The Written Image: Ice Receding/Books Reseeding

Artist Basia Irland’s ongoing project Ice Receding/Books Reseeding gives new meaning to the phrase “living text.” Since 2007, Irland, who lives in Albuquerque and founded the Art and Ecology Program at the University of New Mexico, has created more than two hundred “Ice Books” from the frozen waters of rivers all over the world, each embedded with seeds. The sculpted books are intentionally ephemeral; their melting represents an act of renewal as the books disperse their seeds—and a reminder of the ice being lost daily in the arctic.


To make an Ice Book, Irland collects river water, then freezes and carves it. She embeds each book with seeds of native species, such as mountain maple and wild fennel, the “ecological language” that make up the book’s text. Collaboration with local communities is integral to Irland’s process; area botanists and other scientists lend expertise, but important too are the chefs who offer walk-in freezers for the creation and storage of the largest tomes, as some weigh upwards of 250 pounds. Together with these and other collaborators, Irland launches a book by returning it to its riverbank, often with a toast to the river’s health: “May you flow, and may you always flow clean.” As the book melts, the river’s current carries the seeds downstream to repopulate its banks with plants that will in turn curb erosion, support pollination, and sequester carbon. Irland hopes the books allow people to “understand on a deeper level the necessity of working together cooperatively to come to the assistance of bodies of water around the world.” As she says, “The rivers of the world need all the reverence and protection we can provide.”


(Photo by: Eduardo Fandiño)