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The Low Key Nexus of Oil and Trade

In her new show “Nexus,” on view at Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York until June 24, Victoria Sambunaris examines the infrastructure and environment at the intersection of two industries—the petrochemical industry, where gasoline and fuels are refined, and the industrial cargo trade, which moves crude oil, raw materials and other goods around the world. Sambunaris produced large-scale images during trips through the Permian Basin, an oil and natural gas producing area in Texas and New Mexico, and through the Gulf Coastal Plains, where oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill damaged ecosystems. Along with making pictures, she interviewed “local residents, pipe layers, rail men, oil workers, shipping executives, fishermen, truckers, port workers and marine biologists,” the gallery writes in a statement. The resulting images are almost aggressively mellow—cargo ships float in brown water in the Houston Ship Channel, a barge chugs up the Intracoastal Waterway and railroad tracks cut through verdant landscapes. But these quiet scenes depict the underpinnings of global trade, showing the mechanisms that move energy and goods around the world and power the massive, anonymous systems that make up modern life.

As Sambunaris has written about her work, “My process begins with an unmitigated curiosity inspired by research into industry, culture, history, anthropology, geology, and ecology.” Her aim is to bring to light the invisible forces that shape the contemporary landscape, an “attempt to reveal the layers of a place,” she writes. “I resist approaching a landscape strictly as an expanse of scenery but view it as an anomaly with an abundance of information to be discovered.”

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