Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas), 2017
6 – 15 September 2019, 24/7 hours
Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas) depicts the site of the 'Lucas Gusher' – the world's first major oil find – in Spindletop, Texas in 1901, now barren and exhausted. The site is recreated by Gerrard as a digital simulation and placed at its centre a flagpole bearing a flag of perpetually-renewing pressurised black smoke. The work is shown on a monumental LED-screen.
“One of the greatest legacies of the 20th century is not just population explosion or better living standards but vastly raised carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. A new flag attempts to give this invisible gas, this international risk, an image, a way to represent itself. I like to think of it as a flag for a new kind of world order.” John Gerrard
The complete picture was created with a computer – the flagpole, the smoke, and the texan landscape. It stands within a virtual representation of a salt dome field in Texas from whence the modern age of petroleum began. The site is simulated on the basis of extensive documentation as it stands today, barren and depopulated, the original deposits long exhausted. The camera in the scene moves from around the flag every fifteen minutes in a slow orbit. The smoke is represented in constant movement as if the wind were blowing, while the picture we see is a simulation. There is no camera and no flag pole in Texas. John Gerrards inspiring question was: How to make visible the invisible carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping gas in the planet’s atmosphere which is caused by the burning of fossile energy? He created a global picture for the climate change caused by humans, or even the Anthropocene. Gerrards videosimulation makes quasi literally the invisible visible and graspable with the help of digital algorithms.
As is typical in the work, this is an annual solar scene created in real time with light conditions accurate through night and day over an annual cycle. The work consists of a unique software, originally generated for videogames, that runs a minutely accurate simulated animation of the actual scene and the landscape around. Also astronomically accurate, the sun rises and sets, the twilight, and daylight at the appropriate texan times throughout the year. Also the stars appear in place during the night. The world we see is uncanny, hyper-real and yet virtual.
Historic images of Spindletop, Texas, 1901