A proposal to set CH4.5.75H2O on fire (work in process)
30.11.13 – 26.01.14
Pratchaya Phinthong initiates a new project dealing with methane hydrate or ‘burning ice’ at KIOSK. The artist is fascinated by the poetic image of burning ice, and also by its metaphorical potential in light of important current geostrategic and social issues such as the economy, energy and ecology.
Methane hydrate is a form of water ice that contains large quantities of methane inside its crystal structure. This mix of water and methane only forms under specific conditions: pressure of more than 50 bar and a temperature below 4°C. Only in recent years large deposits of it have been discovered in the permafrost and in ocean-floor sediments. These sedimentary deposits of methane hydrate are estimated to contain anywhere between two and ten times the amount of methane of the entire known reserves of natural gas. As such, they form a potentially crucial future source of fossil fuel. A realization that comes not without pressing ecologic issues, however. As a greenhouse gas, methane is twenty times as powerful as carbon dioxide, and global warming entails the risk of a melting of the permafrost, which would release methane on a massive scale. Some scientists fear that this would make the hothouse effect irreversible.
Phinthong is fascinated by this ambiguous relation between the economic potential and the ecologic consequences of methane hydrate. He deploys this thought-provoking idea as a conceptual framework for organizing his show A proposal to set CH4 · 5.75H2O on fire (work in process).
The sound playing in the central hemicycle room functions as the starting point in this. It is a recording of a conversation that took place in Ghent on 12 November 2013 between the artist, maritime geologist Marc De Batist and curator Wim Waelput. This set in motion an exchange between the artist and a number of scientific research teams, dealing with a topic that is the object of worldwide study, but is here approached from an artistic perspective. Eventually a methane hydrate sample was set alight at the Russian lake Baikal under the supervision of geologist Oleg Khlystov. The experiment was carried out specifically for this exhibition project, under the precise conditions set by Phinthong. The action was documented on photograph and video, and the amounts of gas and water released from the ‘burning ice’ were measured.
The material remains of the action as well as the chain of dialogues and exchanges of ideas leading up to it were translated to the exhibition space. As such, the residue of the collaborative effort symbolically seeps into the room in the form of one small puddle of water – the exact amount of water measured after the combustion.
The exhibition by Pratchaya Phinthong was made possible with the cooperation of: prof. dr. Marc De Batist (head of department at the Renard Centre of Marine Geology, department of Geology and Soil Science, Ghent University), Oleg Khlystov (laboratory chief at the Limnological Institute SB RAS, Russian Academy of Sciences) and his team members Andrey Khabuev and Oleg Belousov.