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One Meter Above Sea Level

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One Meter Above Sea level at COP 17


DURBAN —; While delegates from 194 nations debated solutions and compromises for a deal on climate change inside Durban's International Convention Centre, artist Jacques Coetzer scaled a ladder in the shallows of the Indian Ocean nearby. Both an urgent protest and mischievous performance, documentation of Coetzer's ladder-climbing intervention at COP17 is on view at the Durban Art Gallery. It forms part of the group exhibition DON'T/PANIC, curated by Gabi Ngcobo. Coetzer says his artistic gesture, which is titled One Meter Above Sea Level, draws on a loose set of ideas: from English metaphysical poetry to the risk posed by falling from a ladder; it also concludes a ladder-climbing environmental project he undertook earlier this year on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. "No man is an island, entire of itself," wrote English poet John Donne in his famous 'Meditation 17', which Coetzer quoted in a reading at DON'T/PANIC. "Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main./ If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less./ Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind./ And therefore:/ Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." Coetzer revisited the poem after listening to 'Rave on John Donne', a song from folk singer Van Morrison's 1983 album, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart. The album's title is drawn from a saying by playwright and fellow Irishman, George Bernard Shaw, who spoke of "communicating with as little articulation as possible, at the same time being emotionally articulate" —; a teaching Coetzer attempted to draw on for his intervention on Durban's beachfront. Incidentally, Shaw died in 1950; aged 94, from chronic ailments compounded by injuries incurred falling from a ladder. Explains Coetzer: "One Meter Above Sea Level conceptually concludes an earlier project I undertook with writer Sean O'Toole. In January this year, we climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to investigate the rapid decline of the ice cap and the possible repercussions for the thousands of small-scale coffee farmers on the foothills of the mountain." Coetzer, who formulated the investigative excursion, took a ladder with him on his ascent. His plan was to exceed the mountain's highest point by an extra meter-and-a-half; altitude sickness however got the better of him at Barafu summit camp, leaving O'Toole to complete the climb. Details of Coetzer's Kilimanjaro Ice Coffee Expedition are contained in the DON'T/PANIC catalogue. Coetzer's two projects succinctly embody the ethos of DON'T/PANIC. According to curator Gabi Ngcobo, the exhibition "is not a platform to provide answers but rather one in which a series of questions, speculations, proposals and processes are assembled to create a space to sharpen reflection and encourage resistance". DON'T/PANIC runs from November 23, 2011, to February 19, 2012, at the Durban Art Gallery, 2nd Floor, City Hall, Smith Street, and is hosted by the Goethe Institute and the Heinrich Böll Foundation.