Working across drawing, printmaking, video, and installation art, Trinidadian artist Christopher Cozier (b. 1959) exposes the social impact of commercial expansion and political opportunism. Taking conditions in post-independence Trinidad and Tobago—an oil rich nation—as his point of entry, the artist is particularly attuned to the cultural shifts and historical erasure that have accompanied recent domestic and international economic policies within the broader Caribbean region. Cozier’s works cast a critical gaze on the realities of new-colonial enterprise while also referencing the fraught histories of Western colonialism. Cozier’s ongoing engagement with these narratives and their intersection with contemporary art practice extends to his role as founding member of Alice Yard, an experimental project space in Trinidad and Tobago’s capital, Port of Spain.
For his exhibition at the MSU Broad, Cozier presents two recent single-channel videos, Gas Men and Globe (both 2014), that explore the presence and impact of multinational oil companies in various international locations. Filmed on Lake Michigan—a site that in recent years has witnessed repeated crude oil spills at BP’s Whiting plant in Indiana—these works address the politics of the global oil economy. In each video, men in business suits draw fuel pump nozzles and hoses like pistols, swinging them in the air in a manner reminiscent of cowboy-style rope tricks or the whip cracking of carnival performances. These figures’ actions play out in the staccato rhythm of a crude stop-motion animation, their standoff recalling a Spaghetti Western set to a haunting soundtrack of sitar chords, live vocals, and sirens. In this take on what he calls “B-movie male heroic spectacle,” Cozier calls attention to the power dynamics of an economic paradigm that has grave effects on seemingly anonymous places, lives, and histories.
Christopher Cozier: Entanglements is organized by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and curated by Yesomi Umolu, Assistant Curator. Support for this exhibition is provided by the MSU Broad’s general exhibitions fund.