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Artists Covered Sweden’s Tallest Peak with a Blanket to Help Slow Glacial Melting

Climate change is threatening Sweden’s highest peak. The glacier atop Mount Kebnekaise, the country’s tallest mountain, has been shrinking by an average of a meter a year for the past 15 years due to rising temperatures. As a symbolic gesture, artists Mats Bigert and Lars Bergström installed a reflective blanket to keep the mountain top's snow a little colder and prevent it from melting.

“The rapid melting of the southern peak was front-page news in the summer of 2014,” the artists explain. “If it continues at the same pace, the peak will no longer be Sweden’s highest point. Our intervention to prevent the glacier’s melting is a symbolic geo-engineering performance that represents humanity’s ability to change the climate for better or for worse.”

Kebnekaise’s southern peak is currently Sweden’s highest point, but in August 2014 it measured just 70 centimeters above its northern peak, which is Sweden’s highest fixed point. According to Stockholm University, the south peak decreased from 2102 metres above sea level in 2010 to just 2097.5 metres above sea level in 2014.

The artists read about attempts to slow the ice melt on the Rhone glacier in Switzerland by covering it with blankets, which led to the idea for the project, which they entitled Rescue Blanket for Kebnekaise.

“Mainly, it's the ski resorts that are trying desperately to cover up these areas of ice, which are just disappearing,” Bigert told Fast Company.

“Basically, this would work,” Bigert said. “But it's also difficult — who's going to do that operation every year? This is more of a pointing a finger at the problem. I guess it would work if you put a huge chunk of Styrofoam over Greenland as well. It would probably be difficult. But that's what we're interested in — if you have this escalating climatic change, which obviously isn't slowing down, we might just have to do these sorts of speculative, technological quick fixes.”

Bigert and Bergström are showcasing the project as part of a larger exhibition entitled The Freeze, on display in Stockholm through February 14. A sculptural weather station with four video monitors showcases the work, from the swaddling of the mountain peak in reflective gold fabric, to the path of the meltwater as it descends into one of the world’s biggest mines deep underground. The central work of the exhibition is a human-size model of the top of the glacier lets people walk through the middle.

“If you go into a glacier and really look on the inside, like the anatomy of a glacier, it's so fascinating, with these layers, that each represent a year,” Bigert told Fast Company. “So you really get a sort of skeleton or exoskeleton of the glacier. That's what we want to get at.”

The Freeze is the third in a series of exhibitions in which Bigert and Bergström “investigate mankind’s desire to control the climate, the weather and their own living conditions through geo-engineering.” Previous exhibitions in the series include The Storm (2012) and The Drought (2013).

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