Michael Najjar
cool earth, 2021-ongoing

The artworks of the cool earth series combine science and fiction.
They imagine the transition to a world without fossil energy and
open up a mental field of possibilities for the viewer of how we
could shape a liveable, post-destructive world.
Read the concept of cool earth.

Michael Najjar, born in 1966, is a German artist, adventurer
and - future astronaut. His work is shown in museums,
galleries and biennials around the world.

Follow his adventures around the world on Instagram

studio_michaelnajjar

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Michael Najjar, electric rainfall from cool earth series, 2021-ongoing . 
Hybrid photography, 132 x 202 cm, edition of 6. © Michael Najjar

The extreme effects of climate change are now evident across the planet. Rising temperatures, heat waves, water scarcity. The desert regions of the United Arab Emirates are particularly threatened, especially in the summer months they have to cope with great heat and enormous humidity. Temperatures between 40 and 50 degrees are now the norm, water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource, only around 70 liters of rainwater fall from the sky in Dubai per year and square meter. In order to combat the heat waves, which are becoming ever stronger as a result of climate change, the Emirates, in cooperation with the University of Reading in England, have now developed a new “rain enhancement” technology to generate artificial rain using drones. These are catapulted into the air in search of clouds of the right temperature and humidity, and then emit an electric shock, a type of laser flash. The electrical charging of the clouds results in the small water droplets being compressed into larger droplets, cloud condensation. Once these are dense and heavy enough, they fall to earth as rain. In July 2021, the desert area in and around Dubai was hit by massive rain showers for the first time, apparently resulting from manipulated downpours.

The art work electric rainfall visualizes the creation of artificial rain using electrical drone impulses. The 3-part image composition consists of an extensive desert landscape, an urban skyline and dramatic cloud formations. The viewer’s gaze glides over a sandy desert landscape whose undulating dunes are reminiscent of sea waves. The skyline of Dubai stretches out on the horizon, an artificial metropolis made of concrete, glass, and steel. At the center of the image composition is the 828 m high Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. The pointed architecture draws the eye up into the cloudy sky. Shiny, spherical small objects fly through the gray clouds, which have an unnatural, compressed shape. The dramatic intensity of the cloud composition, from which a two-part lightning bolt stands out in the middle, conveys to the viewer: It will rain over the desert. All over the world, innovative solutions to the extreme effects of climate change are being researched. It remains open, however, to what later consequences the manipulation of natural processes on earth could lead.

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Michael Najjar, rising seas, from cool earth series, 2021-ongoing.  
Hybrid photography, 132 x 202 cm, edition of 6. © Michael Najjar

Global CO2 emissions will cause sea levels to rise in the coming centuries. Our fossil fuel driven civilisation is creating a profoundly changed planet. Storms, floods and steadily rising sea levels may possibly destroy our coastal cities. Global warming affects sea levels in two ways: About one third of its current rise is due to thermal expansion as the volume of water increases the warmer it gets. All the rest is due to ice melting on land. Because the ice shelves in Antarctica and Greenland are melting, the land ice behind them can flow into the sea ever more rapidly. And this causes the sea level to rise. If we succeed in limiting the rise in temperature to 2 °C, approximately 130 million people would still be affected by flooding. However, if we cause global warming of 4 °C through our emissions, this could result in the submergence of land areas that are now home to up to 760 million people worldwide. New York, Mumbai, Shanghai, Lagos, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco and Miami would be flooded in large part or would completely disappear. It is possible that technical solutions such as the construction of dykes, dams and protective barriers will no longer suffice at some point and then the retreat from the coast will begin. From Florida to Bangladesh people will leave the coastal regions, civil unrest and wars will then ensue. Our civilisation will change.

 

The art work rising seas visualises the threat to our coastal cities and our modern civilisation posed by ever higher sea levels. The composition of the picture consists of the surface of the sea, mountain ranges and clouds. The viewer’s gaze is quickly drawn to small star-like points of light just above the coastline. The mountain range rising from left to right reflects the increase in temperature from 1850 to 2100; a small plateau on the steep right-hand side of the mountain range marks global warming of 2 degrees; the mountain peak on the far right edge of the picture the rise in global temperature of 4 degrees. A dense cloudy sky has formed over the mountain range and is reflected in the water – a symbol for the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the associated rise of the sea level. rising seas is an allegory of human civilisation on the edge of existence. Unless we drastically change course in the coming years, our carbon emissions will create a world whose geography is completely different from the world in which our species evolved.

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Michael Najjar, carbon capture, from cool earth series, 2021-ongoing.  
Hybrid photography, 132 x 202 cm, edition of 6. © Michael Najjar

Climate change affects every region of the Earth in a variety of ways. The main cause for global warming is the rising concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere where it lingers for a very long time. Even if it were possible to reduce global emissions to zero by 2050, the carbon dioxide already emitted would stay in the atmosphere for over 100 years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) points out that the climate goals defined in the Paris Agreement will no longer be achievable without the active removal of CO2 already in the atmosphere. Direct Air Capture and Storage (DAC+S) plays a vital role here. In 2021, the Swiss company Climeworks started operations in the world’s largest facility for direct air capture and storage - removal of CO2 from the air and its subsequent storage in the ground in Iceland. Climeworks’ Icelandic partner Carbfix mixes the CO2 absorbed by the facility’s filter systems with water and then injects it into deep-lying layers of earth in the volcanic basalt rock. There, over time, it transforms itself into a carbonate mineral through a process of natural mineralisation; thus carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere for the long term. This process is still expensive and energy-intensive. However, by mid-century it could become a key technology in the fight against climate change.

 

The art work carbon capture visualises the basic principle of this technology using the example of Climeworks‘ new Islandic DAC+S plant which is expected to remove up to 4000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year out of the ambient air and press it deep into the earth. The composition of the picture divides the landscape into an above-ground view and an underground one. In the upper third of the pic- ture the viewer’s gaze is drawn to three futuristic-looking objects, CO2 collectors set in a landscape of mountains and snow while in the background clouds drift towards the filter systems. The lower part of the picture, however, which makes up the largest part, shows typically Icelandic sharp-edged basalt rock formations. In a diagonal zigzag movement the view glides over the jagged rock down into the depths where invisible subterranean landscapes becomes visible. At the lower edge of the picture a mineralised stone structure is visible. An image of a drill core of carbonised carbon dioxide which was retrieved from a depth of 800 meters is incorporated in the artwork. The Icelandic DAC+S plant could be a scalable and flexibly reproducible blueprint for the future expansion of these filter systems. This would depend, however, on the availability of sufficient renewable energy and geological storage options. In Iceland, and increasingly in other countries, the underground injection of greenhouse gases is considered an effective method to slow down global warming.

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Michael Najjar, eruption, from cool earth series, 2021-ongoing.  
Hybrid photography, 132 x 202 cm, edition of 6. © Michael Najjar

Volcanoes have shaped the form of our Earth. They stand as symbols for the geological cycles of destruction, rejuvenation and recreation that have marked the Earth’s history. If we look at volcanoes through a geological time horizon, it becomes clear that they also play an important role in terms of climate change. Volcanic eruptions can enrich the stratosphere with climate-altering gasses as these form an aerosol layer which reflects solar radiation back into space thereby lowering the temperature on the surface of the Earth. Conversely, climate change can also have an impact on volcanic activity: if global temperatures climb, ice masses melt and sea levels rise, which in turn, significantly alter the stresses in the Earth’s plates near volcanoes and increase the risk of eruptions. In heavily glaciated regions, such as Iceland, there could be a connection between the retreat of glaciers and the associated pressure relief on the lithosphere. This would lead to an increasing number of eruptions and widespread reshaping of the Earth’s surface. Volcanoes also provide a blueprint for climate engineering or targeted technical intervention in the climate balance. This also includes methods known as solar radiation management that directly alter the Earth’s heat balance. Scientist are discussing the possibility of mimicking a volcanic eruption to curb global warming through the targeted injection of sulphate aerosol into the atmosphere. At the same time volcanoes are an inexhaustible source of energy for geothermal power generation, a technique that is used extensively, especially in Iceland.

The artwork eruption visualises the energy and transformative power of volcanoes. The concept of the triptych is based on photographs taken by Michael Najjar in Iceland shortly after the eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano in March 2021. For several days the artist scaled the mountains in the Geldingadalir Valley to approach the erupting craters with his camera from different perspectives. The lava fountains shot up to 200 meters in the air, new fissures opened up again and again, pouring out lava. Huge streams of molten rock flooded the valley, creating a new landscape that changed daily. The triptych unfolds an arc of tension between compositional form and visual eruption. Different perspectives were stitched together to form a new post-natural landscape whose grey-black tones contrast with the glowing orange-red of the lava. Small silver domes and power pylons refer to Iceland’s pioneering geothermal technology but also to mankind’s intervention in nature. The composition of the clouds is based on shots of hot steam from a geothermal plant. The volcanic mountain in the middle section resembles a reclining face; its body appears to continue in the right-hand section with lava oozing from the “head”, “mouth” and “chest”. An allegory to James Lovelock‘s Gaia hypothesis which postulates that the Earth and its biosphere can be viewed as one single living being. The artwork visualises nature’s irrepressible power of creation and renewal while at the same time, as the viewer’s gaze returns to the “body” of nature, its state of vulnerability and increasing destruction are also revealed.

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Michael Najjar, sea of ice, from cool earth series, 2021-ongoing . 
Hybrid photography, 132 x 202 cm, edition of 6. © Michael Najjar

Across the world approximately 400 billion tonnes of glacier ice melt each year, contributing one third to the global rise in sea levels. By releasing carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, we have warmed the Earth by over one degree in the course of the last century and raised sea levels by circa 20 cm. Further emissions of greenhouse gases will change our coastlines for millen- nia to come. The oceans covert two thirds of our planet, making them the most important life support system for human civilisation. We have irrevocably bequeathed a hotter world and rising seas to future generations. Iceland in many respects is ground zero for climate change; it hosts 400 thousands of years old glaciers all of which are now rapidly melting. The island off the southwest coast of Greenland is losing about 11 billion tonnes of ice a year, and scientists fear that by 2200 all the glaciers will be gone. They cover about 11% or the island‘s surface and due to their maritime location are particularly sensitive to ocean warming and short-term climate fluctuations. Deeper, near-sea areas are very likely to disappear completely in coming decades.

The art work sea of ice deals with the loss of our glacial ice and the corresponding rise in sea levels. The viewer’s gaze glides down from a bird’s eye view over a seemingly endless strip of coast where waves, rolling in multiple layers, devour ever more of the coastline. All artefacts of civilisation have already disappeared, just a lone boulder stands, defying the waves. The composition draws the eye far into the landscape to the horizontal line which is in the upper quarter of the picture. There stand the icebergs of Iceland’s Sólheimajökull glacier which already seems to be sinking in the ocean. The glacier is a paradigm for the changes in Iceland wrought by climate change; it is losing a dramatic amount of its mass each year and retreating ever faster. Its meltwater collects in a lake that grows larger year by year; eventually the water flows into the sea. Behind the melting glacier mountains sharply jagged barren rock formations are revealed. Metaphors for an impending future scenario, the total disappearance of Iceland’s glaciers. Melting glaciers are one of the most visible signs of climate change. The seascape is also an allusion to the deep tradition of ocean imagery in art history, an acknowledgement of the fragility of the natural world.

cool earth | concept

Michael Najjar‘s latest work series cool earth deals with our planetary future in times of climate change. It addresses the far-reaching ecological, economic and cultural impact of human-induced climate change which is leading to a redefinition of the relationship between humans and nature. The crisis in the human-nature relationship is existential and influences all areas of human life on our planet. Accelerating climate change is not only a political issue but also an economic, cultural and technological one.

In the Anthropocene era humans have become a geological factor and the most important transformative force in the Earth system. This system is increasingly reaching its stress limits with climate change, species extinction, ocean acidification and destruction of biosphere integrity. In the Anthropocene age humans are changing nature for hundreds of thousands of years into the future; the natural environment is being transformed into a post-natural landscape; the technosphere is enveloping our planet and increasingly expanding into space. It now weighs more than the entire biomass of the planet. We are fast approaching a time when the technical contends with the natural for the future shape of the world. In the coming decades we shall have to engineer a technology-based terraforming of our planet in order to keep it habitable for a steadily growing population. The actions that we take now and in the coming decades will decisively determine the future of our coming generations.

The greatest danger to life on Earth is posed by overheating. The rise in the Earth’s temperature to over 2 C will activate various tipping points in the Earth system, changing a previously stable system into a chaotic one and endangering our civilizational existence. To counteract the advancing climate emergency and the existential threat to our planetary
ecosystem, researchers and scientists are increasingly

discussing the possibility of large-scale technological intervention in the Earth’s natural systems or climate engineering. The term refers to targeted technological interventions in the Earth’s geochemical and biochemical cycles, in the oceans, in the soil, and in the atmosphere. Measures such as active CO2 absorption from the air and subsequent carbonisation in the soil, injection of aerosols into the stratosphere to change the solar radiation budget, space reflectors, brightening of clouds, targeted weather modification, dunging of oceans, produc- tion of artificial polar ice, desert modification, ocean farming, and large-scale afforestation are just some of the instruments available to the process of climate engineering. In view of the dramatic consequences of climate change for future generations, technological, aesthetic and cultural perspectives need to be rethought. We must think beyond the principle of sustainability to the active restoration of our damaged environment. Disruptive innovation will be the key to the continuation of our civilisation.

The art work series cool earth spans the arc from a looming dystopian future – which has already arrived in the present – to a technology-based post-fossil world that requires a redefinition of the human-nature relationship. The political, cultural and technical means needed to address the climate crisis lie within our reach yet we continue to head for the abyss. The climate crisis appears to us as a “hyperobject” whose temporal and spatial dimensions cannot be comprehended. This limits humankind’s ability to think cogently about it and implement strategies for action; and this is where art can contribute to setting processes of reflection in motion. The artworks of the cool earth series combine science and fiction; they imagine the transition to a world without fossil energy and open up a mental field of possibilities for the viewer of how we could shape a liveable, post-destructive world.

 

Michael Najjar

In his artwork, Michael Najjar takes a complex critical look at the technological forces shaping and drastically transforming the early 21st century. In his artistic practice, he fuses art, science, and technology into visions of future social structures emerging under the impact of cutting-edge technologies. His „outer space“ series deals with the latest developments in space exploration and the way they will shape our future life on Earth, in Earth’s near orbit and on other planets. The cultural dimension represented by the current transition process towards a larger human presence in space is very much at the center of the series. The intimate experience of “living through” situations, which provide the leitmotifs of his art, is vital to the artist. This will culminate in the artist´s own flight into space. As one of the pioneer astronauts of Virgin Galactic, Michael Najjar will be embarking on SpaceShipTwo on one of its future spaceflights, where he will be the first artist to travel in space. Works by Michael Najjar form part of museum, leading corporate and private collections across the world.

michaelnajjar.com