3 June 2010

Deepwater – German Art Duo Pour Water on Troubled Oil

Hot oil is hotter than steam. When the water hits oil, steam is created instantaneously at the oil-water interface. The steam expands violently, creating an explosion.  As a metaphor for human reaction, this is perhaps exactly what controversial German techno Avant-garde artists Ubermorgen planned with their new work.

It may not please an awful lot of people in the states of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, that's for sure.

The pair are back with, inevitably, their own take on the Deepwater oil crisis.  Called Deepwater, they have declared that the supreme discipline of art – oil painting is back.  As the oil reaches the coastlines of several US States they have declared that oil painting has now evolved in to a generative bio-art.  In other words they see the disaster as an opportunity to imagine the biggest piece of installation art in history - and take full digital advantage of it too.

The video above is made up exclusively of moving images of the oil spill.  Ubermorgen have used a digital enhancement technique to formulate their statement and to add to what they see as the plethora of oil paintings of the disaster already abundant on the internet (they mean NASA images and other aerial media).  By using video editing software the images of the slick become more liquid and form a visual assertion of the disconnection of color and form.

You may well have reservations about art that is based on and 80K square mile ocean slick containing over thirty million litres of oil but unquestionably from the perspective of Ubermorgen the spill in itself is a matchless piece of art. 

Certainly, the inspiration for great art has drawn from all kinds of painful human experience and the environmental catastrophe that is happening right now is not short of (sometimes dubious) media attention already.  What you must decide though, is whether Ubermorgen are taking advantage of a manmade disaster of a scale hitherto unprecedented or whether they are joining in the chorus of anger against BPs Gulf of Mexico shenanigans.  Or both.  Or neither.

Ubermorgen (which means the day after tomorrow or super tomorrow in German) is made up of a duo of artists, Lizvlx and Hans Bernhard.    Lizvlx has stated :"I saw the NASA earth observatory images and I was blown away.  Finally traditional painting made its comeback as a high-tech innovative art form and not as the starving grandparent of photography, video, digital art and performance. As a former painter I am thrilled and as a digital artist - I want to work this material until it bleeds".

This does seem particularly cold blooded in the light of what is happening but a strong, visceral reaction is exactly what the duo are looking for and this peculiarly Germanic detachment may not attract them many fans. Certainly it will get them a great deal of attention, however.

Yet how do you judge art such as this?  By its content or by its subject?  Do you judge or, like the duo themselves, stand back and coldly evaluate its merits as art?  If that is the case, they may be in some trouble.