Celia Shomal (DAI, 2015): "How do the aesthetics of oil affect the Middle-East?"

22.12.15 | tag: Arnhem

Excerpt from Celia Shomal's 20 minute presentation 'NAFT "oil"' for Do The Right Thing ! ~ DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, July 2015.

NAFT “oil”


Celia Shomal presented her ideas in the guise of an educational talk, as professional scientific expert on oil and its narratives. Organizing her thoughts into three thematic sections (Lubrication, Blob as Monster, and Seeping) Shomal elaborated on her concepts with an authoritative command of the audience. Some of the ideas she brought to the table included: lubrication as a mechanical or non-mechanical concept such as lubrication for submission (mimetic theory of morality, salafism, jihad); “blobjectivity - aesthetic expressions that allow oil to manifest itself as a political machine”; and seeping, which is a method of escape for the “monster” that is oil. Oil, the artist claims, seeps into all human narratives from beneath the ground and lubricates the Islamic war machine. Giving a few visual examples of the ways these concepts have been explored by other artists, Shomal considers “The Blob” by Bruce Kawin (1958).

The artist asks whether oil is post-human, and in her pseudo-lecture says, “it is organic like us.” Considering its unscientific qualities, the post-human monster is considered an “other” in relation to the human. All the way back to the epic of Gilgamesh, oil has leaked into human narratives. Shomal sealed the performance by reading a poem in Dutch and Farsi, and sucking what appeared to be oil through a system of clear straws. Watching her in her spotless white dress, the audience began to wonder which of her aesthetic constructions would surface.

Maria Hlavajova considered Shomal’s performance in light of the potential of a lecture performance format. If it “can fly into the realm of fiction”, Celia has done that. Hlavajova reflects, by questioning artistic practice under the regime of the Anthropocene, we can draw the lines between power and politics. “We are in the era of restructuring. If the line going from human to post-human suggests the loss of agency of the human in the world, it would be imperative to rethink how to connect politics (which is a capacity to think of solutions) to power (a capacity to implement those solutions).”

Marina Vishmidt remarked on the abrupt shift from “lecture” to “performance” when Shomal began reading the text in two languages. Vishmidt considered this shift of two performative moments as “a diagrammatic movement from human into post human.” This brought up a few questions for her: How do you see these different moments as different materials in your practice? Can aesthetics also become a kind of lubricant in a way?

Bassam el Baroni commented on the way that Shomal’s unification of her own voice with her influences (such as Reza Negarestani’s works) demonstrates a good understanding of the concepts. El Baroni was cautious of a reductive approach because of the complexity of the issues. “If the Anthropocene is the age when oil drives the machine of industry…then, we are beginning to see a different kind of age,” he commented.

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