Another Kind of a ‘Huh?’

My latest self-published book, Twentysix Hydrocarbon Blocks, explores some of the consequential effects hydrocarbon extraction activities in the Peruvian Amazon are having upon biodiversity, languages, and indigenous peoples. Featured below is my own short introductory text. The book also includes an essay by anthropologist and Peruvian expert, Miguel Alexiades.

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“In 1963, the American artist Ed Ruscha released Twentysix Gasoline Stations, a photographic publication now widely considered the first modern artist’s book. As the title suggests, it contains banal photographs of twenty-six gasoline stations taken along Route 66 between Los Angeles and Oklahoma. The work has generated much discussion around its significance within conceptual art and the meaning (or otherwise) of its content. This includes religious sub-texts, nods towards the American road movie genre, and Duchampian allegories to the ‘ready-made’. Absent from the discourse, though, has been any serious discussion around gasoline or oil, which is surprising in view of its historical and ongoing importance to the United States both culturally, economically, and geopolitically.

Picking up on this oversight and in the spirit of Ruscha’s original, this artist book explores the issue of oil and gas extraction within the Peruvian Amazon, alluding to the consequential human and environmental effects it is and will increasingly have upon the region. Over the past thirty years, successive Peruvian governments have pursued a path of national development focused on hydrocarbon extraction, which in large part occurs within areas of high biological and cultural diversity. Western Amazonia, which includes a significant portion of Peruvian territory, is the most species rich part of the Amazon basin and is home to high concentrations of indigenous ethnic groups, including some of the world’s last uncontacted peoples living in isolation from mainstream society. Unlike Brazilian Eastern Amazonia, it is still a largely intact ecosystem, but one where the underlying substrata contains huge reserves of oil and gas, many yet untapped. The growing global demand is leading to unprecedented exploration and development of the region threatening biological and cultural integrity (often within protected areas) driving forest clearance, causing interethnic and civil conflict, and the colonisation of hitherto sparsely populated areas.

This book utilises spectral species density imagery from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and NatureServe; hydrocarbon block and protected area Geographical Information System (GIS) shapefile data produced by hydrocarbon promotion agency, Perupetro; and indigenous territorial mapping data produced by the Peruvian civil society group, Instituto del Bien Común (IBC). The data has been combined, arranged, and passed through seven separate cartographic and creative software packages and manifests itself in the double-page spreads that follow. Each of these spreads contains a visual representation of species concentration and indigenous presence within twenty-six active or soon-to-be active hydrocarbon blocks located throughout the Peruvian Amazon. Also included is a text by anthropologist, Miguel Alexiades, a leading expert on biocultural diversity and the political ecology of Western Amazonia.

During numerous interviews, Ruscha has described Twentysix Gasoline Stations as “simply a collection of facts”. In a 1982 interview with Art News he declared it a “training manual for people who want to know about things like that”. This succinctly summarises my own intentions with this book.”

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Information on Ruscha’s 1963 publication, Twentysix Gasoline Stations, can be found here.

 

I obtained high-resolution satellite imagery from GeoEye for five of the most controversial blocks. These don’t feature in the book, but are part of the same project and are to be read in conjunction with it. The intention is to exhibit full-resolution images and adapt the book spreads to the wall space. Included below are selective crops.

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The full book can be viewed online here.

3 Comments

  1. Don September 18, 2014 at 20:51 #

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  2. Janet Chernela May 1, 2014 at 21:39 #

    Craig Ritchie’s new book is a powerful visual documentary of the devastations wrought by oil upon the Amazon forests and the life it harbors.

  3. Tony Knight April 29, 2014 at 08:20 #

    Twentysix Hydrocarbon Blocks looks to be a fascinating insight into oil and it’s place in bicultural diversity. Indeed, is oil ‘biological’ or ‘cultural’? I’m sure that these and other questions are well explored in this intriguing book.

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