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Installation view at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, IL. The show, titled Petcoke: Tracing Dirty Energy, featured commissioned works that addressed the environmental crisis posed in South Chicago by improper bulk storage of an industrial byproduct, petroleum coke. Featured artists included Rozalinda Borcilӑ, Terry Evans, Geissler/Sann, Brian Holmes, Claire Pentecost, Steve Rowell, and Victoria Sambunaris.

I Can Only See Shadows was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Photography, produced by Marissa Lee Benedict and David Rueter, and features contributions by artists Alejandro Acierto, Jacqueline Drinkall, Liz Ensz, Adam Mansour, Juan Luis Olvera, Patrick Quilao; writer and anthropologist Cameron Hu.

I Can Only See Shadows is a three-channel video set in a troposphere awash in the byproducts of drilling, digging, fracking, cracking, and burning carbon-based fuels. Clouds of dusty molecules increasingly fill the air, irritating the nose and clogging particle filters: material records of energy histories.

Following the dusty, spiraling motions of particulate matter, I Can Only See Shadows erratically traces the logistical routes that petcoke (a dust-like waste product produced from refining bituminous sand) takes as it moves from its origin in Canada’s Athabasca oil sands, through southeast Chicago (where it is processed and stored), to northern China (where it is burned as a low-cost alternative to coal). Weaving together narratives provided by artists, anthropologists, researchers in the “energy humanities,” and environmental activists, the video projects a parallel world where liquid fossil fuels have been replaced by a new, dominant global energy source: untethered carbon particulate, which doubles as a medium for communication. The sparsely populated world, slowed by the sleepily violent interference of dust, envisions new forms of neoliberal labor where tiny particles are captured, scrutinized, and collected as data. Admist such an atmosphere, what new modes of resistance and interference might become possible or necessary?

Video stills: ICOSS
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We would like to extend special thanks to:

Heather Ackroyd; Christopher Baker; Olga Bautista; Rozalinda Borcilă; Edith Brunette; Stephanie Conaway; Michael Doerksen; Natasha Egan; Guy Etan; Terry Evans; Lindsey French; Snow Fu; Beate Geissler; Allison Grant; Dan Harvey; Brian Holmes; Karen Irvine; James Kinney; Lafarge S.A. and Jim Bachmann, Plant Manager; François Lemieux; Ernst Logar; Christopher Malcolm; Jennifer Matchett; Trina McQueen; Milad Mozari; Claire Pentecost; Phil Peters; Victoria Sambunaris; Smart Air: Anna Guo, Paddy Robertson, and Thomas Talhelm; Oliver Sann; Florence Twu; Jayne Wilkinson; and Jerry Zee.