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John Gerrard's black smoke installation goes on show in Madrid to coincide with COP25
Installation view, John Gerrard, Western Flag (Sindletop, Texas) 201. Museo Nacional
Thyssen - Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain, 2019. Photo: Roberto Ruiz | TBA21.

VIENNA.- Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary and the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture of Spain, presents artist John Gerrard’s Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas) 2017 in the courtyard of the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza. The work be on show until 13 December 2019 coinciding with the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid.

Originally commissioned to commemorate Earth Day, Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas) 2017 releases a constant stream of black smoke into the sky. The smoke is a marker for pollution, exhaust, CO2 emissions, and other volatile gaseous particles entering the earth’s atmospheric cover. It stands for everything that is fuelled by fossil organisms that contain energy originating in ancient photosynthesis stored in the earth’s crust: first coal, then petroleum and natural gas. For Gerrard, the black flag made of smoke is a symbol of the Western world, of its energy-devouring and hyper-accelerated economic world order. It is also the marker of the slow environmental violence directed at the biosphere, hinting at the dark legacy of Western supremacy and colonialism. A violence that is so formless, obscure, and incremental that it is nearly impossible to capture in images. A violence whose effect is delayed and will be felt by generations to come.

For the work, Gerrard has recreated the landscape around Lucas Gusher—the world’s first major oil find, in Spindletop, Texas, discovered in 1901 and now barren and exhausted. This historical site has been reconstructed in a digital simulation, animated by a game engine. The virtual portrait makes visible the foundation of an economic system that has shaped the twentieth century and raises awareness to the conflicts for resources and the environmental catastrophes that define the twenty-first. It is a monument to our current moment, a gathering place for people engaged with the uncontrolled violence against the planet.

In addition to the presentation of this work, Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza will host a roundtable on art as a tool for the fight against climate catastrophe, with curator José Luis de Vicente and artists Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and John Gerrard. The event will take place on December 10 and will be free and open to the public. Other events in conjunction with COP25 will also take place at the museum, making this iconic work by Gerrard a landmark for the summit.

Founded in 2002 by Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza in Vienna, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21) represents the fourth generation of the Thyssen family’s commitment to the arts. TBA21 has the goal of disseminating multidisciplinary art projects that defy traditional categorization, including large-scale installations, sound compositions, performances, and contemporary architecture. As TBA21 believes that art has the capacity of being a transforming force, it explores new modes of production and presentation aimed at provoking the audience and inspiring change. Many of the projects and exhibitions conducted by TBA21 in more than fifteen years of activity have addressed the issue of climate escalation, trying to create awareness in society through artists’ work on this pressing issue.

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