An iridescent green cone appears to levitate a few centimeters above its royal purple background like a fairytale wizard’s hat. But this is a replica of a shark-toothed head of a drill capable of spinning through rock as the literal cutting edge in the extraction of oil from the earth. Its sensually shimmering color comes from thick coats of automobile paint. A mundane industrial tool reimagined as a talisman of miracles—even magic.
After the galleries, in the Art Jameel Shop, Vali points out Alessandro Balteo-Yazbeck’s “Last Oil Barrel.” At 3.5 centimeters tall, it’s a quite miniature wooden oil barrel, painted black. Alongside it sits a display that shows, in real time, the market price of a barrel of the real stuff. “The financial industry is one important technology that oil has produced and enabled,” says Vali. “That realization makes clear that the value of oil is not absolute. It is a part of the social relationship. This financial system, it’s an abstraction that we create amongst ourselves.”
The history of oil refracted in “Crude” is, Vali notes, “not authoritative, it’s not linear, and it’s not continuous or smooth. It is inherently a crude history.” From the magical and talismanic to the ironic and skeptical, it’s not unlike the wider world’s view of this era-defining commodity.