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Europe’s Extreme Heat Waves Bring Art to a Standstill


A mural by the street artist WOSKerski in London., taken on July 16, 2022 (photo by Loco Steve via Flickr)

Hundreds of people have died and thousands more have been evacuated as scorching heat blankets Europe. England experienced its highest temperature on record (104.5 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday), wildfires are sweeping the continent, and blazes in the southern region have wreaked irreversible damage and left towns enveloped in smoke.

These dangerous temperatures, attributed to global warming, have impacted Europe’s art world as well. A floating project headed to Documenta, the art exhibition held every five years in the German city of Kassel, reportedly can’t complete its journey because the Weser River’s water level is too low.

The project, called “citizenship,” is a barge created from the upside-down former roof of the Zentrum für Kunst und Urbanistik, the headquarters of the Berlin-based art collective KUNSTrePUBLIK. It was supposed to travel from Berlin to Kassel over the course of 60 days, during which the boat would make scheduled stops to host events such as concerts, workshops, and “cooking evenings.” The boat is powered without fossil fuels and instead moves using sustainable propulsion, a pedal, and rowing systems, as well as “external traction from rowing clubs and swimming teams.”

A leak in late June interrupted the project’s journey, but now “citizenship” is stuck again. The Berlin Center for Art and Urbanistics, the umbrella organization for the KUNSTrePUBLIK collective, hopes the boat will finish the last 125 miles of its journey in September, according to a statement provided to Monopol. The German Federal Institute of Hydrology has issued a warning about low water levels, and the River Rhine, which passes through Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, is reportedly drying up.

In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, the project’s artistic team said: “The barge has become a reflection of the effects of climate change and it revealed the difficulty of tradtiional institutions to adjust to new forms of mobility that without the high density of fossile fuels, need to move in slow pace.”

West of the stranded barge, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum shuttered some of their gallery spaces this week. The British Museum even closed two hours early on Monday and Tuesday. According to the UK Museums Association, the United Kingdom’s largest museum membership organization, workers urged the institution to put measures in place, citing “hazardous working conditions due to the unprecedented heat.”

The British Museum closed early on Monday and Tuesday as England recorded its highest temperature ever. (via Flickr)

The heat puts collections at risk, too. “Temperature-sensitive items were removed from the galleries before the high temperatures occurred and will remain in cool storage until the extreme conditions dissipate,” a British Museum spokesperson told Hyperallergic.

People have also been calling on museums to serve as shelters from the heat: The Museum Association advocated for its institutions to become places of respite for unhoused people during the summer, when the highest number of unhoused people die.

In Belgium, Secretary of State for Scientific Policy Thomas Dermine made federal museums free to people 65 years and older during the heatwave. As reported by the Brussels Times, Dermine said: “Their spaces, which are effectively public spaces, must be made fully available to vulnerable people in the event of extreme weather events.”

The heat is set to intensify in southern Scandinavia and Poland next, in Southern Europe after that, and finally relent in the middle of next week.



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