Lethe
2022

“The project Lethe is part of Mascini’s ongoing field research on unlikely sources from which electricity is generated through destruction processes. Previous works within this research, including Salvage (2019) and Instar (2021), focus on energy recovery from the annihilation of the body of a whale stranded on the coast and a batch of cocaine seized by customs. The electricity released in this destruction process is stored by Mascini and developed into battery works, which are part of existing, open systems related to the transfer of energies. In the case of Lethe Mascini explores a demolition process that takes place on a much larger scale than what the artist has encountered with other energy sources to date. Lethe is about the destruction and loss of a landscape: the melting of a glacier in the Swiss mountains under the increasing influences of global warming. Climate change has a major impact on the Alps. The temperature there has risen by two degrees Celsius in the last century and is therefore at the forefront of global temperature increases. With Lethe, Mascini responds to this complex and disturbing situation, in which conflicting feelings of ecological grief arise. In agreement with the Swiss electricity company Kraftwerke Zervreila, Mascini has obtained access to the plant with which the company generates electricity from melting glacier water. This melting ice water accumulates in man made artificial lakes, and is led from a great height to turbines and generators below, which then convert this thrust into electricity. This transforms a nature reserve into a profit landscape, where an ecological catastrophe is capitalized upon and the negative consequences of climate change are converted into a paradoxical, positively charged exchange rate in the form of the product that is electricity. During the exhibition of Lethe, the energy stored in steel gas cylinders will be gradually discharged with the burning of a small lamp, in a process in which tiny particles of glacial water mist into the space.

The title Lethe refers in Greek mythology to the Goddess of Forgetfulness and to one of the five rivers in the underworld from which the dead drink to forget their earthly lives. In this way, Mascini explores in the work the concept of amnesia in relation to a slowly vanishing landscape. Within this landscape, the power station also serves as a witness in the ‘naturalization process’ from rapidly changing environment to electricity as an abstract building block for all kinds of human applications. The idea of amnesia in the ecological demise of this landscape applies not only to humans but equally to the ice and the memories that were locked into the memory of the ice—a concept also known as ‘ice memory’– and now thaw and are lost.”

*This text was co-written by Vibeke Mascini and Niekolaas Lekkerkerk for the exhibition guide of Vibeke’s solo exhibition at RADIUS CCA, The world is a verb (10 July - 11 September 2022)

Electricity generated from melting glacier water, 2 steel cylinders filled with hydrogen, glacier water, plastic jerrycan, fuel cell, cylinder carts, 0.5W LED lamp.


Many thanks goes out to the generous advice and support of: Thomas van Dijk, Felix Beyer, Daniel Calabrese (LNI Swissgas), Wieland Hunger (Kraftwerke Zervreila AG), Emile Jackson (H2EnergyLab, Hogeschool Rotterdam), Venkatesh Sarda, Salvatore Tassone (Hexis Marcus Rolloos and Johannes Hedinger (Alps Art Academy)

Published writing about LetheDe Groene Amsterdammer (NL), Trouw (NL)

image 1-5, process documentation by Vibeke Mascini
image 6 Aerial view Safien Valley, from the public archive of Vals, Switzerland, 2003
image 7 - 8 exhibition view RADIUS CCA / photo: Gunnar Meier
©2022 Vibeke Mascini. All rights reserved.