Boulos’s installation All that Is Solid Melts into Air (2008), comprised of two large-scale videos, presents two communities on opposite ends of the world, each locked in a struggle to control oil. Oil surrounds us on a daily basis, and yet we are scarcely aware of its source or presence; when refined into products, petroleum gives no clue as to its origin or its physical form. Boulos’s installation, however, begins to make visible the mechanisms of this process of abstraction, and the political conditions that these objects conceal. In one video, Boulos shows traders in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on the first day of the 2008 credit crisis. In the other video, Boulos presents footage of his experience living with Nigerian fishermen—members of the militant group Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which opposes through violent means the exploitation of people and devastation of the environment in one of the largest oil fields in the world. The individuals in these two landscapes are connected through a desire to control petroleum, which vanishes into thin air, in the first instance through financial speculation, and in the second through corporate regulation of Nigerian mines.
All that Is Solid Melts into Air provokes timely questions about the ongoing fight over natural resources, and the power of social mechanisms, such as financial derivatives, to shape the lives of individuals and communities while obfuscating their very connection to those affected. Mark Boulos (American, b. 1975) is an artist and filmmaker who lives and works in Amsterdam and London. He studied visual art at the Rijksakademie in Holland as a Fulbright Scholar, documentary filmmaking at the National Film and Television School in England, and philosophy at Swarthmore College and Deep Springs College.