The Resources of Culture

solitary petrol pumpThe most recent issue of Reviews in Cultural Theory contains a thoughtful article by Graeme MacDonald setting out an argument for ‘re-energiz[ing] scenes from literary history’, for attending to ‘fiction’s effective recuperation and recycling of the energy forms made peripheral by the oil age and the cultural forms associated with it’. In this carefully constructed piece, framed by a reading of Italo Calvino’s 1973 work, “The Petrol Pump”, but covering an extensive range of literary encounters with oil, MacDonald makes a strong claim for the role of cultural theorists in seeking ways of imagining alternative energy futures through critical re-readings of literary texts. An expanded understanding of what might constitute ‘energy literature’, based on the claim that ‘all fiction is potentially energetic’, offers MacDonald the potential to imagine how culture might be ‘properly energized’, not to affirm, but to push at the limits of ‘petromodernity’.


Two Degrees: Oil City

Following the success of The Oil Road, Platform have developed ‘Oil City’, an intriguing piece of site-specific immersive theatre, for this year’s Two Degrees Festival. The work promises to transport participants ‘deep into the underbelly of London’s oil economy’. Was this what Brecht had in mind when he wrote that the new forms of intersubjective relations produced by the oil economy demand ‘new theatrical and dramatic form’ and concluded that ‘Petroleum resists the five-act form’?

Politics of Oil and Gas in a Changing UK #ukenergypolitics II

Now comes the task of reflecting upon – and acting upon – the provocations and suggestions that arose from the intense discussions at this week’s Politics of Oil & Gas conference.

Delegates were continually challenged to ‘imagine’ – to imagine futures, alternative futures, multiple presents and a multitude of pasts (even if one speaker made a plea for not dwelling on history…). They were also challenged – by Tom Greatrex, MP (Shadow Energy Minister)  – to understand competing ‘desires’.

If oil is understood as a cultural substance, then imagining its pasts, presents and futures and understanding the ways in which it creates and fulfills desires is the proper task of the energy humanities. We plan to construct a network of academics, activists, energy workers, environmentalists and others to further explore the contributions that cultural theorists and practitioners can make to understanding the paradoxes of oil in an era of energy transition. We invite anyone who would like to be part of that debate to make contact. Leave a comment or use twitter (@energyculture)

Politics of Oil #ukenergypolitics

Owen Logan, 'The Inverted Coalmine'

Owen Logan, ‘The Inverted Coalmine’

The Politics of Oil and Gas in a Changing UK conference kicks off tomorrow at the University of Aberdeen. I’m looking forward to chairing the session on ‘Global Responsibilities’ on Thursday, taking up questions of Corporate Social Responsibility and the role and responsibilities of the Universities in relation to the global energy industry.

In the meantime, I’m working on a temporary exhibition for Thursday, showcasing examples of some of the collaborative work carried out in Aberdeen and beyond to document and assess the socio-historical importance of the oil industry and the politics of oil.




CTE LOGO‘Capturing the Energy’ was established to encourage companies to make provision for keeping the most important records as their operations evolve, ensuring that they can be safely stored, in an archive repository, so that they can be made accessible for current public research, and for future generations. ‘Capturing the Energy’ has the support of government and is now included in DECC’s Decommissioning Guidelines.

The hub of the archives network is at the University of Aberdeen, which has strong links with the sector.

Works on Show:

  • Selected Films from the Scottish Screen Archive
  • Selected Images from the Special Collections Centre, University of Aberdeen



lives in the oil industry screen grab‘Lives in the Oil Industry’ was initiated by The British Library National Life Story Collection and the University of Aberdeen. It is a work of conservation and preservation of the personally experienced culture and history of the UK’s involvement in arguably the twentieth century’s most important industry.

Work on Show:

  • Janet Stewart, No Place, Like Home, 2012 (Audio-Installation)



434-flammable-societiesFunded by the Research Council of Norway, Flammable Societies set out to explore the way in which the current concerns for social responsibility in the international oil and gas industry are transferred into concrete sub and national level development initiatives, as well as the results of these projects on local communities that neighbor and are dependent on the oil and gas industry. The project studied how the common example of conflict from oil can be avoided, identifying and discussing the cases and circumstances where this has been possible.

Flammable Societies offers valuable material for students and researchers concerned with politics, inequality and poverty in resource-rich countries. Among the key critical issues the book highlights is the need to understand the politics of social territorialism as a response to exclusionary geopolitics.

Work on Show:

  • Owen Logan, Flammable Societies, 2011 (Photo-Essay)



Developed by the Living Earth Foundation to contribute to the European Commission’s objective of raising awareness of global development issues, enhancing relations between the European Union and less developed countries, and building support for the Millennium Development Goals, the project focuses on schools in Port Harcourt in Nigeria, and Aberdeen City and Shire in Scotland.

By working with students and teachers at schools in the two areas, the project will result in the development of new curriculum materials that address issues of development through the lens of oil and gas development, it being the predominant industry in both of the two regions. Materials will be developed by the teachers and students who will be using them, emphasising a cross-curricula approach, with multi-media, active learning methodologies and live links between schools in the two parts of the world.

Work on show:

  • Selected films from the Power Politics workshops. Work in progress.
  • Comics from Power Politics school workshops. Work in progress.


OilScapes and Post-Oil

oilscapes catalogue frontpageDevoting some time this week again to thinking through the concept of OilScapes, which signals  an attempt to begin to map the complexities of contemporary petroculture, doing justice both to its particular singular manifestations in individual oil sites, while also opening up (making visible) the connections between these sites and, indeed, between the connections that connect. It also signals a future-oriented project for exploring these connections leads us to conclude that to think oil IS TO also think POST-OIL.

Energy. Oil and Post-Oil Architecture and Grids

A. Bianchetti, bozzetto Autogrill Pavesi a Montepulciano, 1965-1972. Archivio J. J. Bianchetti

Energy: Oil and Post-Oil Architecture and Grids is the title of a fascinating exhibition currently on show at the MAXXI Architettura, in Rome. Drawing on material from the extensive eni historical archives, original photography and specially commissioned architectural projects, the exhibition traces Italy’s changing oil landscape from the 1940s into the post-oil future. Its focus is on sites of oil consumption, on highways, service stations, petrol pumps and motels. With its multiple engagements with specific ‘places of energy’, this show offers an intriguing perspective on the landscape of oil.

Ben Rivers: OilScapes

myland 1

Still from Ben Rivers This is My Land (2006)

Having spent much of today reading and thinking about landscape theory and oilscapes, this evening’s screening at the Sir Duncan Rice Library Gallery, Aberdeen, of Ben Rivers’s evocative shorts (shot on 16mm and hand-processed) provided a fascinating example of film’s ability to provide a particular form of access to the oilscape – both in its materiality as a petrochemical derivative and in the way in which it can draw attention to its physical existence through recycling images of petrochemical waste. Rivers’s films, then, like Ernst Logar’s plastic ‘oil-rigs’ (temporary interventions in Aberdeen’s beach landscape) are works that make visible the relationship between oil and the visual arts through sculpting in oil.

Ernst Logar ‘Logie’ from the series ‘Oil-Rigs’