Stories bubble up in ‘Oil & Gas Show’
Texas is built on the oil and gas industry. Each barrel of oil, each cubic foot of natural gas produced creates a ripple effect across the country and around the world.
In that vein, “The Oil & Gas Show” at Level Gallery, formerly known as WAAS Gallery, aims to spark a conversation around energy, how it is generated and how it is used. The exhibition features artists from Texas and across the country working in sculpture, drawing, photography and mixed media.
“I'm a collector of stories,” says Brian Wagner, a Philadelphia-based photographer.
For six years, he has carried with him the stories of Dean, Margaret and Elton, all New Orleans residents who survived the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the Louisiana coast. Wagner tells their stories in the form of blackand-white photographs with oil from the Gulf of Mexico spilled on them.
At the center of his exhibition space sits an ecosystem unto itself housed in a clear canister. The life form? Tar balls from the oil spill. As they have sat in the container, they have continued to react to their environment.
Even years after being collected, they are still recognizably individual pieces of tar.
Thomas Macker, a Wyoming sculptor, uses the tools of the energy trade to create his series of work titled Asterisk.
He bought used drill bits online and welded them to metal pipes. For each Asterisk, he welds six of the pipes together to create a sculpture that is rendered inert — the drill bits convey a sense of movement out, while the pipes are driving to the center of the piece, resulting in an implied tension.
“Drilling is directional,” Macker says. “This is six drill bits moving in equal directions opposing each other. There is no way to move in or out.”
He sandblasts and coats each sculpture in two tones of paint: one a color-shifting bright paint, the other an industry standard like DuPont tan. Each sculpture has a different color variant and pedes- tal on which to stand.
The pedestals often change each time the sculptures are exhibited. At the Level Gallery exhibition, one Asterisk sits atop a camouflage floor recliner used for playing video games. Speakers play a soundtrack of bats and moths using echolocation and deception, what Macker called the “dance of the predator and prey.”
Another pedestal resembles a ziggurat and is a statement on the hubris involved as artists try to create work that stands the test of time while the Earth’s natural resources are being mined over the course of months and then consumed in a matter of seconds.
Macker hopes that if one of his pieces ends up in a private collection, it will be a reminder of the delicate balance between the harvesting of energy needed to survive and unadulterated consumption.
“A graceful woodpecker in a collection gnawing at you as a reminder of your consumption and place in the world,” he says.
From left: Founder Brandy Adams, curator Emma Saperstein and artist Brian Wagner worked together on “The Oil & Gas Show” at Level Gallery.