No other nation consumes as much oil as the United States, which accounts for more than 20% of global consumption annually. The hunger for this resource has defined the nation’s politics for decades and the efforts to secure its flow are inscribed in the landscape. In Los Angeles and its vicinity, home to the country’s largest urban oil field and refineries, America is being transformed into a bizarre engine, the pacemaker of the passing age of petroleum.
Although oil plays a massive role in the creation of every product we as humans are surrounded by today, fuels our entire contemporary culture, and shapes global politics, we never come into direct contact with the raw material itself. It is always already utilized, mediatized, transformed, or deliberately concealed.
Crude is an installation that addresses the direct connections between visibility, photography, and petroleum. What is known to be the first photograph in history, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras, was created using bitumen, a naturally occurring petroleum tar which sufficiently hardened in proportion to its exposure to light. To recreate this historic photographic process, we used tar collected from La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles to print photographs of the USA’s cultural elements that are deeply embedded in excess oil consumption, such as suburbs, drive-throughs, interstate systems, overcrowded parking lots of shopping malls, and Carvana “vehicle vending machines”. Fixing these images with petroleum on a polished, mirror-like aluminum surface allow the viewers to see their own reflection on this raw material and the images of a culture shaped by it.