From the lofty heights of imaging satellites orbiting earth, the abstract forms created by oil fields resemble the shapes and patterns of circuit boards. Over time, I began to wonder if these images reflected something more profound about US pursuits and preoccupations at home and abroad.
Today, with the world’s economies so heavily reliant on oil, the public and industrial appetite for this most precious of commodities is insatiable. Nowhere in the world has this ravenous hunger left its mark in such a pronounced and graphic manner as in the United States. Oil fields – consisting of thousands of pumpjacks, storage tanks, and pipelines – spread themselves across the landscape regardless of any natural or man-made obstacles. The logic of oil exploration, exploitation and distribution lays its own map over the natural terrain.
Seen from above, the American landscape resembles a canvas shaped by industry in a manner reminiscent of the dynamism and intensity of Abstract Expressionists such as Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock and Hans Hofmann. It makes you wonder if the abstract expressionists’ inner landscapes were a response to the outer ones etched on the land, or if the land is itself a blank canvas on which industrialists express themselves.
As we zoom-in and see these individual pumpjacks in isolation, they have an almost human quality that makes me think of the productive requirements demanded of each of us by society. In their remote 24-hour labour, are these the machines society wants us to emulate? Finally, Eighteen Pumpjacks tips its hat to the work of Barnett Newman and his series, 18 Cantos. In Newman’s lithographs, fields of colour are bisected by lines dividing single fields into separate units. Like Newman’s series, each pumpjack occupies a unique field differing in form, colour and mood. And with a unique code ascribed to all pumpjacks in the United States by the American Petroleum Institute (API), each one has its own name.
Archival pigment prints on 310gsm matt textured paper.
Presented in a buckram cloth covered portfolio case.
Prints 15.7x13 inches (40x33cm). Porfolio 16.5x13.6x1 inches (42x34.5x2.5cm).
Softcover print-on-demand book, 5x8 inches (12.7x20.3cm)
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Mishka Henner Uses Google Earth as Muse, Philip Gefter, New York Times
Eighteen Pumpjacks: A Look at Oil on the American Landscape, Time Magazine
Disturbing Photos of American Oilfields Look Like Abstract Expressionism, Vice Magazine
Big Oil Seems Downright Puny When Seen From Space, Doug Bierend, Wired