German photographer Thomas Wrede has been photographing the ice grotto since 2017. To him, the desperate efforts to slow the melt with blankets symbolize the Sisyphean task of remedying the environmental devastation of global warming. “Although the blankets are continually replaced, their tattered appearance reveals the great futility associated with trying to halt climate change,” Wrede says. (The Carlen family isn’t alone in using giant blankets to slow ice melt. Many European ski resorts also use them too.)Despite the family’s best efforts—for the past decade, the blankets have covered the glacier year-round—the ice grotto may only be around for a couple more years. The Rhône Glacier is simply melting too fast. “The effort required to maintain the structural integrity of the ice grotto is ever-increasing,” Wrede adds.
Wrede’s photography series documents both the exterior of the glacier, draped in greyish blankets like a Christo and Jeanne-Claude installation, and the luminous interior of the grotto, where visitors can see centuries-old ice formations. “As an artist, I’m interested in artificial landscapes, like the constructed nature of theme parks,” he says. “I like to question the limits of the natural and the artificial, what is real and what is staged.”Artifice and nature, grotto and glacier—both are threatened by climate change. The ice tunnel may only have a few years, but the Rhône Glacier’s days are also numbered. Scientists estimate that two-thirds of the glacial ice in the Alps will melt by 2100.
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