Art and Oil: Visualizing Globalization
School of Language and Literature University of Aberdeen Aberdeen, UK
This paper sets out to provide a phenomenological account of art's encounter with globalization, focusing on the ways that artistic and aesthetic phenomena change and challenge existing means of conceptualising globalization. Globalization itself is a highly contested term, and yet in much existing literature on globalization, whether political, economic, social or cultural, there is one recurrent theme: the idea of the invisible, couched in terms such as "flows", "globalizing forces", and "surface appearances" (which render invisible that which they conceal) (e.g. Simmel 1903; Bauman 2000; Mendieta 2001; Harvey 2005; Sassen 2007). An important strand of sociological writing on globalization sets out to render the invisible visible, and in this, it is close to a form of artistic practice that offers oppositional strategies to the invisibility of "globalizing forces" through subscribing to what we could call a "politics of presence". This chapter explores art´s encounter with globalization by analysing the work of a number of artists and collectives (Ursula Biemann, Owen Logan, Ernst Logar, Art not Oil), for whom the oil industry forms the source and repository of issues related to globalization that can be rendered visible through artistic practice (such as connections between oil cities, security, and surveillance). Their work suggests that art has the potential to challenge the "delimitation of the visible and the invisible" that characterises globalization as an "aesthetico-political regime" (Ranciere 2006). In using this definition of globalization and in its focus on individual artists, this paper seeks to contribute to a sociology of art that places the role of the aesthetic at the centre of its enquiry. It does, however, also entail reflection on the limits of artistic critique of this kind, recognising, in particular, the ways in which forms of "aesthetic distribution" (galleries, curators, museums, journals, newspapers) and the artists' materials are enmeshed with the oil industry.