Roaming Around the Lesser Debris of History

5 Nov 2009 jane

Today I sat, I took time watch Ursula Biemann’s film Black Sea Files. The film is showing as a video installation in gallery five at Arnolfini until Sunday 8th November.

The film explores the lives of oil affected communities, from Baku in Azerbaijan, through Georgia to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, tracing the route of BP’s Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline.

PLATFORM has been working to challenge BTC since 2001 pressuring institutions, organising demonstrations, raising awareness and supporting affected communities and local civil society. Biemann’s film echoes many of our own findings, gathered from similar fact finding missions in the region.

Black Sea Files has been a long term project for Biemann, the interviews and other footage screening at Arnolfini are only part of the library of film which Biemann has gathered. The film is both beautiful and thought provoking, Biemann sees herself as an artist rather than a journalist, gathering dispatches from the front-line without a press-pass. She succeeds in compiling a collection of stories which fall outside the sphere of interest for most investigative journalists, evidence which holds emotional power in its anecdotal texture.

The film was made in 2005, before BP’s pipeline came on-stream. There was still a great deal of international attention on the project at that time. Social-justice and environmental campaigners including PLATFORM joined forces with local civil-society groups in an attempt to pressure BP in London – that other front-line for the global oil industry.

Following the opening of the pipeline in 2006 international attention shifted elsewhere but PLATFORM has continued to support local groups and individuals in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. The link between corporate centres in London’s square mile and these zones of sacrifice is central to an understanding of the Carbon Web: a complex network of public and private institutions which help bring Azeri oil to our cars, planes and power-stations.

Bristol too represents a node in this Carbon Web, a growing financial centre, decisions made in boardrooms across the harbour from Arfnolfini will push our money – in the form of bank accounts, pension funds and local authority investments – into new oil frontiers around the globe.

One new frontier is Canada’s tar sands, a new oil province demanding huge investment. On 13th November Canadian First Nation activists will open a UK speaking tour at Arnolfini, speaking about the impact of these new oil developments on their communities.

Biemann describes her film as “roaming around the lesser debris of history” picking up on personal, anecdotal oral-histories, yet BTC is not history for those who have lost land or fishing grounds since the pipeline’s construction. They will deal with the consequences of our thirst for oil today, and for the next 40 years. Concerted pubic pressure on nodes of the carbon web can ensure that our money does not fund Canadian tar sands in the way that it funded BTC but that will require all of us to begin unravelling the carbon web.

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