Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas), 2017
8 to 15 September 2019, 24/7 hours
Opening: 8 September 2019, 5.30 pm
with the Senator for Culture and Media Dr. Carsten Brosda
and the artist
A slim pole with a huge trail of black smoke punctuates a vast landscape. Spindletop in Texas was the scenery of the world's first major oil find in 1901 and the starting point of 20th century’s oil industry. Gerrard’s digital image displays todays post-industrial area – now barren, deserted, except for some machine relics, and exhausted, a waste land. Smoke pours out from seven nozzles at the pole’s peak, wafting as a big rectangle in the wind. The gaze circumscribes the pole slowly and perpetually. The light follows night- and daytime in Texas, seven hours after Hamburg time. The work is shown on a monumental LED-screen.
Gerrard’s initial question was his concern with carbon dioxide: how to represent the invisible gas, which is bound for a long time in the atmosphere through the burning of fossil raw material and causes dramatic events of climate change?
“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
“Western Flag” seems to be real. An annual solar scene is created in real time with light conditions accurate through night and day over an annual cycle even with astrological accuracy regarding the starry nights. But the work is neither a video nor a film. There is no flag pole with smoke in Spindletop – though the sun rises and sets simultaneously in the image and in Texas. The complete picture was created with a game engine for computer games as a digital live simulation. What we see is a real time algorithm for visual representation. There is even no camera reproducing a pre-existing reality, but merely the perspective of the viewer regarding an image, which is subsequently replaced by another image by a speed of 50 images per second. The work states the ultimate presence of the image itself in a constant flow. The distinction between reality and simulation are fusing to indistinguishability. These are the technical pre-conditions for “Western Flag”, representing one of the major problems of civilization: the climate change and global warming in the Anthropocene.
The world we see in Gerrard’s global image appears uncanny like a swansong of the industrial conquest and exploitation of the planet earth. Art is able to depict and inspire thinking – but merely the political, the collective responsibility, can interfere and change.
Historic images of Spindletop, Texas, 1901