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Tufts University

Seeing Glacial Time: Climate Change in the Arctic

January 30 – May 18, 2014
Tisch Family Gallery

Diane Burko, Kronbreen Glacier composite, 2013. Photographic grid. Artist, Diane Burko.

Diane Burko, Peterman Heading South (after NASA, 2012-11), 2012. Oil on canvas. Artist, Diane Burko.

Diane Burko, On the Crevasse, 2013. Color photograph. Artist, Diane Burko.

'Seeing Glacial Time' main exhibition page >

About the artist: Diane Burko

Veteran landscape painter and photographer Diane Burko travelled to both the North and South poles in 2013 and to Iceland and Alaska in recent years. Her representational paintings and aerial photographs of "extreme landscapes" are informed by historical and contemporary scientific images yet guided by her intuitive search for the edges of representation and an expression of geological time.

Burko's aerial images of glaciers and icebergs from eastern Greenland and northern Norway included here disrupt the experiential space-time continuum of documentary photography through their close-up, fragmentary, or disembodied perspectives. Her painterly compositions and interest in the natural chiaroscuro of Arctic light and shadow interpret the changing landscape in new ways that require close looking at patterns and textures.

Burko was introduced to aerial photography by the conceptual artist James Turrell in the New Mexico desert in the late 1970s. Since then, she has used her own photography – from the air and on foot – in the way 19th century landscape painters painted en-plein-air, to capture the effects of light and shadow in color. She has also borrowed scientists' photographic documentation of numerous glaciers and ice flows to use as source material.

Burko's work in this exhibition is a fusion of her painterly and photographic visions. All the photographs come from a recent expedition she made to the High Arctic while accompanying a Norwegian glaciologist measuring ice core samples. The paintings are all based on photographs taken by both the artist and two scientists she befriended, as well as NASA satellite imagery, all of one massive, 46-square-mile-large iceberg that had broken off from Petermann Glacier in Greenland and was tracked by NASA on its journey to the north Atlantic.

Only aerial photography can capture the enormity and overall form of a particular glacier. Photographing from a small helicopter used by glaciologists in northern Norway, Burko's lower elevation hovering over the "tongue" of the Kronebreen Glacier reveals the abstraction of lines created by crevasses and the depth of these mountains of ice. A composite of photographic moments in time taken one afternoon in September allows us to peer down into glacial time while suspended above in real, human time. The square format of the prints further removes our physical identification with the landscape subject, offering us "macro" patterns and "micro" textures simultaneously. Like records kept by an explorer, these photographs are imbued with her own memories of encounters with glacial forms, "terrain," she says, "that embodies the history of our planet."

Download the press release >