At the heart of Benedikt Partenheimer’s artistic work are questions that pertain to the repercussions of excessive global economic growth. For his two-part photographic project Memories of the Future, the artist travelled to Alaska to look at the manifest consequences of climate change. The photographs „Methane“ taken in collaboration with scientists at the University of Alaska depict the flames from methane gas bubbles which have formed beneath the ice of frozen lakes. Partenheimer’s pictures reveal what cannot be seen with the naked eye, yet has such fatal consequences for the Earth’s climate: greenhouse gases escaping due to the thawing of the permafrost. Large quantities of carbon are bound up in the soils of the world’s permafrost regions, probably twice as much as is currently present in the atmosphere. If the permafrost continues to thaw at an accelerated pace due to climate change, these reservoirs will open up and release considerable quantities of carbon dioxide and methane, further exacerbating the global warming phenomenon. Permafrost is therefore a key tilting element in the Earth’s climate system.
In his photographic series Drunken Trees, Partenheimer illustrates one such a tilting event. To capture these landscape photographs featuring these teetering trees, the artist drove right across Alaska. Indeed, with the thawing soil rendered unstable, the trees gradually lose their footing and subside, altering the appearance of the landscape as a whole. This process known as thermokarst has also caused damage to infrastructure and prompted the resettlement of entire villages. In a second work step, Partenheimer superimposes several image planes and incorporates graphic elements that elongate the tilt angle of the trees. The landscapes thus subtly manipulated toy with our ways of seeing, prompting us to pause and reflect. With his sensitive visual imagery, both unsettlingly beautiful and highly critical, Partenheimer creates a moment of contemplation. His haunting photographic works highlight complex processes of transformation, revealing an ecosystem that is increasingly out of kilter.