Dr. Sheena Wilson and Dr. Imre Szeman, both from the University of Alberta had planned to initiate a simple dialogue between academics regarding Petrocultures: the discovery of socio-cultural consequences tied to oil energy and culture. However widespread international interest in the subject lead to the gathering of various scholars, writers, filmmakers and artists who together participated in September sixth to ninth’s conference Petrocultures Oil Energy and Culture . The conference featured keynote speakers video artist Ursula Biemann from Switzerland, Warren Cariou from the University of Manitoba and Allen Stoekl from the University of Pennsylvania.
The conference fostered a gain in perspective regarding oil culture and global dependence. Oil excess; the need for products made of oil – tables chairs plastics, makeup, cars – and our relation to these objects, fuelled the topic of discussion. It became a question of whether or not it is possible to “just leave it in the ground” and if we are living in a transitional era, one which will lead us away from depending on the non-renewable commodity of oil to new sources of energy.
Following the conference was a trip to the Wood Buffalo region, home to the Athabasca Oil Sands, an area almost as large as the state of Florida. There, 30 of the 100 conference attendees witnessed oil sands production and listened to industry rhetoric presented by Syncrude. Fort McMurray community leaders as well as the people of Fort McKay later explained the way in which the oil industry affects their livelihood. It became clear that there exists a need for change and how we respond to this need will determine the course of our everyday lifestyle, one that is presently shaped by oil culture; petrocultures.