Fuel for Thought: oil, energy, conflict and art
Vol 28 no 1, 2008
How are artists responding to peak oil, the search for alternative energy sources and conflict over resources? Artlink goes global in search of answers. The issue includes artists who have used alternative energy or whose work reflects the negative effects of an oil-based economy, with some powerful imagery by artists from the Middle East, East Timor, Iraq, the Philippines, Australia, California and Chicago. Burnt out petrol bowsers share the space with artwork which looks forward to a post-oil energy scenario. A video animation by Chinese artist Qiu Anxiong offers a profoundly moving experience on mankind's disastrous love affair with industrialisation. Australian artists include Charles Green and Lyndell Brown as official war artists in Iraq, as well as Alison Clouston, Zina Kaye, Madeleine Kelly, Carmel Wallace, Pamela Kouwenhoven and more. Editor Ian Hamilton.
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A decade ago the word terrorism was not a common turn of phrase amongst suburban Australian society. An 'act of terror' was more likely to be associated with the antics of a naughty child then the calculated destruction of a nation. Multimedia artist Khaled Sabsabi's new work mediates on the very real fears of people who exist in a world dominated by civil war and whose fears are fuelled by a continual onslaught of media propaganda. Born in Lebanon, Sabsabi migrated to Australia with his family in 1978 due to the civil war in their homeland. This sense of displacement and identity permeates the exhibition, challenging the audience to question their own place and purpose.
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Khaled Sabsabi Guerrilla 2007, video still, courtesy Khaled Sabsabi, Mori GalleryÊand Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney. YOU 2007 digital video, courtesy Khaled Sabsabi, Mori Gallery and Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney.
The digital video guerrilla 2007 incorporates three screens on which three people recount their stories. The images oscillate between the people and footage of, what one presumes, are the results of guerrilla warfare. Buildings are destroyed; streets littered with debris and children wandering aimlessly amongst the rumble, their homes now only a distant memory. Despite the fact that the audience may not be able to understand what the civilians on the video are saying, their message is powerfully portrayed through body language, facial expressions and the inflection in their voices, bringing to mind the age-old adage- 'A picture is worth a thousand words'.
It could be said that this is a theme that highlights the power of the captured image. Football 2007 alternates between two images. The first is what appears to be a news report on a riot at a football match where the crowd takes to the field in defense of a lone man who interrupts the game by running across the field holding up a sign. This man was subsequently caught by security and beaten, inciting the crowd and acting as a catalyst for their violence. The second image is of children playing football in the street. Their apparent innocence and the sound of their voices as they call to one another is in directly contrast to the images of violence and the sounds of anger that result from the football match. As the image changes, in a 'blink and you would miss it' moment, a street sign that says 'Palestine' emerges, reminding us of where we are and reflects Sabsabi's comment that 'the discrimination today still exists'.
The work You effectively capturing the role of the media in civil disturbances, presents two simultaneous images. Overwhelming in its intensity, one half of the work portrays the apparent image of Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hezbolla, performing a speech. The single screen is divided into three identical images of Nasrallah from the chest up and as time passes his likeness multiplies until hundreds of images fill the screen. Interestingly approximately half of the images are unrecognisable as a white light radiates from Nasrallah's face. The image could be interpreted as reminiscent of religious art from the Renaissance period, in particular, depictions of Christ and the Virgin Mary, as the white light is suggestive of a halo or some other higher purpose. Accompanying this visual display is what sounds like a rally. A man is making a speech amongst cheers and applause, the same phrase is repeated over and over. A second screen shows another grid formation with the distinguishing feature of writing which appears to be Arabic running through it. There is a sense of chaos here that presents a direct contrast to the control of the first image.
ON'n'ON challenges the audience to ask themselves if they should truly believe everything they see. Reflecting the way in which society has become complacent through the onslaught of propaganda, Sabsabi does not offer an explicit narrative through his work, rather he is asking the audience to uncover the layers of presentation, defying any preconceived ideas. After engaging with the work and upon reading the artists' words, there is an almost overwhelming sense of hopelessness. He asks: 'I often think about my son, did I burden him by bringing him into this world... I ask myself is this child going to be pleased with me for bringing him into this world, some days I ask myself, what did our parents bring us to do in this world? Sabsabi effectively answers his own question through his engaging work which tells the story of his present and his past while leaving the future ultimately undecided.
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Articles in this issue
- Artrave: Artrave
- Editorial: Editorial
- Featue: Writing images with words: an inheritance of ambiguous faces
- Feature: A rusty sign at the end of a bloody empire
- Feature: Chance encounters: Pamela Kouwenhoven and Peter McKay
- Feature: Conducting Mobility
- Feature: Hyperlexic, desalinated but not scary
- Feature: Obscure dimensions of conflict
- Feature: Power and art in East Timor
- Feature: Rabih Mroué and Lina Saneh interview
- Feature: The error of our ways: Madeleine Kelly
- Feature: The revolution will not be televised: the changing landscape of film and video production in the Arab world
- Feature: The whistleblower of Discovery Bay
- Feature: The winding way
- Feature: Watching as the enchanted land meets its end: Qiu Anxiong
- Feature: World tree: sounds of a bigger picture. Alison Clouston and Boyd
- Preview: Biennale of Sydney 2008: Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
- Preview: Handling the Adelaide Biennial
- Review: Economy
- Review: Fierce or Friendly: Humans in the Animal World
- Review: from time to time one talks to the moon: Aldo Iacobelli
- Review: Making it Modern The Watercolours of Kenneth McQueen
- Review: Migratory Projects: The Drive Out Cinema
- Review: Of
- Review: ON' n 'ON
- Review: Our Lucky Country - (Still Different)
- Review: Replay: Christian Marclay
- Review: Robert MacPherson, Vernon Ah Kee and Jeremy Hynes
- Review: The Road to Here
- Review: Wonderful World
- Review: [the space in between] Book project