Perhaps it’s petty. But. Last night I attended an Edward Burtynsky opening at the Nicholas Metivier gallery. Following a trajectory of exploring the relationship between oil as a natural resource and its extraction as a capitalized good, Burtynsky’s newest photographs were taken during May 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. As aestheticized documents of disaster, it’s hard to process the weight and significance of the images. However, their grandiosity, both in the size of the photographs and the scope of each image (taken from above, sea ships as minor characters in a ocean turned black), really do make it clear that the oil spill is not on a human scale. And yet, it is the result of the human hand, through our technologies and unquenchable thirst for oil and its by-products, that is directly to blame.
And so, the gallery was serving wine (free!) in plastic glasses. Plastic glasses, made from oil. And I couldn’t get over it.
There are a million caveats to my reaction. I sometimes take my coffee to go and the lid is made from plastic. The soles of my shoes, made from plastic. My toothbrush, plastic! And yet, it would have been such a simple gesture for the gallery to have chosen to not use the plastic glasses, and to make the connection between our good time at the opening and the art on the walls.
This small grievance stems from a curiosity about the potential for an experience of art to resonate in the individual. In this case, I wanted the gallery to be changed, to make the small investment of reuseable glasses. The more useful question though is how looking at those images will materialize in the choices I make. And here, humility. I could invest in a porcelain coffee cup, but that feels so, well, pathetic. And yet.