mark boulos - all that is solid melts into air
8 Jun - 20 Jul 2008
Docking Station presents the European premiere of the two screen video installation All That Is Solid Melts into Air (2008) by artist-filmmaker Mark Boulos (1975, Boston).
The video installation is about petroleum, dematerialization and globalization, depicted through an opposition of two discrete films. One portrays the Nigerian guerilla group that battles against colonization of the petroleum resources that are their birthright. The other film depicts American financial traders who buy and sell ‘futures’ – the most speculative of financial products – on the last open-outcry trading floor in an increasingly computerized financial world.
All that is Solid Melts into Air is a continuation of Boulos’ investigation into the relationship between ideas and materiality through documentary video. While his most recent work has been about faith and the immanence of religious belief in real events, this new work examines economics and class, and the insistence of labour-relations in metaphysical ideas. Inspired by Marx’s notion of “commodity fetishism” in which commodities seem to take on metaphysical properties because they are imbued with hidden labour-relations, Boulos focuses on the most geo-politically and economically important of all commodities, petroleum. But instead of explicating historical facts, he examines two belief systems held by opposing factions which indirectly battle over the control of petroleum: financial speculators, and people indigenous to land exploited for oil.
Boulos filmed at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the largest futures exchange in the world. Its unstoppable power is both global and immediate. National economies exist in computer networks, and as a discourse of speculation and trade. The material commodities themselves, and the very people that produce them, exist nowhere in this financial Olympus. The traders buy and sell ‘futures’ – financial contracts to exchange commodities, labour and money that don’t even yet exist.
In the Niger Delta, Boulos filmed the militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which has declared ‘total war’ on the foreign oil corporations that mine their territory, notably Royal Dutch Shell. Though the jungle river delta is one of the most oil-rich regions in the world, its people remain poor. The oil business has polluted the rivers, destroying the livelihood of its fishing communities. Some break into the corporations’ pipelines to reclaim, and later sell, fuel. These acts have escalated into organized, armed battles against the foreign companies. The guerillas are invincible in their battles, because Egbisu, the god of justice and war, inspires and protects them from bullets and machetes.
By demonstrating the people’s very direct understanding of their material conditions, the film shows that their religious beliefs are no more metaphysical than the fervent speculation of the financial traders. Also, by documenting their armed struggle, Boulos challenges the contemporary convention of ‘human rights’ documentaries that depict pitiable, impotent victims.
The installation concurrently premieres at the 16th Biennale of Sydney: 'Revolutions - Forms That Turn' and at the Swiss Art Awards during Art Basel 2008. Boulos works in London and Amsterdam and has shown his work at the ICA, Hayward Gallery and Barbican Gallery, London. He received awards from Film London, the Arts Council England, and the Fulbright Center in
Amsterdam, with which he is an artist-in-residence at the Rijksakademie of Visual Arts in Amsterdam.
The exhibition is curated by Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen.
Funded by Arts Council England, London with the support of Film London Artists' Moving Image Network.