Climate Change in Iceberg Installations

Bill Russell’s sculptures contain important messages about our current climate crisis.

It wasn’t enough for artist Bill Russell to just display his iceberg paintings with a climate change subtext. For his exhibition at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art in Novato, he also created five iceberg sculptures that both activated the center gallery space and informed us with embedded data about global warming, sea-level rise, ocean temperatures, and more.

“I wanted to share what I had learned about climate change in a way that was aesthetic, educational, and fit with the show's theme,” says Russell. Here are the five sculptures he created.

Iceberg Tower (Scale) is made of recycled foam and little people.

In Iceberg Tower (Scale) a 10-foot high iceberg looms, while little humans scurry around on it, showing us how monumental these ice forms can be.

Six layers of graphical climate data in Iceberg Obelisk

In Iceberg Obelisk (Climate Change Data) each of the six layers shows increases in climate measurements, including melting Antarctic ice, ocean temperatures, sea-level rise, carbon emissions, global temperatures, and increased rainfall extremes.

Iceberg Varietals (Types) made of recycled foam by Bill Russell

This installation called Iceberg Varietals (Types) is a tableau of various types of icebergs, including blocky, tabular, pinnacle, dome, wedge, dry dock, growler, and bergy, all at an accessible height for children.

Iceberg information ‘floats’ on these little ‘bergs.

24 questions and answer cards with information about icebergs, each sitting on little iceberg stands that have calved from a glacier.

Sea Level Rise (Bay Area 2100) offers a prescient scenario.

Sea Level Rise (Bay Area 2100) shows a sequence of melting icebergs on a tabletop map displaying areas of flooding in the San Francisco Bay with 55 inches of projected sea rise by 2100, the result of global warming and the melting ice cap.

See these sculptures and paintings with their poignant messages at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art till June 5th, 2022.

Bill at work in his foam booth.

Making Styrofoam Sculptures Safely

Bill Russell made careful use of Styrofoam in the making of his sculptures, given how problematic this material can be. Styrofoam can be harmful to the environment and a challenge for landfills since it can take over 500 years to decompose.

All the Styrofoam Bill used was collected at Recology of San Francisco, where he had an art residency. Recology collects and repurposes a variety of materials from its Transfer Station for Resource Recovery.

To work with the material Bill created an enclosed but ventilated space outside his studio, that he called the ‘foam booth.’ This allowed him to contain any material that was cut away so he could collect it safely. Bill was cautious given that working with polystyrene dust may result in skin, eye, and lung irritation. He wore a respirator, gloves, and a Tyvek suit when using the hot wire cutter on the Styrofoam and when he applied any adhesives. All the completed sculptures were twice sealed with Mod Podge and then painted with acrylic paint.

All remaining Styrofoam was collected and returned to Recology, where they compress the material into ingots and provide it to a manufacturer to make floor moldings. Here are more facts about the challenges of Styrofoam.

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Bill Russell

Bill is a web designer, illustrator, painter and visual journalist.