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On the one hand, the seemingly unstoppable momentum of oil sands technology and pipeline expansion has been bolstered by a series of corporate and governmental campaigns that repitch oil as productive, prosperous, and even energy efficient. This rationale based on a rhetoric of technological and scientific advancement is strengthened by the claim that the oil industry generates employment.
Dirty oil has found its way into the world of art and film too, particularly in the documentary genre. The video shows the pipeline being built, but Biemann punctuates this endeavor with a human geography of interviews that she conducts with workers, farmers, prostitutes, and refugees whose lives are governed by the pipeline.
If oil has a hold on objectivity, it is through the saturation of the visual field. Oil is hypervisible precisely at the moment when the industry is attempting to overcome its peak and scarcity through extreme technological measures. Attempts to unconceal it, in the Heideggerian sense, are foreclosed by the sheer saturation of information, emotion, and opinion that distorts and contorts the ground of rational criticism. The recent modus operandi of contemporary artists to accumulate and redistribute plastic objects shows us the depth of the problem of oil through different terms of visibility.
Oil is not simply a political terrain limited to land claims, environmental management, and economy.
It is a cultural and aesthetic mesh that mediates the sensorial field. The general tenor of these works shifts the visual field away from the efforts to objectively expose the dirty truth of the oil industry, to works characterized by a sensorial fullness, robustness, and flexibility. A clear example of this shift from industrial exhaustion to plastic exuberance can be found in the work of Melanie Smith, a Mexico City—based artist.
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The effect is a visualization of the city as entropic sedimentation: Smith exhibits the video, however, with a series of installations that seemingly stand in contrast. Orange Lush , for example, is comprised of bright orange plastic objects, among them life-preservers, extension cords, buoys, cheerleader pom-poms, water wings, flip-flops, light bulbs, balloons, and water rafts. For all their ordinariness, however, the layout of the objects is not arbitrary: Smith chose orange in particular because it was the color that marked the invasion of Mexico City by cheap commodities in the s, after inflation and bailouts from the US and the Bank for International Settlements caused a devaluation of the peso.
Orange plastic is not just an objectification of global petroculture; it is also its mood and mode. If plastic has effaced its earthly source, we might be hard-pressed to make the connection between plastics and global oil: Yet both are part of a coextensive economic and aesthetic regime. Looking at oil is not a material corrective to the superficiality of plastic—far from it.
Oil generates a plastic operation. Every aspect of the oil industry relies on techniques of transposability that we can associate with plastics as circulating commodities and with plasticity as a myth of eternal and limitless transformation. In the plastic predicament, when the senses are saturated and affects prescribed, the question remains: Click to start a discussion of the article above. Your email subscription is almost complete.
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Akintude Akinleye, Untitled , Worker from an illegal organization stealing oil from Nigerian pipelines to sell in the blackmarket. Where do artifacts go when they are destroyed? They enter a void of historical erasure, of fabricated narratives and convenient amnesia. We used to call that place a museum. But what happens when a museum is itself destroyed, when it is burned or looted, when icons and artifacts turn to dust or fall back into the hands of people? Can we still access them, and do we even want to? As Boris Groys points out in this issue: After all, what is the revolution?
It is not the process of Was the Russian avant-garde a collaborator, a coproducer of the October Revolution? To purchase short term access, please sign in to your Oxford Academic account above. Don't already have an Oxford Academic account? Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.
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