The work contemplates our relationship with energy and its significance for humanity. The images are the outcome of a working process spanning several years, during which I made trips to the Benin and Togo region in West Africa. I became interested in the numerous petrol stalls selling low-quality petrol distilled from oil stolen from multinational corporations – a pirated product.
The concrete nature of the topic fascinated me. Not so much the West Africa’s petrol trade, but in oil and energy as a structural component of society and its localization as a physical element on the human level. I started photographing petrol canisters and their content by letting the light permeate the layer of mud covering the containers and the cloudy petrol created an intense effect that generated a series of abstract works.
Despite this reductive approach, the images’ abstract subject matter, petrol, began to seem individual and tangible. Images became to resemble maps of unknown regions, untouched by humankind, “no man’s lands” that glow in shades of red, urging us to check our relationship with energy and what it means for us. I called the images maps – Maps of Essence (Essence, as petrol in french, native language in Benin and Togo). Oil, almost religiously is seen as a positive material that transmits power and is a founding, fundamental structure of our society – matter that actually produces more waste and destruction than energy, inherently working against humanity.
Among the pictures of oil and petrol, are religious animal items, fetishes of Vodun, common religion in the areas of petrol trade in Benin, Nigeria and Togo. These items are charged with energy and power, with a fuel capable of changing the course of life. I juxtaposed these energies and began to see fossil energy as a sort of a religious force that regulates our ways of being in the world.
There is only one image in which a human being is present. It shows people washing their hands with petrol. This symbolically charged, sacral image is simultaneously brutal and sensitive. The oil and the petrol become concrete through their tangibility, it is their physicality that situates the subject on the human scale.