

The change of climate might be the most dramatic, appealing and unnerving performance that has ever existed. It is enacted through increases and decreases of water in its various forms: snow, ice and frost. Through their affective qualities and disastrous effects, they turn the world into a stage and its inhabitants into a global audience, or, rather, witnesses. As a consequence, the communication of climate change in arts and science is faced with balancing inner participation and distant reflection, stressing urgency and responsibility at the same time.

When Bruno Latour – one of the central voices in the discussions on the Anthropocene – chose the circus for his play on how to talk about climate change, he interwove the performativity of the melting and freezing ice with reference to sensational experiences rooted in the modern culture of spectacles. In current scientific and artistic practises, ice can even become part of performances or artworks themselves, thus repeating and transforming the ‘global play’ of climate change in a smaller but no-less-appealing scale.

The idea of staging ice springs from interrelations between the history of (popular) science and the culture of entertainment, which is traceable, for example, in: panoramic installations from the 19th century, ice rinks and touristic routes leading to marginal zones, mimicking adventurous research expeditions to the poles. The increasing popularity of ice within everyday life led to an aesthetic of Icy Imaginaries, which this series of events examines in their cultural and political dimension up to today. In order to understand the deep interrelations between the awareness of climate change and the aesthetics of performativity, we ask the following questions: What are the scientific, anthropological and cultural dimensions of snow and ice and what kind of image of stable or unstable ecosystemsdo they promote? What can the visualisation and reception of ice teach us about the (inter)connection of ecological and cultural changes? And is there anything we can learn from the diverse staging strategies – e.g. of ‘Ice Clowns’, ‘Frost characters’ or ‘Snowy Travellers‘ – for the aesthetic negotiations and scientific claims of a new relationship between humans and nature?

“Ice (St)Ages” explores the phenomena of ice and snow with a special emphasis on Performance, Entertainment and Literary Studies as well as Art History and Arctic Studies. In addition, the cultural significance of snow in its various forms for native Polar communities can sharpen the critical view of Western rootedness of Icy Imaginaries, leading to a discussion on a higher responsibility of climate-neutrality within industrialised nations.

The series of events will be co-organised and co-hosted by Dr Anne Hemkendreis (Freiburg University, Germany) and Dr Anna-Sophie Jürgens (CPAS, Australia). The challenge of organising an event between Australia and Germany (time difference, language barriers, academic conventions) is part of the concept; it reflects the difficulty of establishing a dialogue that spans the world as well as its necessity in times of global crises.

Forthcoming Series of Events

19-20 May 2021:
This online symposium asks about the causes, but also the strategic use, of Icy Imaginaries in the fields of science, literature, arts and performances. As an agile and ephemeral material, ice not only functions as a topic or metaphor, but increasingly becomes an active agent of scientific and artistic communication about the melting poles. Therefore, we wonder: How can the hidden dynamics of Icy Imaginaries be described in the various disciplines? And how far is the figure of melting ice used in order to stage the loss of entire ecosystems? Ice (St)Ages 1 is generously supported and hosted by the Alfried Krupp Institute for Advanced Study. Registration is possible here.

28-29 July 2021:
This online symposium explores the western and gender-specific shaping of polar heroes on ice as a performative and highly-unstable construction. This idea is accompanied by an investigation of national, economic and ecological interests performed with ice by using its visual and sensual qualities. Overwhelming aesthetics, immersion effects and doomsday scenarios are rooted in a culture of spectacles, which will be investigated from the 19th century to its emergence in contemporary scientific communication, Post-Anthropocene Art and popular culture. The aim is to investigate the use of ice – but also its agency – as a dynamic staging strategy for global (i.e. ecological, historical, and cultural) change. Ice (St)Ages 2 will be hosted by the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 948 “Heroes – Heroizations – Heroisms: Transformations and Conjunctures from Antiquity to the Modern Day” of the University of Freiburg, Germany.

29-30 September 2021:

The climate-critical communication of urgency goes hand-in-hand with attempts to generate and stage aesthetical evidence for which ice is a central tool. The resulting proximity of art and science and its historical roots are central to the symposium and will be examined with a focus on mediating environmental knowledge in scientific and artistic performances and popular entertainment. Ice (St)Ages 3 will be hosted by the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, ANU. More information will be available from the 12th of march here: Events | Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (


Dr. Anne Hemkendreis
Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin, Postdoc | Teilprojekt S4 | Sonderforschungsbereich 948 ‘Helden – Heroisierungen – Heroismen‘
Albert-Ludwigs-Universitaet Freiburg | Hebelstr. 25 | 79104 Freiburg im Breisgau
T : +49-(0)761 – 203-67607 | ePost : anne.hemkendreissfb948.uni-freiburgde

Dr. Anna-Sophie Jürgens
The Australian National University, Canberra
ANU College of Science
T : +61 2 6125 5111 | ePost : anna-sophie.jurgensanu.eduau