KUNSTHAUS BREGENZ, BREGENZ, AUSTRIA
22 APRIL – 2 JULY 2023
MUTANT PASSAGES is a sprawling exhibition that comprises entirely new works conceived for the Kunsthaus Bregenz, which follow in-depth research, forms, and ideas developed by Monira Al Qadiri over the last decade around the subject of oil, its production, dissemination, and related economies.In the foyer of the Kunsthaus, large inflatable sculptures greet visitors, hovering overhead and within the space, coated in iridescent fabrics. The work BENZENE FLOAT depicts scientific drawings (technically named “space-filling models” in chemical terminology) of the molecular structure of benzene, propane gas, naphthalene, and other petrochemical substances. The works’ exaggerated forms reflect their inflated presence in modern society, confronting us with their grasp over modern life.On the first floor, several large-scale sculptures rotate quietly, their iridescent colors shimmering and changing with their movement in space. These works resemble some kind of bioluminescent marine life, especially with their recast surfaces, or perhaps some futuristic alien lifeforms. Despite the their otherworldly appearances, they are, in fact, near-exact replicas of industrial objects: drill bits used to find oil. Their dichroic colors allude to the pearling industry of the Persian Gulf, a forgotten history that has all but disappeared after the discovery of oil in the region replaced it. CHOREOGRAPHY OF ALIEN TECHNOLOGY bridges the relationship between pearls and oil, through their colors and forms, presenting in vivid terms the historical gap that the preponderance of the petrol economy has created.On the second floor, two reddish mirror-imaged sculptures of gastropod seashells stand side by side, as if speaking to one another. They both have a hollow cavity in the lower half of their bodies, inviting viewers to press their ears and heads against them, perhaps expecting to hear the sound of rolling ocean waves like in a seashell. Instead, what they encounter is a conversation between two androgynous voices, recalling how they had unintentionally changed genders while lying in the ocean. In GASTROMANCER, the impact the oil industry has had on marine life is on display, but not in ways that are visibly knowable to us. The reddish biocide paint tributyltin, known as TBT, is a substance added to the hull of oil tankers to protect them from accruing algae, barnacles, and mussels (in a process commonly called “anti-fouling”). This process is the inverse of the accrual that oil has in its destructive course across the globe, generating immense amounts of wealth. Ephemeral and fleeting, the sparkling seduction that the promise of unlimited riches emanates is itself multicolored – it is blinding.The shimmering hues of pinks, greens, silvers, blues, and purples, along with the iridescent sheen of oil tricks the eye, like a shiny pearl, projecting hallucinations of celebrity and power into the mind of its viewer. “You will never be poor again,” it whispers softly. But the trickster genie makes us forget the true price of this prosperity: a mountain of irreversible debt we have accrued to the only planet we will ever know.
© All images Monira Al Qadiri, Kunsthaus Bregenz
The dramaturgy of this exhibition mirrors the varying paths that oil itself takes, guiding viewers through the different formations and stories it generates: the ruptures in history and biology it has induced, the machinery and memories associated with it, and the existential questions it forces us to consider.