Petromodernity and its Tenacities

Beauty of Oil at the Conjectural Futures Conference 2022, Nov. 17/18 Potsdam

Commissioned and hosted by foresight departments at Evonik and Deutsche Bahn and co-curated by Beauty of Oil-member and speculative designer Bernd Hopfengärtner, the conference took place in a beautiful building in Potsdam, the former “Kaiserbahnhof” at the south end of the palace gardens of Sans Soucis. Beauty of Oil-member and cultural researcher Alexander Klose was invited to give a talk on petromodernity and BoO’s activities as opener of the conference’s second session “Tipping Scales – tracing links from particle to planet”.

Here’s what Bernd Hopfengärtner wrote as introduction to this session: “Sometimes, the biggest changes take place in the smallest details. In the 19th century, organic chemistry discovered fossil hydrocarbons, the basic building blocks of petromodernity. The consequences of this discovery – the unleashed availability of energy and the ability to shape material into basically any form – still make up our reality: leisure, freedom, division of labour, nutrition, knowledge society and Tupperware parties on the one hand; geopolitical conflicts, exploitation of people, natural disasters and climate change on the other. What the historical mobilisation of hydrocarbons was to energy and materials, the emerging manipulation of quantum states might be to information, or the designability of genetic functions to life.
A petro-modern perspective on the history and present shows us how important it is to look for connecting lines between the very small and the very large. What does this perspective tell us about current future technologies? How can we imagine the implications of bio and quantum technologies? What approaches and tools can we use?” (conference program)

And here’s the abstract of Klose’s talk: “Molecular mobilization and molecular history—the accumulative powers of the very small entities in machines and in societies—go hand in hand and reach planetary dimensions in the petromodern era. Its dynamics are composed by the hard powers of science and technology, industry and economics, as well as the soft powers of habits and pretensions, thoughts and beliefs. It is an era of excess: In order to understand what we might have to leave behind, we should not only study energy production and scenarios of scarcity but also consumerism and the promises of abundant lifestyles. If we don’t consider the latter, the molecular dynamics of petromodernity will prevail, even without petroleum.”

Petromodernity and its Tenacities, download presentation here.

»Energiesicherheit im postfossilen Zeitalter«, Podiumsdiskussion. Urania Berlin, 11.2022, mit Anke Weidlich, Matthias Drieß, Benjamin Steininger und Jochen Müller

Wie sicher ist unsere Energieversorgung – aktuell, vor allem aber nach der Energiewende, deren Dringlichkeit ein weiterer Hitzesommer eindrucksvoll unterstrichen hat? Energie ist nicht abstrakt, das ist mehr denn je klar. Sie ist in stoffliche und geografische Netzwerke eingebunden. Welche Stoffe brauchen wir für unseren Alltag, die Industrie, unseren Wohlstand? Wie sind diese Ressourcen in der Welt verteilt? Zu welchen geopolitischen und ökologischen Kosten leben wir aktuell? Und wie wollen wir in Zukunft leben?

Chemie steht dabei doppelt im Fokus. Als großer Verbraucher zahlreicher und oft problematischer Ressourcen, aber auch als erprobtes Mittel, sich über Innovation aus Abhängigkeiten zu lösen.

Der Forschung zur Katalyse kommt eine Schlüsselrolle zu; sowohl für postfossile Energiesysteme wie für alle anderen, globalen Stoffkreisläufe. Welche Ansätze verfolgt UniSysCat hier?

jetzt erschienen: ERDEN. Naturphilosophische Brocken

Schriften zur Verkehrswissenschaft, Bd. 45, hg. von Ivo Gurschler, Andreas Hofbauer, Alexander Klose, Wien: Sonderzahl Verlag 2022.

Inline-Bild

Buchpräsentation: 4. November 2022, 19:00 Uhr, Depot, Breite Gasse 3, 1070 Wien

Live-Stream des Abends unter https://youtu.be/MCK46Yu7-EQ

Die Präsentation in Berlin findet im Dezember 2022 oder Januar 2023 statt. Zeit und Ort werden an dieser Stelle noch bekann gegeben.

Der Band versammelt solche, in ihrer Gesamtheit notwendig fragmentarisch bleibende Vorstöße als vier – auf die Erde und ins Unbekannte geworfene – naturphilosophische Brocken. Unter Extraktionsregime fallen Texte, die die in der Moderne vorherrschende Fassung der Natur als Ressource problematisieren. Dieser Bestandsaufnahme gegenübergestellt werden im Rahmen von Naturepistemologien polyzentrische Modelle von Natur(en), die auf außereuropäische Kosmologien rekurrieren und dissidente Lesarten der europäischen Tradition in Erinnerung rufen. Körpersäfteanalysen zeigen, wie Natur in der leiblichen Auseinandersetzung mit (Kleinst-)Körpern und (an)organischen Stoffen zur Darstellung kommen kann. Der Brocken Wahlverwandschaften handelt von sympoietischen Verbindlichkeiten: queeren und Xeno-Bindungen.

Mit Beiträgen von: Heather Davis, Kai van Eikels, Donna Haraway und Karin Harrasser, Andreas L. Hofbauer, Maren Mayer-Schwieger, Kathrin Meyer, Johannes Neurath, Hermann Rauchenschwandtner, Salome Rodeck, Oxana Timofeeva, Tom Turnbull, Daniel Tyradellis, Maria Zinfert und einer künstlerischen Bildstrecke von Jenny Michels.

»Tu ölig‘s Austria – Petro Revue Linz«

19.10.2022, 20:30, bei: IFK-Jahrestagung »Situiert im Globalen. Konflikte, Kosten, Atmosphären« an der Kunstuniversität Linz (19.-21.10.2022)

Es gibt Erdöl in Österreich? Aber ja! Im Wiener Becken und in Oberösterreich wird seit den 1930ern Erdöl und Erdgas gefördert. Raffinerien und Öltanks stehen seit dem ausgehenden 19. Jahrhundert an den Ufern der Donau. Der Rohstoff Öl verknüpft auf schillernde Weise die lokale Geografie und die nationale Geschichte der Alpenrepublik mit deren naturgeschichtlichen Grundlagen und mit den globalen Weltläuften des 19., 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts.

Um 1900 ist das Habsburgerreich mit seinen galizischen (heute ukrainischen) Ölfeldern Förderland Nummer drei nach den USA und Russland. Öl aus dem Wiener Becken treibt die NS Kriegsmaschine an. Bis 1963 fließen dann Millionen Tonnen Öl als inoffizielle Reparationen in die Sowjetunion. Parallel zum neutralen Österreich wird die ÖMV als neutraler Öl-Konzern konzipiert. 1965 Wien wird OPEC-Stadt, seit 1968 strömt Sowjetisches Erdgas über Baumgarten in den Westen. Die Montanuniverstät Leoben ist eine der wichtigsten Petroleum-Lehrstätten Europas. Zwar ist die OMV ein internationaler Konzern mit Verflechtungen insbesondere nach Russland, aber noch immer stammen ca. 10 Prozent des Inlandsverbrauchs an Öl und 15 Prozent an Erdgas aus heimischen Quellen.

Die Pfade des Erdöls aus und nach Österreich situieren das Land auf sehr spezifische Weise in der Natur- in der Kultur- und in der politischen Geschichte der Moderne und des Anthropozäns. Öl fungiert als besonderes Reflexionsmedium: Im Lokalen wird das Globale, im Globalen wird das Lokale anders wahrnehmbar. Mit Bild- Video- und Ton-Material aus unterschiedlichen Konstellationen (Galizien, NS, OPEC) gestaltet ‚Beauty of Oil‘ eine Revue Petro Noir in Linz.

Die Petro Revue Linz montiert Unterhaltung und Propaganda, Videoschnipsel und Musik mit geowissenschaftlichen Materialien und historischen Dokumenten. Sie bilden den Rahmen für Gespräche. Unsere Gäste und Gesprächspartner_innen sind der österreichisch-französische Historiker Jérôme Segal und die Petroleumingenieurin und Doktorandin der Montan-Universität Leoben Bianca Brandstätter.

Die Tagung wird über Zoom gestreamt. Über diesen Link kann man sich zur Teilnahme anmelden.

On the frontier of fossil unreason

Alexander Klose at the University of Possibilities in Lützerath

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

time: 
July 8, 5:30 pm

location: 
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:

Registration_Markers@hkw.de

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.