Saturday, July 03, 2010
From white snow to black sludge
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.