Black Sea Files
Territorial research on the Caspian Oil Geography
Passing through the Southern Caucasus and Turkey, the recently-built Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline pumps large quantities of new Caspian crude oil from Azerbaijan to the world market. In the mid 1990s, representation of the region changed from that of a politically unsettled and impoverished post-Soviet periphery, hosting a million displaced people, to a space where energy and capital flow at a rate that is remarkable even by global standards.
International media coverage of the Caucasus features images of political elites signing contracts, rubbing new oil between their fingertips or cutting ribbons at inaugurations. My video does not prioritize such corporate images, which consolidate power into a master narrative, because they offer little insight into complex regional relations and local textures. My intension was to disperse the predominantly US-centric perspective of current oil discourses and present an alternative.
The pipeline is a geo-strategic project of considerable political impact, not only for the powerful players in the region but also for a great number of locals: farmers, oil workers, migrants, and prostitutes, for whom the meaning of their living space will be transformed. These are the subjects who populate the video files, turning the pipeline corridor into a complex human geography. This is not the top-down view corporate planners favor when they decide on the course of the pipeline trajectory, but an engagement with the people who relate to this piece of infrastructure. The closing of big deals on a macro level entails a million small contracts and negotiations on the ground. If we want to reformulate the cultural construction of oil, it is on these subjects that we need to concentrate. Particular attention is therefore given to those instances at which the power line is incomplete, ambiguous or interrupted by local actors.
Two-channel video essay, 43 min, 2005
Ursula Biemann is an artist, curator and videomaker based in Zurich, whose work focuses on borders, migration and the global economy. http://www.geobodies.org