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Spectacular Digital Moving Image Installation for Canary Wharf Underground Station
John Gerrard, Oil Stick Work, 2008. Courtesy of Art on the Underground and John Gerrard. Photo: Michele Lamanna.
LONDON.- A large-scale projection of a thirty year long digital artwork with an environmental message will be exhibited at Canary Wharf Underground station for 12 months from the end of March.

As a part of a series of new contemporary art projects for the Jubilee line commissioned by Art on the Underground, Irish artist John Gerrard is to present a large-scale installation of Oil Stick Work (Angelo Martinez / Richfield, Kansas) in Canary Wharf Underground station’s iconic ticket hall. Shown on this occasion as a large-scale data projection on a monolithic block wall in the station (15m x 8m), Oil Stick Work (Angelo Martinez / Richfield, Kansas) is a complex digital moving image piece that develops in real time for a thirty-year period.

Beginning in 2008 and continuing until 2038, the work presents an immersive landscape constructed from ‘real’ information (digital photographs and topographies of an existing American agricultural landscape) mapped onto meticulously constructed 3D forms. The central focus of this particular landscape is an industrial grain silo. Art on the Underground invites the commuters of Canary Wharf to enter this virtual scene exactly three years into the slowly unfolding story of the work.

The origins of Oil Stick Work (Angelo Martinez / Richfield, Kansas), alongside three other works in this series, derive from Gerrard’s research into one of America’s greatest environmental catastrophes, the American Dust Bowl of the 1930s. This phenomenon was caused by ten years of intense post war farming over a one million square mile area. This sucked the American prairies dry of all life in a profitable but doomed effort to feed the booming population of the early part of the 20th century. This heavy processing lead to unstable topsoil that literally blew away, forming a series of vast dust storms that choked the landscape.

The interwoven stories of nitrogen fertilizer, crops and oil are the threads of a narrative of destruction behind our consumer-oriented society that Gerrard unveils through the constellation of four works: Oil Stick Work (Angelo Martinez / Richfield, Kansas) 2008, Dust Storm (Dalhart, Texas) 2007, Grow Finish Unit (near Elkhart, Kansas) 2008 and Animated Scene (Oil Field) 2008. Together they outline the growing geopolitical storm on the horizon, heralded in the gloom of the dust cloud. Individually, they present digital portraits of the key culprits behind this horrifying real-life story.

Uniquely, Oil Stick Work is the only work in the series to feature a human being, albeit an entirely animated ‘version’ of a human being. Angelo Martinez, of the work’s title, in a similar way to the landscape in which he exists, has been photographed as a real person and translated into polygons via a complex body mapping and scanning process used primarily in the gaming industry. Over the course of his thirty-year existence, Angelo arrives for work every day at dawn (CST) and departs at sunset. His task: to paint a perfect one metre square of the grain silo using an artist’s oil stick. Visitors to Canary Wharf will be able to see his daily progress, a painstaking task that will take exactly thirty years to complete. As he creates a dark silhouette in this landscape, it is as though we are watching a grim advent calendar, counting down in black squares to the day American oil supplies are predicted to run dry.

The work has been installed in the east end of the ticket hall of Canary Wharf Underground station which is in a less busy area of the station. It offers a metaphorical departure into a landscape where the day-to-day activity above-ground, the trading of ‘virtual’ stocks and shares, is juxtaposed with Angelo’s ongoing labour.

John Gerrard (born 1974, Dublin, Ireland) lives and works in Dublin and Vienna, Austria. He graduated from the Ruskin School (Oxford) and Art Institute Chicago. He has exhibited in Dublin, New York and Vienna, with a major installation supported by Culture Ireland and Arts Council England at the 53rd Venice Biennale. For the latter, the four works were presented collectively as ‘Animated Scene’. Dust Storm (Dalhart, Texas) 2007 is a reconstruction of the original dust cloud, uncovered by Gerrard in a sepia photograph taken in Stratford, Texas in 1935. This photograph was reproduced as a moving digital animation (using footage of dust storms from Iraq) as an entirely digital manifestation that slowly engulfs the landscape. Grow Finish Unit (near Elkhart, Kansas) 2008 takes the viewer on a slow perambulation around a robotic pig-manufacturing unit (an un-manned farm). The somnambulant oscillation of the ‘camera’ (if this were a film) drifts over the lake of effluence that flows from the unit – the only ‘living’ sign of any occupation – and glides past the facades of ten desolate looking single-storey barns containing the pigs. Animated Scene (Oil Field), the last of the four works, portrays the plodding rhythmic nod of an oil derrick, again entirely unmanned, relentlessly sapping an oil seam far below the surface of the scarred earth.

Canary Wharf Underground Station | Digital Artwork | John Gerrard |


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