Art | Nick Cobb

The Ottó Saga

Using Google Street View, artist Nick Cobb has created imagined walks through Iceland with his grandson Ottó, whom he first met at the beginning of August.

This is the only way I can get to Iceland without flying. It goes to North Denmark via the Faroe Islands and then I’d have to go to Hamburg to get to London. You can’t get to the Faroes from North Scotland by boat. All you can say is the covid pandemic slowed down tourism. It showed human ingenuity at its best with the vaccine and what we can do with an immanent threat. The climate catastrophe is too vague still to impact daily life. And if we want to see you we have to fly. Grandma is too scared to go by boat. 

At the end of the road back there is a rock near what was the Okjökull glacier and on it a plaque with a letter to the future written by Andri Snær Magnason. It says: “Ok is the first glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it. August 2019, 415 ppm CO2.”

There’s a lot of hot air spoken, little Ottó, about 2050 and being carbon neutral. You will be 30 and I will be 90. That chap, Andri Snær Magnason, who wrote The Casket of Time, wondered how we could get people like me to grasp the need to act now for this ocean’s and this land’s sake. He thought if we could just connect our families generations to 2100 - that it’s not too far off - we would be motivated to change, not keep our heads buried in the sand. I remember things about my grandmothers 50 years ago. I hope you have children and they live long lives. Let’s say you are a dad in 2050. Your child lives to a hundred, that’s 2150 and me going back to the 1950’s. You, an old man, chatting to your grandson at the turn of the century about glaciers. But what will you be saying about them?

Where I come from the landscape can appear pretty timeless. But here in Iceland it seems so young, dynamic with its quakes and volcanoes. Humans have altered it considerably just like back home, over the centuries with deforestation, soil erosion and modernisation. Little Ottó, resting in an old eider nest, will see such an enormous change to the planet just in one life-time. In my lifetime I have been complicit in the destruction of more flora and fauna than at any time in human history.

Nick Cobb lives and works in London, UK, teaching at Putney School of Art. Much of his recent work combines photography, collage and drawing. He  addresses the climate crisis from the point of view of a father – “I want my children to want to have children” – and now one has had a baby in Iceland. Unable to visit, he took to searching googlestreetview imagining future walks together with his grandson. 

Instagram: @nickcobbphotography

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