September 23–November 19
Jessica Segall: Human Energy
at Smack Mellon
This fall, Smack Mellon presents its annual Close Readings exhibition series, which launched in 2022. In this series, Smack Mellon presents a new commission by an under-recognized, early- to mid-career artist in Gallery One, accompanied by an exhibition in Gallery Two that employs the central commission as the curatorial framework. This program extends our support for interdisciplinary artists by fostering dialogues around their practices, in addition to facilitating the realization of ambitious, site-specific projects.
Smack Mellon presents a new commission by Jessica Segall, unfolding as a multi-channel video installation featuring sound design by DJ, producer, and Berghain resident Steffi, and sculptural elements that mimic the design of oil field pipeline expansion loops. Exploring humanity’s addictive and intimate relationship with oil, the videos document the largest extractive zones in the US—the oil fields in Kern County, California, as well as Soviet-era spas in Naftalan, Azerbaijan–where crude oil is used medicinally and the claims of its healing properties date back centuries. The installation situates Segall’s research within Smack Mellon’s aging architecture—a nineteenth-century boiler space—which once provided fuel and power for the entire neighborhood.
Using drone and Steadicam footage, Segall captures the sprawl of the Southern Californian oilfield, encompassing 22 miles of evenly-spaced pumpjacks. She transforms this dusty milieu by staging erotic encounters in and around the equipment, paying homage to its actual history as a queer cruising site. The videos convey a simultaneous blend of bleakness, playfulness, intimacy, and illicitness. Drones circle the sites with militaristic precision, frontal camera lights expose Leather Daddies, and Segall rides the pumpjacks as if they were mechanical bulls.
Set within the crude oil spas, the final video delves into oil as a material through slow, fetishistic encounters between oil and flesh. While today the extraction of crude oil directly symbolizes climate change, war, corporate greed, and pollution, it was once used as a medicinal salve in Ancient Persia, France, and indigenous Americas dating back to the 12th century. Segall extends oil’s utility back into a timescale before combustion engines, creating a fluid universe where oil serves as personal lubricant, healing ointment, and destroyer of land and communities.
Segall’s artistic practice draws inspiration from inhospitable environments, many of which she has personally encountered. These experiences include places like the Global Seed Vault in the high Arctic circle and the wildfire-stricken landscapes of California, where she explores the boundaries of human vulnerability. The project Human Energy delves into various facets of perversion, ranging from the capitalist exploitation of natural resource extraction to queer relationships, which are banned on screen in Azerbaijan and increasingly endangered in the United States.
Through montage and the aesthetics of slow cinema, Segall builds upon the legacy of queer filmmakers such as Barbara Hammer and Kenneth Anger, incorporates influences from land art interventions by Nancy Holt, and draws inspiration from the ecosexual performances of Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens. This installation employs fantasy as a means to comprehend the expansive global network of oil production that spans across time and space. It accentuates the process through which billions of years of fossils are extracted into billions of barrels of oil, shaping both the geology of a capitalist nation and the petro-masculine identities that bolster it, as well as those that exist within its shadows.
Platform Project SpaceOctober 5, 6:00 PM–October 5, 8:00 PM
Platform Project SpaceOctober 5–November 4
New York Studio School Projects @ DUMBOOctober 5, 6:00 PM–October 5, 8:00 PM
New York Studio School Projects @ DUMBOOctober 5–October 26