What would it be like to make tea or read a newspaper underwater?
That's the question artist Lars Jan is asking with his multi-platform activism project, "Holoscenes." Using specially built aquariums, Jan wants to create a visceral representation of climate change by placing people doing mundane tasks in water-filled tanks and allowing the water to rise.
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"Climate change is a mirror. It's more about us -- the behavioral and cognitive science behind how we make decisions, think in the long-term, and feel empathy -- than it is about CO2 or melting glaciers," Jan wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. "We need to broaden our perspective, not only on this issue, but in how we think about our planet and all of our communities as a single, related system."
The miniature aquariums, which fill with water at a rate of 12 tons per minute, are meant to show what our daily lives would look like amid accelerating sea level rise. (With the unstoppable decay of the West Antarctic ice sheet, the global sea level is expected to rise by at least 10 feet by the end of the next two centuries.)
But, when it comes to what everyone takes away from the project, Jan says it's up to each viewer.
"It's a visual and visceral experience, and sort of unclassifiable really, which is how I wanted to make the broadest audience possible feel something about what they were seeing, but also compel them to immediately ask themselves, and the people around them: What is this about?" Jan wrote.
Jan, who runs Los Angeles-based performance and art lab Early Morning Opera, initially conceived the idea for the project in 2010 when he became aware of a succession of floods across the globe that devastated coastal communities. The haunting images of people struggling in flood waters served as the impetus for an eerie daydream.
"I had an intense daydream over about 60 seconds in which a man was in a big glass room trying to read a newspaper, but suddenly the room started to flood with water fast," Jan explained to HuffPost. "But, he didn’t panic, or even acknowledge the water rising over his head; he just turned the page, and kept reading. Soon the paper dissolved in his hands, but still, he just kept reading the nothing that was in his hand."
With that one vision, Jan set off on a three-year mission to create what he imagined in his head as a piece of performance art, reinforced by video installations, a book of project photos and an online portal filled with resources for viewers who want to learn more. Jan plans to premier "Holoscenes" at Toronto's all-night Nuit Blanche art festival in October, if he can raise the funds to build the aquarium centerpiece. (So far, Jan has raised about $16,000 toward his $41,000 goal on Kickstarter.)
See photos from "Holoscenes," below.