Petrocultures: Let’s Talk About Oil

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The conversation around oil and the offshore is instrumental to Newfoundland and Labrador, and Turtle Island at large.

Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador Will host Petrocultures August 31 to September 3: a multidisciplinary conference that draws from industry, arts, Indigenous communities and academia to discuss issues of oil, gas, and the offshore.

Petrocultures 2016 is an academic conference that includes a public lecture and two evenings of film screenings at The Rooms, including; Let’s Talk About Oil, September 1 at the GEO Centre, which speaks to the past and present realities of the oil industry.

Let’s Talk About Oil’s panel includes: Petrocultures founder Imre Szeman, Adam Cormier of Iron and Earth, Scottish artist and public project leader Sue Jane Taylor, Paula Graham, a PhD student in sociology at Memorial University who specializes in creative activism and political participation, and more.

Petrocultures also features Screening the Offshore I and II, two nights of public films at The Rooms. Screening the Offshore I: The Forgotten Space (2010), kicks off the film series September 2.

Introduced by Vicky Chainey Gagnon, director/chief curator of The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, The Forgotten Space is an essay-style film directed by Allan Sekula and Noel Burche, who focus on the ocean’s role in modernity.  The Forgotten Space follows container cargo aboard ships, barges, trains and trucks, and listens to workers, engineers, planners, politicians, and those marginalized by the global transport system.

Directors Sekula and Burch summarize their intentions: “Our premise is that the sea remains the crucial space of globalization. Nowhere else is the disorientation, violence, and alienation of contemporary capitalism more manifest, but this truth is not self-evident, and must be approached as a puzzle, or mystery, a problem to be solved.”

As curator of Screening the Offshore II, I will introduce a series of short petro films that imagine power, and harness a sense of intervention at The Rooms September 3.  Through this series of filmic interpretations of petrocultures, myth, activism, colonization, violence, and gender, international and national video artists like Rebecca Belmore, Christina Battle, Emily Richardson, and others explore national and international offshore and onshore issues. 

Vancouver-based Anishniaabe artist Belmore’s “Fountain” is a short film exploring myth, metaphor, and essence. Belmore’s “Fountain” was originally projected onto a water screen. Her work is a poetic and metamorphic act of decolonization. Where water becomes blood, Belmore asks viewers to witness decreation versus apocalyptic vision.

London-based Battle’s “Oil Wells: Sturgeon Road & 97th Street” is an experimental short film shot on 16mm. Battle organically manipulates footage of Alberta’s oil sands, the artist’s home province. The staccato-like rhythm and layers of delicate emulsion techniques are unsettling. The mechanical rise and fall of an oil well is re-coloured, superimposed, and offers an internal perspective of a complex prairie landscape.

Vancouver-based Ruth Beer’s “Oil and Water,” explores the intersections of industry and environment. Through a series of images, Beer pits scenic terrain, and Indigenous art with industrial structures, and extracts the oil industry and its on-going damaging threat to the land. 

UK-based Richardson’s “Petrolia,” shot on 16mm, using time lapse and long exposure techniques. Inspired by an oil drill platform in Cromarty Firth, Scotland, the film is to witness the changing industrial architecture of the North Atlantic. Richardson uses beats of poetic silence and electronic generation noise to imprint meaning and express concern.

Switzerland-based Ursula Biemann’s “Deep Weather,” is a narrative film charting national and international petrocultures. “Deep Weather” links narratives of oil and water and the change in planetary ecology. Biemann explores ‘Carbon Geologies,’ in the tar sands of Northern Canada and ‘Hydro Geographics,’ in the constantly threatened monsoon areas of Bangladesh.

Saskatchewan-based director David Geiss’ “Basin,” captures the boom, bust, and echo of Fort McMurray, pre-wildfire devastation. Geiss uses aerial footage as a rallying cry for environmental activism. As the Indigenous drummer offers a song to an abused earth, a foreshadowing to the current trauma, viewers are invited to reflect. All we are is land.

Screening the Offshore explores the visualization of oil, nature of land, industry threats, and ongoing affects of colonialism. It’s a collaborative project curated and supported by The Rooms and Memorial University’s Office of Public Engagement (Accelerator Fund), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

More information on Petrocultures 2016 can be found at petrocultures2016.ca

Friday September 2: Screening the Offshore 1
8.00pm
The Rooms Theatre
9 Bonaventure Avenue

Saturday September 3: Screening the Offshore 2
7.00pm
The Rooms Theatre
9 Bonaventure Avenue

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About Author

Shannon Webb-Campbell

Shannon Webb-Campbell is an award-winning Mi’kmaq poet, writer, and curator. Still No Word (Breakwater, 2015), recipient of Egale Canada’s Out In Print Award, is her first collection of poems. She was Canadian Women In Literary Arts critic-in-residence 2014, and is a board member.
Shannon holds a MFA in Creative Writing from University of British Columbia, a BA from Dalhousie University, and currently studies and teaches English Literature at Memorial University. Her work is anthologized in IMPACT: Colonialism in Canada (Manitoba First Nation Education Resource, 2017), Where the Nights Are Twice As Long: Love Letters of Canadian Poets (Goose Lane, 2015), This Place A Stranger: Canadian Women Travelling Alone (Caitlin Press, 2015), and others. She curated “Screening the Offshore” at The Rooms Provincial Museum, Art Gallery and Archives, and currently works as a curatorial assistant at Eastern Edge Gallery. Shannon is poetry editor at Plenitude Magazine. Her play Neither Love Letters Nor Moonlight, premieres at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland February 2017. She is a member of Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.