The Challenge Of Making An Archive Of The Climate Crisis

“A People’s Archive of Sinking and Melting,” started by an artist, Amy Balkin, in 2011, is a participatory collection of objects and materials that have been “contributed by people living in places that may disappear because of the combined physical, political, and economic impacts of climate change, primarily sea level rise, erosion, desertification, and glacial melting.” Anyone anywhere in the world can mail in a contribution, as long as it weighs half a pound or less; the things they send can be “natural, manufactured, found, made, or discarded, including trash.” Contributors are invited to send some details about the object’s origin, and how that place might be threatened by climate change, and also any notes about the specific object. A hundred and eleven of these objects were recently on display at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. The collection is made up of ephemera, personal possessions, documentation, organic matter, trash. In the light of imagined future eyes, tinged by loss, all manner of things become relevant that would otherwise pass unnoticed. Even two beer-bottle caps, in this context, are mesmerizing. A future person might see them in a museum, displayed with a label that reads “Beer-bottle caps, common in this time.” But what would that person’s world be like? 

By Sophie Haigney. New Yorker. October 4, 2021.

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