In Conversation With Ana Alenso

The Sinister Beauty Of Oil

Ana Alenso, Venezuelan artist based in Berlin, reflects on the global dependency on oil and on the political, social and economic tensions that black gold generates. Contemporary And América Latina (C&AL) spoke to the artist about her disquieting “Petrocultural Imaginary”.

C&AL: What happened with the money?

AA: Well, that was a surprise element that particularly allowed me to contemplate the idea of destruction in a temporal sense. During the course of the installation, the bills began to disintegrate, due to the exposure to the air and from rubbing against inside of the plastic cabin, some even left the cabin in small pieces. The progressive deterioration of the bills became an ominous allegory of the monetary reconversion to the new Sovereign Bolivar (announced by the regime just one week before the opening of the exhibition) which has five zeros less compared to the BsF and which it is anchored to the new PETRO cryptocurrency, which is in turn backed by the country’s oil reserves. Nothing more and nothing less.

C&AL: How do you use art to approach issues of economics, sociology or politics?

AA: I try to maintain a balance between the knowledge that comes from creating in the workshop. What is intrinsic to the objects and materials that I decide to use and that which feeds on my interpretation of some phenomena of political economy associated with the exploitation of natural resources, such as the so-called Curse of Resources, the Boom And Bust and the Dutch disease. Although this exchange of ideas and experiences emerges from a political and critical motivation, it continues to subsist in the field of arts, resulting in a poetic language that I call “petrocultural imaginary”.

C&AL: In the case of your “petrocultural imaginary”, how do you establish the balance between art and discourse on market dynamics, economic and ecological issues?

AA: During the process, there is an important physical issue, without which many artworks would not exist: The need to achieve a balance as well as the tension between the different elements in the installation. Tension. That mysterious, fragile and temporary concept that unites and upholds the elements. It is an aesthetic element present in works such as Brent Crude Oil-Elf Edition, Water, Oil And Organic Orange Juice and The Bermuda Triangle. Only from there can other relationships and similarities be created between the formal qualities of sculpture and the frailty of ecosystems – the tension present in some geopolitical issues or the ecological risk of using fracking, to give a few examples.

C&AL: Could that, which you offer be a new inverted image of paradise?

AA: They are rather apocalyptic landscapes. I am not sure if “inverted paradise” is the right description because the idea of utopia is still present. In my work, the gathering and exhaustive recycling of materials is an aspect that challenges me and motivates avoid falling into a pessimistic attitude, with respect to the hyper-consumerist and hyper-corrupt world in which we live.

C&AL: What is your interest in the oil barrel as an icon? To me it seems that the barrel in your work functions like a semantic resonance box, whose echo expands all the other ideas.

AA: Exactly. The barrel is undoubtedly an element, which, on a sculptural level, has a strong presence. It is a versatile, multifunctional element and a symbol of the postindustrial era, which is why I consider it a symbol of power. It intrigues me because it allows me to contextualize both local and more specific topics, without giving up the global context. In the case of Water and Oil And Organic Orange Juice, what at first appears to be a barrel of oil is suddenly discovered as a barrel of organic orange juice. In this apparent contradiction lies the logic of modern industrialization processes, which does not distinguish between oil and oranges and leads us to an abstract vision of nature.