- Andrei Molodkin born 1966
- Acrylic tubes, fluorescent tubes, crude oil, compressors and pumps
- Object, each: 2000 x 1300 mm
overall display dimensions variable
- Presented by the Tretyakov Family Collection 2011
Liquid Modernity is a large-scale installation consisting of two structures reminiscent of cages. Each cage is identical in size and made from acrylic tubing. In one cage the tubes contain fluorescent lights and in the other crude oil, so that one appears largely black and the other white. Oil is pumped through the tubes of one cage, which functions as a generator, producing the electricity that powers the lights in the other.
The work was first shown at Orel Art in London in 2009 in an exhibition entitled Liquid Modernity: Grid and Greed, from which the title of the installation also derives. In his practice Molodkin explores oil and its fundamental properties, usage and associations. This work’s title is chosen explicitly to examine the role of oil in the world economy and its integral role in modern life. The installation highlights the need we have for oil to fuel our daily lives. Moreover, it touches upon the relationship between east and west and the importance of oil in that relationship. Oil has become a global symbol of power and is inherently politicised, often used as a bargaining tool by one country with another. In discussing his various installations, Molodkin has said that: ‘to me, they are not sculptures but a kind of technical process of the transformation of oil into something else. Today it becomes transformed into victory over a weaker country’ (quoted in Kashya Hilderbrand Gallery 2007, p.36). The natural properties of oil are also of significance to Molodkin. Made from plants and animals over millions of years, it has become a resource that much of the world is now dependent upon. The artist has commented upon this with irony: ‘life is converted into oil, oil is converted into money and money is converted into opportunity’ (quoted in Samantha Davis, ‘Liquid Assets’, SUBLIME, no.14, April/May 2009, p.66).
For Liquid Modernity’s first installation in London, Molodkin used REBCO (Russian Export Blend Crude Oil) which was chosen to highlight Russia’s particular association with the fuel. Russian crude oil is also the darkest type of oil in the world, making the contrast between the black and white cages prominent. The design of the cages is also reminiscent of the defendant’s cage in Russian courtrooms, often seen on television or in newspaper photographs. This makes reference to the trials of Russian oligarchs and, more specifically, those whose wealth is related to the oil trade. However, the artist has stated that the type of oil used in Liquid Modernity does not need to be Russian. It could be Libyan, Iraqi or Iranian, for example, each of which would lend a particular message about that country’s relationship with the west through the production and exportation of oil (conversation with Tate curator Kyla McDonald, February 2011).
Liquid Modernity is one of many works by the artist that uses oil as both material and subject. In other pieces, Molodkin has pumped oil into acrylic letters that spell words, such as Das Kapital 2008 (private collection, London). These installations share similar concerns with Liquid Modernity, all touching upon the political and economic weight that oil bears. The production of these sculptures was part of a long process during which Molodkin worked in a specialist acrylic factory in the south of France to develop a method of producing hollow acrylic structures that could hold oil.
Molodkin’s choice of grid-like structures for this installation makes a formal link with the use of the grid in the history of art generally and, more specifically, of Russian modernism. Scholar and curator Margarita Tupitsyn has traced this history, beginning with Kasimir Malevich (1878–1935) and ending with Liquid Modernity itself (Tupitsyn 2009, paragraphs 12–15).
Margarita Tupitsyn and Victor Tupitsyn (eds.), Andrei Molodkin: Cold War II, exhibition catalogue, Kashya Hilderbrand Gallery, Zürich 2007.
Margarita Tupitsyn, ‘The Grid as a Checkpoint of Modernity’, Tate Papers, no.12, 2009.
Margarita Tupitsyn and Victor Tupitsyn (eds.), Andrei Molodkin: Liquid Modernity, exhibition catalogue, Orel Art, London 2009, pp.11–15.