Commissioned and published by Sonic Acts, Oil News 1989 – 2020 was first presented at Sonic Acts Biennial 2022 as part of the exhibition ‘one sun after another’. Exhibited alongside the video installation OBIT by Maryam Monalisa Gharavi and Sam Lavigne, theses works engage the exhibition’s intertangled thematic of pollution and time by challenging the assumed infinity of oil.
What does oil say when it tells on itself? Oil & Gas Journal, founded in 1902, is the petroleum industry’s leading worldwide publication. Using a process called scrapism, defined by Sam Lavigne as ‘reverse engineering the web for critical ends’, Oil News 1989 – 2020 scrapes every main headline from the journal beginning with the 24 March 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster – until then the worst oil spill in U.S. waters – up to the 2020 crisis in global oil prices. The multinational, multiconglomerate oil industry divulges myriad streams of data about its operations, which when looked at in both the macro (314,452 oil well deaths) and micro (distinct obituaries for each one) yield surprising and discordant findings. Oil News synthesises ‘oily’ data that reveals its own significance at the very moment it is divulged. Oil ‘tells’ on itself while resisting attempts to totalize its profound impact on human life systems. This limited edition artist book enacts a narrativising of oil, presenting the colossal totality of news headlines previously only accessible in snapshot.
Maryam Monalisa Gharavi is an artist, poet, and theorist whose work deals with the paradoxes of our interactions with matter and immateriality; the seen and unseen. Within her practice, she explores the interplay between aesthetic and political valances, tracing the genealogies of what may otherwise be taken for granted, and diving deeper into what she sees as ‘twin’ extractive commodities: oil and data.
Sam Lavigne is an artist and educator who plugs into the interlocking interfaces of data, surveillance and policing, as well as natural language processing and automation. From publishing a database of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employees in response to the Trump administration’s family separation policy, to White Collar Crime Zones – a re-appropriation of a predictive policing algorithm – his work harnesses digital tools such as apps and information mining.