September 3, 2015 - SKMU Sørlandets Kunstmuseum - Mark Boulos
September 3, 2015

Mark Boulos

Mark Boulos, All That Is Solid Melts into Air, 2008. High-definition video, 14:20 minutes. Producer: Pinky Ghundale. Editors: Emiliano Battista and Bert Hunger. Image courtesy of the artist and the gallery Stigter Van Doesburg, Amsterdam.

Mark Boulos
All That Is Solid Melts into Air

10 September–15 November 2015

Opening: 10 September 6–8pm

Sørlandets Kunstmuseum
Skippergata 24B
Kristiansand, Norway
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 11am–4pm, 
Thursday 11am–8pm, Sunday noon–4pm

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Sørlandets Kunstmuseum is proud to introduce the noted American artist Mark Boulos to the Norwegian public. This is the first time Boulos’ work has been shown in Scandinavia. 

All That Is Solid Melts into Air consists of two video projections positioned on opposite walls in a darkened room. One video shows poor Nigerian fishermen—members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)—in their armed struggle against oil corporations drilling in the Niger Delta, one of the world’s largest oil fields. This has led to extensive pollution, the ruin of the fishing industry (the area’s traditional source of income), and great poverty. In reaction to the exploitation of resources lying right under their feet but which they are unable to use, MEND resorts to violence, financing its activities by kidnapping white oil industry workers, tapping raw oil from pipelines and selling it on the black market.

In contrast, the second film shows scenes from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), one of the world’s largest petroleum-trading floors. While numbers race across a computer screen, brokers in colorful jackets sell oil for enormous sums. Towards the end of the film, the activity intensifies: the brokers yell and gesticulate in a cacophony of sound and chaos. Simultaneously, warriors from MEND, before launching into action, perform mysterious rituals and call upon the god Egbisu to make them impervious to bullets. 

These parallel worlds are inextricably linked through oil, a resource Norway has lived well from for a number of years. Boulos’ statement that “politics is everywhere” is expressed in the installation title, which is a quote from the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, published in 1848.

The installation deals with the theme of economic circumstances and conditions in two antithetical societies. Boulos explores the relation between ideas and materiality, as inspired by the Marxist concept “commodity fetishism.” He pursues an interest in concrete and abstract economies by focusing on the most important resource of all in a global perspective. By choosing to film the polar opposites of production and distribution—on one side, the Niger Delta and MEND’s battle against the oil companies, and on the other side, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange—he examines two “belief systems” that, each in their own way, have metaphysical significance. In Chicago, brokers trade “futures” and derivatives of oil. These complicated financial products are based on a belief or speculation about the price of oil in the future. Thus a type of belief or faith is at the core of our era’s complex capitalist system. In the Niger Delta, the guerrillas believe their battles will lead to a more just society—but they also draw on local religion, on the god Egbisu, to make them invincible. 

Having stayed in the Niger Delta for two months while filming, Boulos does not make a secret of his political commitments. By letting MEND’s members speak out and vent their frustration and anger at the oil companies and the massive pollution, the installation is not an objective documentary: it is a poignant revelation of the injustice of international capitalism and its unfair distribution of wealth.

Mark Boulos was born in Boston, USA in 1975. He holds an MA in documentary film from the National Film and Television School in England. He also studied at Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. His video installation has been shown at (among others) the MoMA, New York (2012), the Berlin Biennial (2010), and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2008). Boulos was recently awarded a Rome Prize Fellowship (2015–16) at the American Academy in Rome. 

The Installation is funded by Arts Council England through Film London Artists’ Moving Image Network.

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