Notes on Hydraulic Fracturing 
Self-published book
Edition of 150,
Price £16/ €18.5
36 paged photobook with 3 Risograph printed inserts;
Chemical Classification, Landslide Video Performance and Index.
All contained within a glassine archive sleeve with a paper sticker.

Louise Oates is a London based artist who works with photography and sculpture. Oates has recently exhibited at Le Bal, Paris, Whitechapel Gallery and Copeland Gallery, London and in the Antarctic Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale.

Louise Oates is a London based artist who works with photography and sculpture. Her practice deals with material processes and networks which play out across our globalised world, for example mineral extraction or systems of water, and engages with these subjects through a variety of photographic, chemical and material techniques. Her latest self published book “Notes on hydraulic fracturing” bring together an extensive research about land exploiting and artistic interventions. Combining these two aspects in a surprising natural way, Louise give us access to her way of thinking and acting in relation to contemporary issues. 

Elena Vaninetti (E.V.) - In 2011 film maker Josh Fox released Gasland, a documentary about the negative impact of the Hydraulic Fracturing process, a method of extracting shale gas which is trapped in tiny pockets in the rock deep underground, on rural communities in the U.S. In your book and body of work Notes on Hydraulic Fracturing, you investigate around several UK exploratory well sites. How did you start your interest in these processes?

Louise Oates (L.O.)  - The Gasland film was actually my first exposure to Hydraulic Fracturing, I was troubled by the intensity with which the process was being carried out, the damage it was doing to the land and the people who lived and derived their income from it. I was also shocked by the seeming blindness of the industry and government to the environmental issues that were arising from the extraction activities. Even though at the end of the documentary Fox tells us there are huge reservoirs in Europe and that its only a matter of time before fracking develops here I never believed they would actually be pursuing it a few years later. As soon as I heard that licences had been granted to explore for the gas in the UK I began the project.

(E.V.) - The entire project is a multilayer of different techniques and media. You used photography as a starting point and main medium but it seems like at some point you felt it wasn’t enough. If I understand correctly, after documenting a series of future drilling sites you started a second process, using fracking industry’s chemicals directly on the produced pictures. Can you tell me a bit more about your creative process?

(L.O.) - I was inspired by Gustav Metzger work on Auto-destructive art where he sprays acid onto nylon to dissolve it as a reaction to nuclear armament which was taking place in the uk at the time. I liked the freedom to let the materials act on one another without a great deal of control on the end result. The fracking process is different from a lot of other industries in that it all happens underground, theres not a whole lot to photograph above, and what is there is already represented by the media. So I wanted to find other ways of addressing the subject, to visualise that which is hidden from view and also incorporate notions of process in the work. It was a bit of trial and error but I did have the help of a chemical engineer from Imperial who guided me through the list of chemicals I had accumulated from various sources, a definitive list doesn't exist due to the information being considered intellectual property. I wasn’t really keen on the initial results so I set them aside.

It was only when I came to do the book and was re-looking at everything years later that I found crystals had formed on the surface of the photographs, it was then that I rephotographed the prints close up to enlarge the crystals and chemical residue. I’m interested in material agency which I think is particularly interesting here as the long term effects of fracturing the rock by pumping all these chemicals deep underground is unknown, furthermore, only half of what is pumped down comes back up. So the images are perhaps speculations on the frack fluid that is lost to the ground.

(E.V.) - I want to stop a moment on the series “Landslide”. Inside the book there is a small insert with frames from a video performance. Have you produced this pieces during these happenings? Is the intention always to show them as images?

(L.O.) - The Landslide videos are represented in the book by a sequence of frames yes, but the full moving  images are on my website. They are documents of me destroying the 3 soil images I had made by carefully constructing soil and sand I collected from exploratory sites around the UK to appear like arial view photographs of Pennsylvania - a location they have been intensively fracking for 12 years. As I was investigating the subject from many different directions I took to just recording everything, constantly drawing parallels between changing states of events in the studio and those at the exploratory sites, the whole approach was quite accumulative. I suppose I don't really think of things as being ‘final’, perhaps they will manifest differently in the future, this way of presenting them is just a pause that felt right for the book.

(E.V.) - Speaking more generally, land with it's issues and the possible ways to represent it is something very present in your work. This makes me think to a strong personal connection with nature in general, is that a starting point in your artistic practice?

(L.O.) - I think my motivation and approach is more detached than a personal, rather I am concerned with how humanities actions effect the planets systems at imperceptible scales and temporalities. Timothy Morton encapsulates this as ‘Hyperobjects’; he explains that they are not just systems or assemblages of small objects but objects in their own right, that we can only glimpse them or know of their effects at local human-scales. I try to navigate ways of visualising or perceiving these huge industrial processes at a more local level, I’m interested how small happenings or scenarios build up to access the bigger picture of things.