Oil for Aladdin’s Lamp draws together film narratives on oil, extraction and energy through officialized cinematic forms such as early films commissioned by the Shell Film Unit and British Petroleum. These historicize linkages across colonization, Resource Wars, the paranoid era of ‘Peak Oil’ and carbon finitude. In direct correspondence, contemporary artists’ films re-interpret the allegorical potential and geo-political significance of natural resource in today’s World-System. The contributions will in particular mobilize oil as mythical substance and liquid infrastructure engineering turns of Science, Global Travel and the ‘matters’ of everyday life.

Curator and writer Anne Szefer Karlsen will present her in-depth research on the impact of the oil economy on contemporary art in Norway. Engineering and stubbornness has made it possible to position oil platforms in the North Sea, three of which house hundreds of art works, and will serve as the foundation for Szefer Karlsen’s analysis.

*The title for this event is drawn from an educational documentary by the same name, commissioned by Shell Oil Company in 1949.


Oil for Aladdin’s Lamp, 1933/1949, 21 min, Black & White, Shell Oil Company
Charles Urban / Kineto Company, A Day in the Life of a Coalminer, 1910, 9 min 28 sec, 35 mm, Black & White,
Len Lye, The Birth of the Robot, 1936, 7 min, 16mm, Gasparcolor, Shell Motor Oil
Geoffrey Jones, Shell Spirit, 1963, 35mm, 2 min, 35mm, colour, Shell Film Unit
Geoffrey Jones, Trinidad and Tobago, 1964, 35mm, 19 min, colour, British Petroleum

Artist Films:

Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, Jubilee, 2013, 13′, colour, courtesy of the artist
Mona Vatamanu & Florin Tudor, All that is solid melts into air, 2012-2013, 15′, colour, courtesy of the artists.
Prabhakar Pachpute, Earthwork of Hadasti, 2013, stop-motion animation, 3 min 35 sec, courtesy of the artist, Experimenter Kolkata and Clark House Initiative, Bombay.

—With Thanks To:

The British Film Institute National Archive