28.03 — 28.04 / 2013
© Andreas Rutkauskas, Pumpjack, 2012.
Vernissage 28 March 2013 – 17h
When most people think of the oil industry today, they may not typically think of Ontario. Nevertheless, the community of Oil Springs, southeast of Sarnia, was home to the first commercial oil field in North America. While Sarnia is better known today for its extensive petrochemical industry (referred to as Chemical Valley), Petrolia creates a juxtaposition with this region’s industrial heritage landscape.
In February 2011 I was invited by the ALIX Gallery (then Gallery Lambton) to participate in an artist-in-residence project while they closed their doors in preparation to move into a new space. This residency consisted of five visits in order to develop a collaborative research idea with writer/artist Lee Rodney from the University of Windsor, the Sarnia artist-run collective for arts, science and music (SARCASM), and curator Lisa Daniels. Members of the community were provided with GPS units and encouraged to help direct my artistic practice by taking “me” on virtual tours of their favourite locations around the county. It did not take long before they brought me to the site of Oil Springs.
Petrolia presents co-existing themes of the decommissioning or scaling-back of petrochemical processing in Chemical Valley, while simultaneously investigating the pastoral landscape and small-scale, family-operated oil industries of Lambton County. Large-format photographs present views from the periphery of Chemical Valley – a dense social landscape where First Nations ceremonial sites (the cemetery of the Chippewa of Sarnia), abandoned industry (the decommissioned DOW Chemical facilities) and environmental responsibility initiatives (DOW’s community wetlands) all converge, while other images introduce the lush setting of ancient oil fields that have been operated by the same families for many generations. The single channel video Oil!, brings the viewer on a journey through the jerker line system, developed in the 1850s and still used today to draw crude oil from the wells. What begins as an ambiguous sculpture in motion is eventually revealed as a form of Rube Goldberg machine performing the straightforward task of extracting petroleum. The equipment runs day and night, throughout summer and winter.
Petrolia can be viewed in relation to other artistic projects such as Burtynsky Oil and Peter Mettler’s film Petropolis, which focus on the phenomenal scale and otherworldly devastation of landscapes such as the Alberta oil sands from aerial perspectives. In a time when the petroleum industry is the subject of intense political debate, my perspective looks towards the human-scale extraction of crude and provides a phenomenological excavation of this complex landscape.
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/// Peripheral activities of the exhibition Petrolia ///
Waste Land- movie
Photo credit : Jocelyn Riendeau
Andreas Rutkauskas is originally from Winnipeg where he completed a BFA at the University of Manitoba. In 2003 he moved to Montreal and obtained an MFA at Concordia University, where he now teaches in the Studio Arts department. Through the use of photography, video and other media, his work is largely concerned with landscape in response to shifting technologies. His latest project, Petrolia, was developed during a yearlong research endeavour with the Judith & Norman ALIX Art Gallery in Sarnia, Ontario. His projects have recently been exhibited at the ODD Gallery (Dawson City, Yukon), TRUCK Contemporary Art (Calgary, Alberta), and the Foreman Art Gallery (Lennoxville, Québec). His work has been supported by the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, and the Canada Council for the Arts.
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