Stefan Petranek (Herron)

The Future is Broken: An Artist’s Response to SDG 13 on Climate Action

Stefan Petranek is motivated by a feeling of urgency. A Herron School of Art and Design Associate Professor of Photography and Intermedia, Petranek is driven by anxiety for the future of our planet. Through his work, he seeks to create a dialogue with his viewers about the true status of our planet, and how contemporary culture, through advances in science and technology, affects our perception of nature, how we define it, and what we must do to protect it.

Petranek’s 2019 IUPUI exhibition, ‘The Future Is Broken’, and the subsequent 2021 Dittmar Gallery at Northwestern University exhibition ‘Anthro-obsence: what we choose not to see’, represent a personal response to what he describes as an obscenity: the current lack of action on climate change, despite ample knowledge of its reality and consequences.

In a recent interview, the artist described how his work attempts to expose what is happening to our landscapes beyond what meets the eye.

“These landscapes often can look just fine and normal, and our capacity to understand how they’re changing is really limited,” Petranek said. “When we can start to comprehend or recognize how those spaces or those landscapes are going to be changed by climate change, we feel like we have a much closer connection to it and concern for it.”

Petranek’s penetrating photographic style overlays climate science data onto landscapes of personal significance in order to visualize what is often hidden from plain sight. Incorporating laser etched photographs, Pixelstick light exposures and projection mapped video sculptures, his work looks broadly at how our pristine and idealized North American and other landscapes are being overwritten by searing heat and turbulent waters. The changing landscape is captured, frozen in time, as a mirror to the paralyzed response--or lack of response--by governments and peoples. Petranek's work asks us not only to imagine a future, but reckon with the reality of the present and to reject these static images as inevitabilities.

AnthroObscene: What We Choose Not to See - Making the World a Better Place with the SDGs

Stephan Petranek presented his work in a 5-minute video as a part of the 2022 IUPUI International Festival - IUPUI SDG Day.


A series of landscape photographs hung in a line on a wall with the letters ANTHRO OBSCENE superimposed over the natural scene

Anthro-obscene. Laser cut archival pigment print, CNC milled XPS foam, raw walnut frames, 2' x 28', 2021.

Five mixed media photographs hanging on a gallery wall

Anthro-obscene: What We Choose Not to See. Exhibition detail, Dittmar Gallery, Northwestern University, Oct 29-Dec 8, 2021.

An open ocean with a mountainous shape cut out of the middle, white handwritten text surrounds the mountain

Make The World Greta Again. laser etched archival pigment print and Greta Thunberg's 2019 UN Climate Summit Speech in acrylic marker, 20" x 29", 2021.

Mining trucks linked up with a topoographical map of glacier recession carved into the sky

Scorched: Grinnell Glacier Recession Topology, 1850-2011, Mine Trucks, Gillette, WY. Laser cut archival pigment print, CNC milled wood, 20" x 29," 2021.

A child fishing in the ocean with a hurricane's wind map superimposed over the water

In The Eye (St. Joseph's Peninsula State Park). Laser etched archival pigment print with Hurricane Michael wind vector map, 20" x 27," 2019.

A coastal sunset with paths of hurricanes carved across it

Atlantic Hurricane Paths, 1985-2005. Laser cut archival pigment print, 20" x 29," 2019.