Repositioned Core is the culmination of a year of research and investigation by the Fall 2014 Vaulted Gallery Artist-in-Residence at the Visual Arts Center, Brooklyn-based David Brooks. A unique feature of the residency at the Visual Arts Center is the considerable access that the artist-in-residence is given to work with other departments, areas of knowledge, production, and study at the University of Texas at Austin.
From the beginning, Brooks was led by his initial association with Texas, as he bluntly put it, “When I think Texas, I think oil”. The topic of oil, omnipresent in the news and a topic of daily lives of most Americans, brings about a heated yet worn debate. Looking for another perspective, a backdoor to access this information, Brooks began his journey at the Jackson School of Geosciences. Through learning about the material culture that the oil industry holds, Brooks felt that he would gain information and physical material to create an expansive discourse around the oil industry in Texas and beyond. As his exploration of the university progressed, Brooks toured the wind tunnels, flume labs, water sluices, and mobile seismic activity vehicles that make the collection of geologic data possible. Brooks’ interest in the material culture of the oil industry combined with theoretical and formal concerns makes Repositioned Core an engaging and timely project.
Continually exploring the ongoing relationship between art and science, Brooks states, “artists aren’t beholden to the same criteria as scientists, which helps to illuminate new perspectives on the exact same material that the scientists are studying”. Concepts around the oil industry are so large and hypothetical, explained in terms much larger than human scale, that we often feel lost in their enormity. The re-humanization of the topic became a main goal in the project.
Further along in his exploration of the Geoscience department at UT, Brooks visited the Core Research Center, a hangar-sized warehouse holding an archive of 2.2 million rock cores, samples, and logs. While on his first tour of the Core Research Center, Brooks happened upon an aisle (perhaps a football field long) of boxes that held millions of tiny glass vials, each cushioned by a newspaper published at the time that the vial was placed in the box. The newspapers, placed in the boxes so that the vials wouldn’t break or shake in transit from the field, created an unintentional historical archive that formed for decades inside the larger, older archive. The geologic archive, full of 250 million year old deposits collected in the early 20th century, combined with the daily newspapers from the early and mid 20th century, created a beautiful clashing of geologic time with the daily goings-on of human life. The scales of time, coinciding in a moment, give perspective about what the material means and our human ability to perceive time.
With the help of UT students, Brooks compiled a selection of the newspapers and the information about its accompanying core in each chosen drawer. This information was then translated into an article for Cabinet Magazine as well as a small publication for the Repositioned Core exhibition. Somewhere between a booklet, didactic information, and an artwork in itself, the publication created a sense of life around the inhuman geologic data of the oil industry.
In the exhibition, Brooks has placed a rock core diagonally thorough the gallery space. Starting from the 27-foot high ceiling, the core on its scaffolding cuts through the gallery, clips the mezzanine hangover, and pierces through the glass wall of the courtyard before burying itself back into the ground. It is known that the core, a 70-foot long sample acquired from the Core Research Center, was extracted from precisely 5,280 feet yet the data concerning its exact location of extraction has long been lost. Reanimating the dormant material through its positioning, action, and scale, Brooks juxtaposes the human scale and perception of time with an artifact from millions of years past, extracted from deep within the earth.