[Photos: Markus Tretter]

An alien lives in our midst. It is an ancient alien, one that is hundreds of millions of years old. It is a pilot of flying and non-flying objects; a heater of homes; a master of sanitation; a fashion impresario; a beauty expert; an addict of convenience; a healer of wounds; a maker of wars; a polluter of air; a killer of birds and a destroyer of worlds. This invisible chameleonic character inserts itself into every orifice of our modern existence, at times passing through entirely unnoticed. Who is this ultimate shapeshifter lurking in the background of our lives? The name of this omnipresent being is Oil.

Oil (petroleum) is not merely a source of fuel, but it is also the mother of a myriad of substances that we cannot live without in our daily affairs – the by-products of the petrochemical industry: gasoline, diesel, benzene, asphalt, plastic, polyester, cosmetics, medicine, paint. This Frankenstein-esque mutant transforms into so many forms that it is difficult to comprehend how many mutations it makes and to what scale it extends. Regarded as the harbinger of both fantastic miracles and horrifying curses, it has laid a double-pronged trap for us humans of the modern world, one in which we find ourselves stuck in the throes of an eternal dilemma, seemingly without any means of escaping it. Will we ever be rid of this strange condition of demonic possession we find ourselves in? Can we someday overcome this freak petroleum interval in history and pass over to a new ”ever clear“ reality away from the fossils’ descendants? Will there soon be a scientific breakthrough that unfastens our chains, forever freeing us from the grip of the dark ooze, or will we continue our slow descent into certain climatic apocalypse, constantly bathed in it, wallowing in a dark spiral towards the unknown?

There are those of us, who are chained to oil in a different way: we enable its destructive course across the globe, generating immense amounts of wealth. Ephemeral and fleeting, the sparkling seduction that the promise of un-limited riches emanates is multicolored. It is blinding. The shimmering hues of pinks, greens, silvers, blues and purples: the iridescent sheen of oil tricks the eye, like a shiny pearl, projecting hallucinations of celebrity and power into the mind of its viewer. “You will never be poor again,” it whispers softly. But the trickster genie makes us forget the true price of this prosperity: a mountain of irreversible debt we have accrued to the only planet we will ever know.

The dramaturgy of this exhibition follows the varying paths that oil takes, guiding us through the different formations and stories it generates; the ruptures in history and biology it has induced, the machinery and memories associated with it, and the existential questions it forces us to consider.

[Text: Monira Al Qadiri]

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