TIME FOR RADICAL CHANGE: “Edward Burtynsky: Oil” at the Museum of Nature, Ottawa

Poster for Edward Burtynsky: Oil at Museum of Nature with young man standing in front of beached oil tanker

QUESTION: “When we run out of oil, what will we lose? What will we gain?”

ANSWER: “We will lose what we know, what we are used to and comfortable with. We will gain the unknown, and the opportunity to create a new way of being.

“We will lose a mistake in history. We will gain a new beginning whether we like it or not.”

Anyone who has experienced Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky’s work knows that it at once attracts and repels. He frames our modern condition of dependence on oil in such a way that despite the tragedy of the landscapes there is a grace in how it moves us to remember what was there before and what we have lost. That pain of loss hopefully compels us to protect what we still have.

Early bipedal footprints saved in volcanic rockLike the Australopithecus footprints in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania the oil trapped in the Bengali men’s footprints speaks to our Home Erectus (de)evolution. Can we do better?

In their comment section, the Canadian Museum of Nature has collected some important thoughts that prove may be we can.

QUESTION: “Imagine that the last drop of oil was used up today. When you get up tomorrow morning, how would your life change?”

ANSWER: “In the beginning it would be mayhem on Earth, but adaptation would be necessary to survive and continue. The strongest and smartest will come out of this and learn much along the way.”

Image of a man's footprints solidified in sand with oil pooling into them.
Edward Burtynsky, Recycling #10, Chittagong, Bangladesh, 2001. Chromogenic color print. Photograph © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York

QUESTION: “What stands out as the most striking image in this exhibition? Why?”

ANSWER: “The images in Bangladesh – oil at the expense of the environment and the world’s poor.”

“Seeing barefoot workers cleaning up and dealing with our “oil mess” is a reminder that we are all connected, and nothing we do is without a result.”

QUESTION: “Future historians might call the 20th century the Century of Oil. What do you think the 21st century will be known for?”

ANSWER: “The century of consequences.”

Hopefully the 21st will also been known as the The Century of Change.

Edward Burtynsky: Oil
Canadian Museum of Nature
Ottawa, Canada
until Labour Day Monday, September 2, 2013.

Follow the Museum of Nature on Facebook & twitter @museumofnature.

Image of Edward Burtynsky, Shipbreaking #23, Chittagong, Bangladesh, 2000. Chromogenic color print. Photograph © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York