Installation view: Mark Boulos’ All That is Solid Melts Into Air (2008).
We, the staff at Artlurker, are delighted to announce Melissa Diaz as the winner of the 2011 Miami Writer’s Prize for her paper on Mark Boulos’ “lush and enthralling” video installation All That is Solid Melts Into Air, a new acquisition by the Miami Art Museum on view until July 31st.
Announcing their unanimous decision after much deliberation our judges, the end/SPRING BREAK (Domingo Castillo, Kiwi Farah, Patti Her) and Annie Hollingsworth chose this paper from among all of the notable entries received this year. We feel that Ms. Diaz will make a valuable contribution to Artlurker through her coming posts, encouraging other unsung critical voices within the South Florida arts community to propose texts to our developing yet crucial site for contemporary art dialogue.
We would like to extend gracious thanks to everyone who submitted to this year’s prize, our judges and contributors. Once again the process surpassed our every expectation.
An intimate awards giving soiree is currently being arranged for the coming week. Please stay tuned for news.
And now, the winning entry…
Mark Boulos’ All That is Solid Melts Into Air at the Miami Art Museum
The Miami Art Museum recently unveiled its latest acquisition, Mark Boulos’ two-channel 2008 film installation All That is Solid Melts Into Air. Known for working in a documentary-style, Boulos seeks to highlight global narratives that explore the power of beliefs and ideologies through different cultural lenses. In All That is Solid Melts Into Air, he examines the shelf life of oil from its harvest and production in Nigeria to its hypothetical sale on the global stock market in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The installation is essentially two independent films that are connected by two invisible threads – the protagonist (oil) and the viewer who is inextricably stuck addressing the two opposing sides. Splitting the project into two carefully edited and synchronized films, Boulos insists that the installation exists as a conversation between these two worlds. A dialogue that (much like tennis matches) seems almost impossible to follow.
The installation is an experience in dualities: real and unreal, impassioned and cold, poverty and wealth. The distance that spans these relationships is not anything new to the moderately-read person. If you read the newspaper for ten minutes a day or listen to NPR on your way to work, you have a small but concise understanding that the world around you is not perfect. Yet, by planting the viewer in the center of this dialogue, one is placed in the anxious position of trying to negotiate two worlds that are so closely connected, but literally and ideally so far apart.
The films document the illusory role of oil as both a commodity and a way of life in two different parts of the globe. On one screen is the plight of a group of Nigerian rebels who are desperately trying to regain control of the oil supply on the Niger Delta currently run by the Royal Dutch Shell Group. They are angry because they are hungry and living in the kind of squalor it is assumed a Western viewer can only imagine. Boulos follows the guerilla efforts of these individuals in a strictly deadpan and journalistic mode, as they practice pagan rituals and plot to impede oil production.
On the opposing screen is the busy swarm of activity surrounding a trading day at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. In this film, Boulos alters footage with composite trickery and animation. This is the world that does not conform to reality. It is the metaphysical world of futures and derivatives, where stealth traders can buy and sell the idea of commodities that they will never see or know.
For All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, Boulos casts the perfect villain. It isn’t the West with its capitalist driven impulses to control the world’s oil supplies or a freedom-fighting rebel group attempting to reassert control over their god-given right. It is the black unctuous substance that rules like a Don over all who rely upon it. From the humble Nigerians who only want the privilege to be in its graces once again, to the viewers watching who becomes increasingly aware of their dependence on it. Oil never makes an appearance in real form in either film, but its presence is marked by the flashing fluorescent lights of the stats board in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the rusty oil drums in Nigeria. It is the silent villain that has no face. The shadowy figure lurking behind the scenes, hidden from view and awaiting us in our cars in the parking lot. Experiencing the films becomes an anxious and self-gratifying experience that embraces our desires to find a common enemy. Even if that enemy can never be caught and disappears into thin air. It becomes the faceless shadowy villain of the likes that haunt noir films.
To illustrate this narrative is neither a significantly bold or innovative project. The subject of human rights violations in the wake of globalization and commodity fetishism is a topic that many artists have capitalized on both honestly and dishonestly since the dawn of modern the era. Boulos’ film narrative does not impart a new kind of understanding about the world we live in or elicit more than the kind of fleeting empathy felt while watching the nightly news. Rather, the project’s success arises from the Orwellian cinematic drama of the unknown; the alienation of the individual in the face of the things that are beyond our control and our physical grasp and view. They remind us that in end, we are just invisible spectators in a world of constant conflict. Thereby returning to the reference Boulos makes in his title: “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”
- Melissa Diaz.
The Miami Writer’s Prize 2011 was made possible by reader contributions and a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, advancing journalistic excellence in the digital age.