On the frontier of fossil unreason

Alexander Klose at the University of Possibilities in Lützerath

brown coal open pit mining in Germany? In 2022? Are you serious?!

Lützerath is a village in the western Rhineland that had to make place for one of Germany’s most contested fossil fuel projects. Since the 1980’s citizens, politicians and NGOs like BUND have been fighting against the plans of North Rhine-Westfalia’s energy giant RWE to double the size of a hundred year old brown coal mine in order to take out a couple of hundred million tons of brown coal. Dozens of law suits, government changes, parliament hearings, demonstrations, climate agreements, climate catastrophes (the Erft valley area that was so heavily flooded in the summer of 2021 is right around the corner), occupations and evictions later, the situation has still not been settled.

A temporary stop has been put to the enlargement plans, but not all of the territory and the villages on it, destined to be destroyed according to the initial plans of RWE and the then social-democratic government of North Rhine-Westfalia are secured. Despite the political decision to completely end the use of coal as energy source in Germany until 2038, or even 2030. In 2015, Ende Gelände startet its direct actions of civil disobedience against coal extraction and combustion with blockades in the Garzweiler mines. Human ecologist and climate activist Andreas Malm mentions them a couple of times in his book How to blow up a pipeline, a plea for direct militant actions like blockades and sabotage to flank the peaceful mass protests of Fridays for Future and the like in order to enhance their assertiveness.

location of the University of possibilities at the brim of the coal mine as part of the Unräumbar-festival Sept 22

Lützerath has become a hotspot for the struggle when one of its old citizens refused to sell his house and stayed while RWE started to demolish houses and tear out streets and infrastructure around in January 2021, inviting activists to stay with him. In Sept 2022 this last man standing left after having finally lost his law trials against eviction in March. Since then the camp has been officially turned into an illegal squat, and the squatters have proclaimed the ZAD Rheinland in Lützerath, following the example of the militant Zone à défendre (zone to be defended) in France, The Netherlands, and Switzerland.

I had been invited to talk about our work with Beauty of Oil in the framework of a “University of possibilities”, a series of workshops, presentations and experimental discourse formats intended to accompany and maybe even ground activism with philosophical and speculative thought. “Philosophy can also be direct action,” as Lee, one of the initiators who had invited me, told me in the evening when she toured me around camp after my talk.

Here’s the abstract of my talk:

Just What is It That Makes Today’s Lifes So Different, so Appealing? – on the tenacity of petromodern claims and ways.

Presentation and discussion by/with Alexander Klose 

(Research collective Beauty of Oil, Berlin/Vienna; Office for precarious concepts and undisciplinary research, Berlin)

Richard Hamilton, Just What is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, so Appealing?, 1956

Living in the plastic world / Living in the plastic world / Plastics, plastics everywhere / Where I walk and stand / PVC, PVC everywhere.

This is how A+P, an early German Punkband, put it in 1980.  

Artificial matter, artificial fertilizer / Artificial grass / Artificial life / False teeth, false eyelashes / False love / All false here.

We have been living in petromodernity—the era of petrochemically based fuels and materials saturating all regions of life—for more than 100 years. Plastics is the new prima materia of this age, embodiment and incarnation of a second nature. For more than 50 years, people around the globe, but especially in the north-western heartlands of the petromodern civilization process have gotten increasingly aware that some things are fundamentally wrong with this time and its ruling principles. Starting in the late 1960s, the emissions of factories and cars transmuted from a sign of progress into one of imminent dangers, and plastics from the most modern material and guarantor of luxury for all into a cypher for everything that was a lie in the modern promises. 

Yet, the dynamics of petromodern and—in a larger picture—fossil economics, claims, life styles, and belief systems haven’t been decelerated. Quite the opposite: the Great Acceleration has been continuing more or less full force, with the amount of consumer goods, cars, transport, energy use, plastification, extraction, and toxic emissions increasing globally against all objections or better knowledge. 

Why is that so? And how can it be overcome?

The research collective Beauty of Oil works on understanding these petromodern dynamics in their tenaciousness. My talk introduces our projects, core theorems and approaches, and discusses possible future perspectives between technological fixes, ecological socio-economic reform and radical revolution.

©Photo taken from RWE-website. All other images by Alex Close

Beauty of Oil@Petrocultures 2022: Transformations

24. – 27. August 2022, Stavanger

Cruise Ship, Oil Museum, and Dinosaur in the Center of Stavanger. ©Alex Close

We live in turbulent times, and the role of petroleum is at the heart of global and local political debate about how we should rebuild after COVID-19 and address our worsening crises of climate and international stability. A transition to a world without oil as its primary source of fuel and energy is vital if we are to reach the climate targets set by the Paris Agreement, but the pathway, feasibility, and timing of such an unprecedented transition is still hotly debated. We know that oil will come to an end, but whether its closing date is set by emptied reservoirs, greener alternatives, or political decisions, is still to be determined. Recognizing that the “age of oil” is being challenged, petrocultures2022 invites scholars and artists, journalists and activists, politicians and business actors to engage critically in the debate and the transition to alternatives. The conference will be held at the Norwegian Petroleum Museum and a nearby conference venue in Stavanger, the energy capital of Norway.

description from Petrocultures-website

We spent 4 days and nights at the first physical meeting of the international Petrocultures researcher crowd since Glasgow 2018. It took place in the conference rooms of the Oljemuseum and on a historical ship, the MS Sandness, which used to commute between Bergen and Stavanger. About 300 people attended the conference. The program was packed, and often the conference rooms – among them the lovely breakfast room and second class salon on the boat – were so, too. Keynote speeches were given on thursday, friday and saturday morning at Stavangeren, a former church assembly room in the old city of Stavanger.

Find the full conference programm here.

Below is an impresssionistic collection of images from the town and the conference.

Natur und Propaganda

Lukas Bärfuss im Gespräch mit Alexander Klose, dazu Lesung von Sandra Hüller. 21.8.2023, Maschinenhaus Essen.

© Alexander Klose, Christian Hüller, Lea Meienberg

Natur ist möglicherweise schon immer ein propagandistischer Begriff, durch den die Sphäre des Menschen und der Mensch selbst ideologisch von allem nicht-Menschlichen abgesetzt und überhöht werden sollte. Mit dem neu erstarkten ökologischen Bewusstsein im Zeichen der Anthropozän-These stürzt die Behauptung der kategorischen Trennung zwischen Mensch und Natur bzw. Kultur und Natur in sich selbst zusammen. In der späten Petromoderne sind die Umwelten eines großen Teils der Menschen als “zweite Natur” ausgestaltet. Jedoch nichts, nicht einmal Beton, Plastik, Virtual Reality oder Raketentechnik, konnte jemals ganz den Boden des gegebenen Sets an Stoffen, chemischen Prozessen und physikalischen Gesetzmäßigkeiten verlassen. Wenn wir heute also nach Natur fragen, zielen wir entweder auf Dynamiken und Stofflichkeiten, die trotz der konstitutiven Trennungsbehauptung nie aufhörten, in der menschengemachten Sphäre wirksam zu sein. Oder wir adressieren die Akte der diskursiven Setzungen selbst: Was gilt wo und zu welchem Zweck als ‘Natur’?

Das “Natur und Propaganda” überschriebene Gespräch zwischen Lukas Bärfuss und Alexander Klose dreht sich um Aspekte der (petro)modernen Ausstaffierung und Durchdringung der Welt, der modernen industriellen Gesellschaften und Menschen: Stoffe und ihre Dynamiken, wie Kunstdünger oder Zement, Heilsversprechen von Technik und Politik, Sucht, Propaganda und Gegenpropaganda als Kampf um die “Wahrheit der Natur”.

Sonntag, 21.8.22, 17:00, Maschinenhaus Essen, im Rahmen der Ruhrtriennale 2022.

Die offizielle Ankündigung der von Georg Büchner-Preisträger Lukas Bärfuss konzipierten und geführten Reihe “Die Natur des Menschen” im Programm der Ruhrtriennale findet sich hier.

Das Gespräch wurde für WDR 3 Forum aufgezeichnet und ist bis 23.9.2023 unter diesem Link abrufbar.

Enter the Plastocene

Presentation by Alexander Klose at the transdisciplinary festival and symposium Wasteland, July 8, The Grey Space in the Middle, The Hague.

»The chemical industry knows no waste«, claims an industry propaganda film from the GDR in 1968. Today, the whole Earth seems to have been turned into a planetary plastic waste heap. Thus, the statement sounds weird. Nevertheless, it carries some reasonability in a country and economy relying on stewardship of its scarce resources. Doesn’t that also sound familiar? A good twenty years earlier, a US propaganda film for its war-boosted chemical industry preparing to become civic again had announced that the depicted “world of the molecule belongs to us all. It is yours to explore, your new frontier.” 

GDR propaganda poster for the anti-fascist socialist chemical industry, 1960

The plastic turn had a utopian potential that actualized in different political ideologies. From a certain historical point, to be modern meant to be living in plasticized environments. But the problem with plastics, one may assume, was not caused mainly by its “supernatural” materiality, but by the social and economical organization of its distribution. Consumerism was the civil religion of the American century. Also the socialist regimes gave in to it as a means of manifesting freedom and prosperity in a modern society. That may have been one major nail in their coffin, as a communist idealist might argue. It certainly was another milestone in the advent of the plastocene.

The talk traces the course from plastic crazes in West and East to today’s global plastic waste crises and further to queer and square plastic futures.

The talk takes place on the first day of the three-day-symposium Wast3D-Care, on friday july 8, at 5:30 pm. Festival and symposium Wasteland are conceptualized and organized by Yannik Güldner & Leon Lapa Pereira.

July 8, 5:30 pm

The Grey Space in the Middle 
Paviljoensgracht 20
2512 BP, The Hague
The Netherlands

»Combustion: Reading the Ashes«, seminar at HKW Berlin with Barbara Fiałkiewicz-Kozieł, Neil Rose, and Benjamin Steininger, 20.5.2022, 5 pm

In the context of the congress »Unearthing the Present« (19.5.-22.5.2022), one of the final events after ten years of Anthropocene research and debate at HKW, together with the members of the Anthropocene-Working-Group Barbara Fiałkiewicz-Kozieł (PL) and Neil Rose (UK), Benjamin Steininger will be giving the seminar »Combustion: Reading the Ashes« on Friday, 20.5.2022, 5 pm. It is part of a series of presentations on Friday.

Find more about the congress »Unearthing the Present« (19.5.2022-22.5.2022) and the Workshop series »Markers – Material Delineations of the Present« (20.5.2022, 3–9 pm) at the respective links

In English // Free admission // Limited capacity, registration is desired:


Microplastics in bodies of water or organisms or the accumulation of radionuclides from nuclear weapons tests – anthropogenic markers have a political, technological and ecological history behind them. Developed from the online publication Anthropogenic Markers, researchers of the Anthropocene Working Group, humanities scholars and artists provide an insight into the laboratory practice of “Anthropocene forensics.” Eight sessions examine chemical and biological fingerprints as demarcations for the new geological epoch of the Anthropocene. Registration for individual workshops is now open.

Preview von »Petro-Melancholie. Das Erdölzeitalter im Spiegel der Kunst« Dokumentation von Mathias Frick, ARTE/ZDF 2021, 52 min, 4.5.2022, HKW Berlin

Ausstrahlung auf ARTE: Mittwoch, 22. Juni 2022, um 21:45 Uhr und auf arte.tv bis zum 22. Juli 2022

Der fossile Rohstoff Erdöl hat sich in vielen Facetten unseres Lebens manifestiert und in den letzten 150 Jahren nicht nur unsere Maschinen befeuert, sondern auch unsere Fantasien, Wünsche und Träume. Im Zeitalter der Petro-Moderne wurde Erdöl in
unseren westlichen Gesellschaften zu einem Katalysator für Wachstum und Konsum – und damit zum Sinnbild für Freiheit, Moderne und Wohlstand. Heute neigt sich dieses Zeitalter dem Ende entgegen und uns wird schmerzlich bewusst, wie abhängig
sich die moderne Gesellschaft von diesem Stoff gemacht hat.

Das HKW (Haus der Kulturen der Welt) forscht bereits seit Jahren in verschiedenen interdisziplinären Projekten zum Anthropozän, dem vom Menschen gemachten Erdzeitalter. Der Ausbeutung planetarischer Rohstoffe wie dem Erdöl kommt
hierbei eine wichtige Rolle zu.

Der Regisseur Mathias Frick hat sich gemeinsam mit den Kulturwissenschaftlern Benjamin Steininger und Alexander Klose auf die Reise zurück in die Petro-Moderne gemacht. Der Film erzählt entlang von Kunstwerken aus verschiedenen Teilen dieser Welt, wie tief unser Leben von den Kreisläufen des Erdöls durchdrungen ist. Zur ARTE-Filmpremiere im HKW laden wir Sie herzlich ein.

Vor dem Film: Einführung durch Bernd Scherer (Intendant HKW).
Nach dem Film: Gespräch mit Mathias Frick, Alexander Klose, Benjamin Steininger und der Produzentin Eva Rink (Vive la Dok).

Bernd Scherer, noch Intendant des HKW, hält die Begrüßungsrede und verknüpft die Petromoderne-Forschung mit seinem eigenen, wichtigsten Forschungsfeld der letzten zehn Jahre, der Frage nach dem Anthropozän.

»AnthropoFest« at Tulane University New Orleans, 5.5.2022, licenced and approved as »bureaucratic research and documentation« by Beauty of Oil

The workshop at Tulane University was inspired by the 2019 Beauty of Oil »Bureau of Commodity Flows« (link to the report here) . We are happy to be part of it, at least from the distance !

»AnthropoFest invites festival goers to bring an object at JazzFest and register it to generate a collection that reflects the material culture of Jazz Fest this year. Plastic straw, mango sorbet, sand from the racetrack, or sunscreen: come create this collection! Where did this stuff come from and how does it relate to the Anthropocene— or Age of Humankind? Join us in collecting and creating the 2022 JazzFest AnthropoFest Collection!«

See our certificate displayed in a very nice way on the right top in the black frame.

»Erdöl. Ein Atlas der Petromoderne«, Gespräch zum Buch mit Benjamin Steininger. Galerie Hinterland Wien, 18.2.2022, 18:00, Begleitprogramm zur Ausstellung »The Shape of Oil«

Galerie Hinterland, Krongasse 20, 1050 Wien, www.hinterland.ag (mehr hier)

Zwei Aspekte aus dem Buch greifen wir für das Gespräch heraus: Die Verflechtungen von Öl, Kunst und Kapital am Beispiel des “Teheran Museum of Contemporary Art”, sowie das Wiener Becken als Schauplatz eines sehr spezifischen Oil Encounters im 20. Jahrhundert und damit als lokales Schaufenster hinein in die globale Petromoderne.

Vorbericht in der Wiener Straßenzeitung AUGUSTIN

»Oil« has left the building – im übertragenen und im sehr materiellen Sinn. Die Wolfsburger Ausstellung »Oil. Schönheit und Schrecken des Erdölzeitalters« hat ihre Tore geschlossen

Seit 3. September 2021 und bis zum 9. Januar 2022 war »Oil« unter großem Medien- und Publikumsinteresse am Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg geöffnet – erfreulicherweise ohne einen einzigen Tag Corona-Ausfall.

Jetzt schreitet der Abbau mit Riesenschritten voran. Leihstücke aus aller Welt und in tatsächlich allen Erscheinungsformen treten die Heimreise an: vom 14 Meter breiten Wandrelief von Tony Cragg bis zur 3 mm kleinen Ölfliege aus Kalifornien.

400 Liter Öl aus dem Ölspiegel wurden abgepumpt und wiederverwertet, getreu dem Motto unseres Ausrüsters Avista-Oil: »Jedes Ende ist ein neuer Anfang« (siehe unten, Aufschrift LKW).

Wir bedanken uns noch einmal ganz herzlich auf diesem Weg beim gesamten Museumsteam in Wolfsburg für die tolle Zusammenarbeit und wünschen alles Gute für den unmittelbar anschließenden Aufbau von »Macht! Licht!« (Eröffnung am 12.3.2022)!

Fotos: Elena Engelbrechter