Saturday, July 03, 2010

From white snow to black sludge

Attaching the backing sheet for support behind the blankets Antarctica

I'm making slow but steady progress on the boring bits of mounting Antarctica to hang. Meanwhile my creative imagination is running away in a new direction, one more in tune with the zeitgeist: telling stories about oil.

I've had the curse of oil on my mind for many years. As an early adopter of the concepts of peak oil and human-induced climate change I've thought a lot about the past, present and future of ancient sunshine preserved for millenia only to be carelessly extracted and briefly frittered away on supermarket bags, lipstick and Sunday drives. I have enough of a grasp of oil issues to be confident about the choices that I make for my own behaviour, from shopping to voting.

Yet, it's one thing to ride a bicycle to the supermarket and fill my cloth bags with a preference for local and organic foods. It's quite another to think about how I might want to express my ideas in a visual form. As Tim Jones says about political poetry*, its hard to make it work. I'm not interested in making anything ugly or didactic, instead I'm aiming for unflinching beauty. I've got some ideas coming along nicely in that direction but for now I'm in Research and Development mode, looking out for images of the oil industry and its impacts.

These days there's no shortage of pictures of reddish gunk filling the Gulf of Mexico, but as this interview with Peter Maass reminded me, the Niger Delta has experienced the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez spill every year for the last 50 years. Fifty years of voluminous toxins saturating the water, earth and air where some of the poorest, and now sickest, and most violence afflicted, people in the world have the misfortune to live on top of oil.

I want to see what oil looks like leaking out into the land, as well as the sea, and so I've been watching this excellent BBC documentary The Curse of Oil, which has gave me dreams about wading through stinking black sludge.

I don't think I could be contemplating making art about oil if I hadn't spent seven months bathing my psyche in the serene story I'm telling with My Antarctica. Next I'm hoping to tell a story about oil that is beautiful enough to make me happy and compelling enough to make even one person stop driving so much.

Oil in Ecuador from Time/Ivan Kashinsky via Peter Maass' blog

*as part of a discussion with readers in the comments appended to his wonderful poem, No Oil


Tim Jones said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Meliors! I am sure that you will come up with some powerful and beautiful art about oil, as you have about Antarctica.

There is no oilier place I know of on the Internet than The Oil Drum. It's an engineer's delight, though perhaps not an artist's.

Anonymous said...

It bought tears to my eyes to read that your next expedition is through Oil. I absolutely can not wait to see what eventuates, but moreso, what revelations you have that you share with us.
I've said it before and I'll keep saying it till you're deaf - you inspire me so much Meliors...

Carol said...

That Oil in Ecuador photo is, on the surface, really beautiful. How appalling this whole situation is, and it seems bigger than all of us. Thanks for reminding me that it's not only the Gulf of Mexico that is suffering. I look forward to seeing your new, beautiful, and insightful, work on oil.

Joan said...

I came across a story about oil spills in the Niger Delta too. I feel ashamed I like my life!