When most people think of the oil industry today, they may not typically think of Ontario. Nevertheless, the community of Oil Springs, southeast of Sarnia, was home to the first commercial oil field in North America. While Sarnia is better known today for its extensive petrochemical industry (referred to as Chemical Valley), Petrolia creates a juxtaposition with this region’s industrial heritage landscape.

In February 2011 I was invited by the ALIX Gallery (then Gallery Lambton) to participate in an artist-in-residence project while they closed their doors in preparation to move into a new space. This residency consisted of five visits in order to develop a collaborative research idea with writer/artist Lee Rodney from the University of Windsor, the Sarnia artist-run collective for arts, science and music (SARCASM), and curator Lisa Daniels. Members of the community were provided with GPS units and encouraged to help direct my artistic practice by taking “me” on virtual tours of their favourite locations around the county. It did not take long before they brought me to the site of Oil Springs.

Petrolia presents co-existing themes of the decommissioning or scaling-back of petrochemical processing in Chemical Valley, while simultaneously investigating the pastoral landscape and small-scale, family-operated oil industries of Lambton County. Large-format photographs present views from the periphery of Chemical Valley – a dense social landscape where First Nations ceremonial sites (the cemetery of the Chippewa of Sarnia), abandoned industry (the decommissioned DOW Chemical facilities) and environmental responsibility initiatives (DOW’s community wetlands) all converge, while other images introduce the lush setting of ancient oil fields that have been operated by the same families for many generations. The single channel video Oil!, brings the viewer on a journey through the jerker line system, developed in the 1850s and still used today to draw crude oil from the wells. What begins as an ambiguous sculpture in motion is eventually revealed as a form of Rube Goldberg machine performing the straightforward task of extracting petroleum. The equipment runs day and night, throughout summer and winter.

Petrolia can be viewed in relation to other artistic projects such as Burtynsky Oil and Peter Mettler’s film Petropolis, which focus on the phenomenal scale and otherworldly devastation of landscapes such as the Alberta oil sands from aerial perspectives. In a time when the petroleum industry is the subject of intense political debate, my perspective looks towards the human-scale extraction of crude and provides a phenomenological excavation of this complex landscape.
A. R.

Interview with the artist Quebecam/CBC radio – March 28 2013


Artist presentation followed by a talk with historian Jean-Pierre Kesteman

Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 2pm
Free entrance

Andreas Rutkauskas will present his recent work and how he has worked with the Sarnia community on his Petrolia project.

(presentation in English and a little in French)

Jean-Pierre Kesteman will talk to us about the pace of deindustrialization in the Estrie region and its economic, social and environmental effects.

(presentation in French)


Jean-Pierre Kesteman:

A renowned professor at Sherbrooke University, Jean-Pierre Kesteman has had a career as a teacher and researcher in history, mainly in the field of the economic and social history of contemporary Quebec. A graduate of the Universities of Louvain, Sherbrooke and Québec at Montreal, the subject of his thesis was on the industrialization and development of capitalism in the Estrie region in the 19th century.

He is the author of several books in Quebec history and in particular in the history of the region, including a Histoire des Cantons-de-l’Est (1998) and a Histoire de Sherbrooke (1802-2002) in four volumes. He has also written books on the history of Lac-Mégantic (1985), the Gaelic Scots of the Eastern Townships (2000), Sherbrooke streetcars (2007), Hydro-Sherbrooke (1988), the Magog River (2004), the beginnings of Barnston and Coaticook (2011).

In addition to his academic activities, he has, for the past thirty years, been present among the general public in the dissemination of regional history by collaborating, among other things, with various written and audiovisual media.


Presentation of the award-winning documentary Waste Land – English with s-title French

It is in a reflection on territory and industrialization – and deindustrialization, initiated by Andreas Rutkauskas’s exhibition Petrolia, that we present the documentary Waste Land, which features the work of Vik Muniz with a population of Rio de Janeiro working in the huge dumps on the outskirts of the megalopolis.

Beer glasses and discussions will follow the presentation.

Free admission / / English with French subtitles

Thursday May 2nd at 7:30 pm at Sporobole

Synopsis :

«Filmed over nearly three years, WASTE LAND follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world’s largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. There he photographs an eclectic band of “catadores”—self-designated pickers of recyclable materials. Muniz’s initial objective was to “paint” the catadores with garbage. However, his collaboration with these inspiring characters as they recreate photographic images of themselves out of garbage reveals both the dignity and despair of the catadores as they begin to re-imagine their lives. Director Lucy Walker (DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND, BLINDSIGHT and COUNTDOWN TO ZERO) and co-directors João Jardim and Karen Harley have great access to the entire process and, in the end, offer stirring evidence of the transformative power of art and the alchemy of the human spirit.»


Photos : Jocelyn Riendeau