Crude Creativity: artistic reflections on the oil and coal industries in Germany and the UAE

Climate change, the Fridays for Future movement, and fossil-fuel-induced disasters have led to an unprecedented and worldwide political concern on the future of conventional energy industries. Climate change issues are no longer discussed behind closed doors but have turned into an integral part of public conversations across societal, economic, and political spheres. Artists, in particular, have contributed to bringing this debate to the public arena through exhibitions and art projects that relentlessly show the consequences of a world driven by oil and coal.

 

However, even if, since the 1970s, artists have been increasingly exploring climate change, only a handful of art exhibitions have explored fossil fuel extractions in their immediate national and regional context. This is the case in Dubai, where I conducted my doctoral research on heritage and art in the Gulf countries. This is also the case in Bochum and the Ruhr Area, where I conducted preliminary research into exhibitions on coal mining during summer 2019. These two exhibitions stand out for dealing specifically with oil and coal as complex industries rather than with climate policy in general.

 

The research project explores how art projects, and particularly the exhibition that took place in Dubai in 2018 and in the Ruhr Area in 2019, speak to politically and socially charged issues on fossil fuels and to how they can contribute to the emerging field of Energy Humanities. This field is concerned with articulating the social and cultural impacts of our modern-day economic reliance on fossil industries. This field encompasses the disciplines of the anthropology of art, the fields of cultural studies, and contemporary art history.

 

My project will contribute to this transdisciplinary field by analyzing how artistic expressions react to political, socio-economical, and environmental issues and includes a comparative analysis of curatorial approaches and artworks, supplemented by interviews with artists and curators.

I have been granted funding by the DAAD Visiting Post-Doc Scheme to conduct preliminary research and publishing on this project and prepare a larger grant proposal to submit to funding authorities. The project will be based at the Institute for Social Movements at Ruhr University Bochum.