»Beauty of Oil« am 24.11.2021 in der ARTE-Sneak-Preview am Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg: »Petro-Melancholie. Das Erdölzeitalter im Spiegel der Kunst.« Ein Film von Mathias Frick. Und am 11.5.2022 auf ARTE!

Wir wurden in einen Rausch an einem Stoff hineingeboren, der uns einst grenzenlose Freiheit, die Moderne und Lebenskomfort versprach. Das Erdöl, mit seiner schier endlosen Produktpalette, hat wie kaum ein anderer Stoff unsere moderne Gesellschaft geprägt und verändert. Und unsere Welt gleichzeitig in großes Leid gestürzt. Heute ist unser Öl-Rausch zu Ende, die Dämmerung des Erdölzeitalters hat begonnen und der Film blickt mit Künstlern und Künstlerinnen zurück auf die Petromoderne – unser Zeitalter des Öls.

Und er stellt sich die Frage: Was hat das Erdöl nur mit uns gemacht und warum fällt es uns so schwer, uns von dem schillernd schwarzen Rohstoff zu lösen?

Produktion: VIVE la DOK Filmproduktion und Navigator Film (Österreich) in Koproduktion mit ZDF/ARTE, 2021, Regie: Mathias Frick, 52 min

Oily Houston

a visit to the Wiess Energy Hall at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS)

Downtown Houston from the innermost of the five highway belts.
All images and videos in this post by alexclose.

Visiting the ‘Petro Metro’ on invitation by Popup Goethe’s director Grant Aymond, I get the chance to meet Daniel Minisini in person. He is a geologist working for Shell, and in his spare time he hosts an interview series at the local free radio station KPFT Houston directed mainly at the geologists and oil engineers working in Houston. [But via his Youtube Channel also to critical petromodernity researcher all over the world.] In the beginning of 2021 he had interviewed Benjamin and me via zoom.

link to full interview

link to background information on minigeology on Rice University Website

When Daniel heard of my planned trip to Houston, he suggested a couple of places that I should definitely visit, among them the Wiess Energy Hall at the HMNS. The department, which has been completely remade for the bargain price of 42 Mio US$ and reopened in 2018, is dedicated to the physical aspects of a phenomenon that carries metaphysical proportions: energy, and its live-creating, live-sustaining powers.

In Houston, the world capital of oil, this comes down to a narrative almost thoroughly dedicated to the geological, technological, and—to some extent—social aspects of the exploration, production, refinement and consumption of petroleum.

The line-up of sponsors is a who-is-who of the oil business:

One can go down into the depths of the earth inside an enlarged, space capsule-like drillhead until striking oil. It feels like inside a shaky elevator with an overdimensional floor display:

Almost the same scenario is offered a second time, this time we travel horizontally over the land near Houston, than underneath it, in a spaceship-like fracking device:

Mentions of the problematic aspects of tough, unvonventional oil, about the damages done and the civil protests? None. The exhibition is a celebration of the achievements and perspectives of the “unconventional revolution” (as Daniel told me, the technologies of fracking and the like are referred to within the industry).

Oh, wait a second, here’s a critical passage dedicated to the possibility that it might be necessary in the future to step away from fossils towards other fuels:

Remarkable, though, that the striking argument is purely financial. 

A whole panorama in the best tradition of the “Futurama” commissioned by General Motors for the 1939 World’s Fair “The World of Tomorrow” in New York City is dedicated to future energy city (supported by Chevron). But it was closed for maintenance, I could only take a glimpse from the side.

It’s not hard to find professional coverage of this feat on the internet, though, for instance here, on the Museum’s Website.

After a lunch presentation of our work with Beauty of Oil I gave the next day at the architecture faculty hall of Rice University, a distinguished professor and member of the RDA (Rice Design Alliance) asked me, what i would answer to the critique that we have just changed the pictures within but not the museum itself with our OIL-exhibition at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg. Given, that I had not seen a hint of a critical reflection of the oil legacy in all the impressing, shiny, and flashy museum landscape of Houston (with absolutely fantastic ensembles as the Cy Twombly Gallery in the Menil Collection and other top rate shows and collections dedicated mainly to classic modernity—meaning, the heydays of petromodernity), and also given, that I did get no answer whatsoever to my questions for an official critical discourse on petromodernity in the artworld or elsewhere from my academic audience at Rice, this fundamental critique seemed to be rather odd.

»Oil. Schönheit und Schrecken des Erdölzeitalters« – Ausstellungseröffnung am 3.9.2021 mit regem Medieninteresse

Eröffnungsrede, Foto Laurina Preckel

Mit 150, pandemiepolitikbedingt in der Teilnehmerzahl beschränkten und im Vorfeld registrierten Gästen eröffnete am Freitag, 3.9.2021, um 19:00 Uhr endlich unsere große Erdölausstellung, auf die wir seit 2016 hingearbeitet haben. Anwesend waren Bürgermeister und andere Würdenträger aus Wolfsburg und der Region, aber auch viele Freunde und Freundinnen aus Berlin, Wien, und anderswo. Die Reaktionen sowohl auf unsere Einführungsrede als auch auf die Ausstellung waren freundlich bis begeistert. Nachdem wir schon am Abend zuvor mit den eigens für unsere Ausstellung angereisten Künstler_innen Gunhild Vatn, Wes Bell und Joep van Lieshout bis in den späten Abend im Foyer des Museums geredet und gezecht hatten, setzten wir dies am Eröffnungsabend entschlossen dortselbst und im abgebildeten Eingangsbereich zwischen den heute obligatorischen Urban Gardening-Paletten fort. Es war schön.

Bereits am Donnerstag zur Pressekonferenz hatte sich ein großes Interesse und hoffentlich entsprechend großes Medienecho angekündigt. Fernsehteams von NDR, 3Sat und ZDF Heutejournal waren da, ebenso Radioleute und Vertreter_innnen diverser regionaler und überregionaler Zeitungen. Hier folgt eine Auflistung aller bislang erschienenen und gesendeten Beiträge (von denen wir etwas mitbekommen haben):


Print und Online: Wolfsburger Allgemeine Zeitung, 2.9.2021, Deshalb riecht’s nach Öl im Kunstmuseum

Print und Online: Braunschweiger Zeitung, 2.9.2021, Erdöldämmerung in Wolfsburg

Audio: Deutschlandfunk Kultur, Fazit, 3.9.2021, Beitrag von Simone Reber und Interview mit Benjamin Steininger

Video: NDRkultur, 3.9.2021, Schau in Wolfsburg beleuchtet Fluch und Segen von Erdöl

Online: Deutsche Welle, 4.9.2021, Nicht ideologisch: Schau blickt auf das Erdölzeitalter

Video: ZDF und 3sat, Kulturzeit, 6.9.2021, OIL. Schönheit und Schrecken des Erdölzeitalters

Print und Online: FAZ, 8.9.2021, Stählerner Fingerzeig nach oben

Video: heute Journal, 13.9.2021, Schönheit und Schrecken des Erdölzeitalters

Print und Online: taz nord, 21.9.2021, Unsichtbar und allgegenwärtig

Print und Online: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 16.10.2021, Wie geschmiert

Print: ART magazin 11/2021, Schwarzes Gold

Online: H/SOZ/KULT, 13.11.2021, OIL. Schönheit und Schrecken des Erdölzeitalters

Print: Artline 11/21, Spektakulärer Abgesang

Kunstbulletin 12/2021, Öl – Schönheit und Schrecken

Precognitioning Post-Oil NYC

Online conversation on imaginary futures, how to conceive of, get there and avoid them

with Heather Davis, Elizabeth Hénaff, Timothy Furstnau, and Karen Pinkus. Conceived of and moderated by Alexander Klose and Chris Woebken. Hosted by 1014. With works by students of CUNY Citytech.

Thursday, Dec 3, 2020, 6-7:30 pm EST on Zoom.

A videorecording of the complete zoom talk can be seen on the bottom of this page.

Imagine, oil-eating microbionts had taken over, cleaning up our current environmental mess. But they had also done away with everything beautiful and essential made out of plastics. 

Imagine, the use of fossil fuels and all fossil-fuelled technology had been forbidden without a proper energetic substitute. Everything eventually had to be driven down. Less mobility, less luxury, no exuberance. Deserted petromodern infrastructures refueled with petronostalgia. 

Imagine the American Way of Life reloaded, a return of cheap oil due to some scientific and technical breakthroughs. More consumption, more mobility, more wars, more of everything. Utopia or nightmare?

The 1014 project space has been transformed into a hyper-reality testing environment. It is populated with experiential futures prototypes that investigate our relationships in a spectrum of post-oil scenarios. Through narrative techniques and design futures methods a design studio at CUNY Citytech led by participatory futures practitioner Chris Woebken and cultural researcher Alexander Klose has developed a series of bespoke design interventions and immersive installations throughout our upper east side townhouse project space. In a private walkthrough Heather Davis (Eugene Lang College, The New School), Elizabeth Hénaff (NYU IDM), Timothy Furstnau (Museum Of Capitalism) and Karen Pinkus (Cornell University, Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Ithaca) were invited to immerse themselves into these alternative imaginations that explore new values and imaginaries for a post-petro New York City. Please join us for an online talk with our guests to delve into these precarious scenarios, and discuss and respond to new values, myths, and cultural imaginations that might emerge while being shaped by the afterlives of petro-modernity.

For more information on 1014 project space visit 1014.nyc

To take a look at all the speculative media designs go to project website at Citytech.

Initially planned as a three part series of experimental workshops in a multimedia setting at project space 1014, this is the digital Corona-version and precursor of the physical events that will hopefully take place in 2021.

As an exercise in speculative design futures, students of an advanced studio in the Emerging Media Technology program of CUNY Citytech in the fall semester of 2020 were assigned to teamwork on the development of their own speculative media environments based on one of four scenarios handed out to them and located in one of four environments (or ‘zones’):

  • The Meadowlands: New Jersey, attaching East River and crossed by Hackensack River, the industrial hinterland and backwater of NYC;
  • Newtown Creek: a very heavily polluted canal on the boarder between Brooklyn and Queens, site of a continuous flow of oil spills that had been going on for 140 years and were altogether at least 50% bigger than the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill ;
  • Gowanus Canal: an industrial canal called by the name the indigenous inhabitants of this part of Brooklyn before the city gave its predeceasing natural waterstream, according to EPA (Unites States Environmental Protection Agency) one of the nation’s most seriously contaminated water bodies, now surrounded by heavily gentrifying areas;
  • Manhattan: the island that has been the zone per se in so many ficticious renderings of (post-)hyperurban life.
  • To read the 4 backdrop scenarios, click here.

    Energy Humanities EAST 6/2018

    Energy Humanities EAST, a congress organized by slawistic and literary scholars from Humboldt University Berlin and University Potsdam, in cooperation with the University of Chicago, reacted to the fact that the academic field Energy Humanities, i.e. the cultural research of fossil modernities has been dominated by US-American and Canadian researchers and their respective research fields, namely their home cultures. The prominent role that namely the US has been playing in pathing the way into petromodernity can hardly be denied. But given, that the world had been strictly divided into two competing spheres of political-economic systems during the longest phases of the petromodern 20th century, it also seems quite reductionist to assume that the “American Way of Life” was the incarnation of the petromodern lifestyle and therefore researching on it would mean to trace aspects of this lifestyle in cultures around the globe. Quite the opposite could be true, that the sowjet system and society has produced its very own version of petromodernity and energy culture. To start collecting the pieces of this new perspective on the legacy of the sowjet-russian empire was the aim of the congress.

    Beauty of Oil was invited to produce and show a REVUE PETRO NOIR at Kino Arsenal as the opening event. We concentrated on the Sowjet-Russian and Easter-European holdings in our media archive and on a materialistic reading of Malewitch’s Black Square and the futuristic opera Victory over the Sun, in which it had materialized for the first time. Since we were not showing the material as a multi-channel projection but from one projector in a cinema, and in order to avoid being misinterpreted as some kind of cinematic contribution, we decided on the square format for the projection.

    First montage of three: Energy Utopia
    Concept and research: Bernd Hopfengärtner and Alexander Klose. Editing: Bernd Hopfengärtner
    ©Beauty of Oil 2018
    Second montage of three: Technical Slaves
    Concept and research: Bernd Hopfengärtner and Alexander Klose. Editing: Bernd Hopfengärtner
    ©Beauty of Oil 2018