Julia Christensen Has Us All Waiting for a Break

“Ice is complicated,” explains Julia Christensen on the blog for her upcoming project Waiting for a Break. With support from LAND studio and SPACES gallery, the Oberlin-based artist and writer is creating a city-wide art project exploring just how complicated ice can be—by trying to capture the moment when the ice on Lake Erie breaks. Any Cleveland native knows that during the long winters our relationship with the lake is basically put on hold; we tend to turn our backs to it. Christensen asks us to turn around and take a look.


Waiting for a Break will use the live feeds of cameras placed at strategic points along the lake to capture the ever-changing winter ice covering Lake Erie. Between the months of December 2017 and June 2018 a large bus shelter video kiosk on Public Square will display the cameras’ feeds, and an exhibition at SPACES in January 2018 will have the feeds projected, as well as a reading room, designed by the artist, filled with information about the Great Lakes and her research related to Waiting for a Break.


Partnering with scientists at Stone Lab, a research lab run by Ohio Sea Grant and operated by OSU, and the Lake Erie Center, a freshwater aquatic research center stationed at the University of Toledo, Christensen and her team will begin the project in December before the water has frozen. As she explains, “Real-time shots of the icy horizon line will be fed from cameras installed on South Bass Island, Gibraltar Island, and on the Maumee Bay, all in northwest Ohio. For the first few months of the installation, images on the screens will primarily consist of bleak shots of silvery ice and sky, the grey days of the winter that Clevelanders know so well. As commuters wait for the bus each day, or as they stroll past (or into) SPACES Gallery in Hingetown, they will encounter the same views of the lake. Although the shots will not move, variations in the frame will always be happening: birds will fly across the screen, fisherman may appear on the ice, clouds will move overhead, and of course, the ice will endlessly move and change. Commuters who frequent the bus stop will develop a relationship with the imagery, and will notice environmental shifts as time goes by.”

In the spring the cameras will capture the big event—likely in late April or early May—when the ice begins to thaw and crack, creating an entirely different landscape of jagged edges and floes, pieces eventually melting down and shifting across the screen. Christensen refers to this as a “living piece” because the drama of this event will unfold in real time, alive and changing every day.

The irony of the project is that the ice on Lake Erie is becoming thinner and more erratic every year. Waiting for a Break forces us to be actively engaged in the lake’s health—and provides a platform for dialog, research, and policy about the health of the Great Lakes. The current administration’s proposed cuts to the Great Lakes Protection Act will likely take the health of the Great Lakes back some fifty years. This, along with the proliferation of invasive species like quagga and zebra mussels, and a huge toxic algae bloom threatening our drinking water make it a critical time to stop, turn around, and take a good look at our neighbor to the north—before it’s too late.

You can learn more and see the live feeds at waitingforabreak.org.