From a photograph by Danylo Suprun (Unsplash)
The stewardess hands me a cardboard cup of coffee, black, black as midnight on a moonless night. The lukewarm drink is not that great really, but sometimes bad coffee is better than none. ‘What would the world be without coffee?’, asks an old man sitting next to me, grinning. I take his question too seriously and my mind wanders to the gloomy sight of rundown coffee bars and neglected social lives, to caffeine-free work meetings on Monday mornings, to underproductivity, stagnant global trade flows and waning economies, unmet deadlines, unfinished books, lack of energy and the alternative supply of various kinds of tea.
Anyway, I am obviously not travelling for coffee but for oil. Or rather: for art. As we start to descend, the weather has turned grey. A diffuse light spreads across the fjord landscape. In the distance Stavanger comes into view, the fourth largest city in Norway, an immense country with a mere 5.5 million inhabitants. The picturesque town with its colourful facades is also the heart of the oil industry, a multi-billion-dollar business that has transformed the country since the discovery of undersea oil fields in the 1970s.
Profits were nationalized into the state-owned company Statoil, currently renamed as Equinor. Although 95% of Norway’s electricity production comes from hydroelectric power stations, major capital flows in through the export of oil and gas to foreign countries. The extraction of oil and gas has raised the economic standard of living in rural Norway to previously unimaginable heights. But this one-sided perception – both internal and external – is a sensitive issue today; the initial euphoria has gradually given way to a certain sense of embarrassment.
Experiences of Oil, an exhibition at the Stavanger Art Museum, is a visual offshoot of a conference held in November last year.