Gas Imaginary at Encountering Australia: European Australian Studies Conference, Prato 2014

Abstract: The Gas Imaginary is an artistic research project incorporating poetry, photomedia
documentation, archi-poetic diagrams and essayistic labours exploring the aesthetic languages, mechanical ideology, speculative economics, and technocultural patterning surrounding the large-scale install of ‘unconventional’ gas extraction. Through this technology and industry, indebted state and national governments cause disenfranchised rural but increasingly urban populations to speculate on their own health and futures: through compensatory leasing arrangements, temporary industry employment and privatized infrastructure delivery and sponsorship aimed at the social licensing of investment in environmental injustice and dispossessions from common bioheritage.


In this paper I will work through the main organizing indices and analytics of the project, which also structure the narrativity of the animated script (in-progress) that I will screen for the conference alongside installation images. This artistic research draws on the writer’s own genealogical connection to the industrial harbour town of Gladstone, Central Queensland, and to the eco- and labour politics of a city which has an ongoing and prominent, but critically under-documented role in the export of Queensland’s mineral wealth. To performatively ‘exhibit’ this story is to both concretize and allegorize certain ‘executive’ and psychically distanciated urban/e) investments in a very specific extraction practice, amidst boomtown ethoi and technocratically managed non-encounters with the environmental injustices that this corporate technology in-volves.


The Object of Art History

I have an interview with Amsterdam-based art critic and historian Sven Lutticken in the latest V2_ebook, BlowUp: Speculative Realities (free download), in which we glance back to modernism and minimalism to think the aesthetic commodity in Smithson’s wake, amidst eco-crisis and the so-called speculative realist turn.

An except from Sven’s responses to my questions: 

if art became crucial for philosophy – for the philosophy of the ‘aesthetic turn’ – because it showed matter to be imbued with spirit, modern art engaged in a flirtation with various forms of base materialism, with matter conceived to be outside the human. The shipwreck of spirit. The Bataille of the journal Documents is, of course, a prime example of such a project – which in this case was itself a truly aesthetic hybrid of the artistic and the philosophical, and which was in effect one episode in Bataille’s critical long engagement with idealism, and with Hegel in particular. Today, in the collapsing Anthropocene, to think matter from outside the human obviously poses different challenges, as the material fabric of our planet has been inexorably altered by human intervention. This was something recognized by Smithson. On the one hand, he turned entropy into something of a fetish, seemingly subjugating history to a natural law (the second law of thermodynamics); on the other hand, he was well aware that human activity accelerated entropy, and that a cosmic given had thereby become a social and political problem – which became the basis of his aesthetic project. By now, planet earth is itself the ultimate artwork, a subject-object out of control, an actant acting up in ways we cannot control. We may want to think matter from outside the human, but matter itself won’t let us.

The ebook accompanies an exhibition curated by Michelle Kasprzak, featuring new art works commissioned by V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media. The exhibition launched at at Roodkapje, Meent 121 – 133, Rotterdam, The Netherlands December 8 2012 – January 11 2013.

Exhibition Information

This edition of V2_’s Blowup series of events and exhibitions will examine the how and the why of speculative realism, object-oriented ontology and artistic practice. Four new art commissions examine different aspects of Object-oriented ontology (OOO), such as a non-human-centered view of the world, and the limits of knowledge. An e-book of interviews with artists and thinkers, released with a short talk at the exhibition finissage, will round out the programme and provide insights into the relationship between this exciting turn in philosophy and contemporary art and design. Commissioned artists include Tuur van Balen & Revital Cohen (BE/UK), Cheryl Field (UK), and Karolina Sobecka (US).


The term ‘speculative realism’ was coined at a conference at goldsmiths in 2007 chaired by Alberto Toscano that included the philosophers Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton grant, graham Harman and Quentin Meillassoux. Since then the term has split into factions like object-oriented ontology (OOO), spawned a number of journals (Speculations and O-Zone), book series and several other conferences and debates. The theme can be taken as part of a current philosophical interest in rethinking correlationism (an act of division between human and world), and is broadly congruent with existing discussions of the nonhuman, more-than-human and other frameworks of new materialism. Many key points of these conceptual trends are also pertinent to current trends in artistic practice: a non-anthropocentric worldview; an interest in modes of ontological levelling (a democracy of things); a consideration of aggregate forces like climate through cat- egories of autonomy.

Approaching Absenteeism

On July 11th at Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum, formerly the trade museum of the Dutch East Indies, I participated in a fantastic research project meeting, commissioned by the Tropenmuseum, ‘Approaching Absenteeism’. Curated by ‘Landings’ group (Natasha Ginwala and Vivian Ziherl), featuring key members of the Tropenmuseum curatorial team, and special guest Jill Casid, author of ‘Sowing Empire’ (Minnesota Press) who presented an evening Public Lecture, this was the first of a series of research projects re-examining the Photography Collection of the Tropenmuseum, finding new points of approach into its archive of over 340,000 thousand images spanning the 19th and 20th centuries. The two part project seeks to study the category of absence within Dutch colonial photography with particular reference to colonial administration, agrarian and extractive-industries, land-formation and figural image-production through albums, promotional depictions of colonial life and amateur photography.

‘Approaching Absenteeism’ was curated in the frame of ‘Landings’, an ongoing research project at the intersection of Land History, Geomorphology, Rurality and Corporeality, led by Natasha Ginwala and Vivian Ziherl. The episode at Tropenmuseum is held in collaboration with curator Contemporary Art Anke Bangma, curator Photography Collection Anouk Mansfield and Director of Exhibitions Wayne Modest, and with the support of Marja van der Loo.


Photographer unknown, 1933 
 13 x 18cm (5 1/8 x 7 1/16in.)
Nekoe plants (Lonchocarpus spec) a vine used in fishing to stun and kill fish.
From the Culture Garden in Paramaribo, found as a young plant in 1922 from the primeval forest.