In Oil and Sugar #2 2007 the gradual collapse of a tower of sugar cubes doused in black oil embodies the crises and contradictions that can emerge within all cultural systems.

Kader Attia’s videos and installations often address the physical and historical processes affecting human constructs, from built landscapes to wider social frameworks. In this video, crude oil is poured onto a small construction made out of sugar cubes until these become soaked and eventually crumble. This process plays out as a conflict between opposed elements such as black and white, solid and liquid, and order and chaos. However, it also suggests that entropy and decline are essential to the emergence of new forms. The repetition of the sequence on a loop encourages this sense of transformation, while ‘beginning’ and ‘end’ lose their static meanings.

Sugar and oil are both powerfully symbolic materials, whose production and trade have had profound economic, social and environmental consequences. Attia points out that both substances are fuel sources: not just petroleum but also ethanol, made from sugar cane and other crops. Developed as a ‘clean’ alternative to fossil fuels, ethanol is produced through a method that is similarly unsustainable. In many ways, what appears at first as a contrast of opposites turns out to be far more complex and paradoxical.

Kader Attia was born in 1970 in Dugny, France and grew up between France and Algeria. He lives and works in Berlin.

Curated by Valentina Ravaglia