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Durham University

Durham Energy Institute

Past Events

Find out about some of the previous events held by Durham Energy Institute:

OilScapes: Visual Arts and the Materiality of Oil

5th March 2015, 13:00 to 14:00, E245, Engineering & Computing Sciences, Professor Janet Stewart

In this paper, Janet will present some examples of artworks that might help us to think through the nature of art’s relationship to oil and the oil economy, focusing primarily on installation art, and, in particular, on works that exhibit – and often reflect explicitly upon – the materiality of oil. 

Janet wants to explore the kinds of artistic responses that are demanded by oil, following Bertolt Brecht’s argument that formal innovation is a necessity if we are to comprehend fully petroculture. In taking up the question of the work that art does, Janet seeks to understand not only how art allows us to comprehend a pre-existing social reality (which is Brecht’s position), but also how it helps to bring the social and the biophysical world into being, how it imagines what we might call ‘oil-scapes’. Images and objects, she argues, need to be understood as part of the living landscape, rather than merely as petrified indices of a living landscape from which they are entirely abstracted. The relationship between art and oil, encapsulated in the figure of the ‘oilscape’, is one of interaction or interpenetration, rather than simply co-existence.

Janet Stewart is Professor in Visual Culture and German at Durham University and Director of the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture. Her current research project develops her long-standing research interests in modernity and visual culture in the context of the emerging field of the energy humanities, with a specific focus on theoretical and cultural approaches to oil. She is working on a research monograph, ‘Curating Europe’s Oil’, which explores the role that oil plays in twenty-first century cultural memory.

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