is there a horizon in the deep water? is a performance by HeHe that reconstructs, in miniature, the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in an outdoor swimming pool. This event triggered the BP oil spill, the largest ever recorded marine oil spill, causing immense damage to ocean and coastal wildlife habitats across vast areas in the Gulf of Mexico. Any suggestion that an open-air swimming pool might suffer the same fate as the Gulf of Mexico and become polluted for the sake of art is provocative and absurd. In fact, during the performance harmful or poisonous substances do not contaminate the pool, unless you consider art to be corrosive and corruptive. The work aims to bring home to audiences the significance of the disaster, albeit on a very small scale.
The performance consists of a realistic model of an oil rig placed in the water of an open-air swimming pool. As darkness falls, a series of explosions erupt on the rig and large plumes of oily black smoke are released. A small tugboat arrives to film the explosion and relays the image to a large projection screen beside the pool. A kind of laboratory for testing the public response to catastrophe, the audience presence is an integral part of the performance.
Through recreation, HeHe’s work examines the transmutation of real-life tragedy into a spectacle for forms of entertainment. By re-enacting this tragedy as a public event, the project interrogates the limits of commercialization. The audience is more or less aware of what is going to happen but still comes to witness the impending doom. This little poolside world asks us to suspend our disbelief and contemplate the reality of the oil rig disaster, to witness the terrifying spectacle in a form that is mediated, real and fake. Of course, the miniature scale also offers some comic relief to the seriousness of the situation, and the catastrophe strikes again and again.
Commissioned by Invisible Dust (London). Supported by The Wellcome Trust.