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the dawning of the rig


“What immediately confronts thinking is of course 'nature'...

[T]he simplest saying of the plainest image in purest reticence

Martin Heidegger (Contributions to Philosophy)

Located in the Scottish Highlands, next to the Moray Firth, where the Beatrice oil Field lies, is Cromarty Firth, a four-decade-long graveyard for decommissioned North Sea platforms. Removed from the site of the action, these obsolete structures appear desolate. They have now shed their usefulness as equipment for the extraction of oil. Disconnected from the power of technology, they seem smaller, exposed.


“The dawning of the rig” is a single channel moving image work that forms part of, and is to be produced and exhibited alongside The Deep. This self-standing work aims to capture, at once and with equal insistence, the violence of drilling into the earth's core and the serene presence of the disused platform.

Visualise the scene. A dense blue night lifts into a whitening dawn. Floating in the distance, large dark shapes. Glimpses of horizon. The gentle lapping of water on land, otherwise nothing. A sense of foreboding. The shapes gain opacity, presence in depth. They appear obtrusive, strange, unthinkable under the overarching sky. Deafening echoes of a working rig. Heavy machinery, human yelling, wave crashing. Silence. We gaze into ‘the thing’ in its simplicity. Dislodged and open, we watch emerge its native forms. Humbled, we see at once danger and possibility.

“All saying must allow the co-emergence of a capacity to hear it

Martin Heidegger (Contributions to Philosophy)

• I aim to create a sparse image that preserves the fundamental relations between the subject, its context and the temporality they share. I will employ a durational sequence shot – where the action is encapsulated within one single, uninterrupted take – in a wide, fixed-frame composition, that hones in the key elements – water, rigs, mountains, sky – within a narrow tonal range.

• Through a play of light, perspective, sound, and duration, I wish to make visible the oscillation between emergency and emergence – danger and sheltering –  that characterises the disused oil platforms.

• Key to my my creative process is the understanding that the conceptual frame, structure and aesthetics of a work are intrinsic to each other.


Excerpt of my artist talk on The Deep given at the British Society for Phenomenology, National University of Ireland (Galway), September 2021.


The geology of the Northwest Highlands and Outer Hebrides is the oldest in the country, dating back 2 to 3 billion years. During the late Jurassic period (150 million years ago), plants, algae, bacteria and planktonic animals that were buried into coal beds dating from the Carboniferous age (300 million years ago) became oxidised, generating, over the millennia that followed, rich sources of natural oil and gas across the North Sea. “The oldest source rock in Scotland”, Con Gillen writes, “is the Devonian fish bed [… which… for the last 40 years] has yielded the oil in the Beatrice Field of the inner Moray Firth”. While Scotland pioneered the production of oil in 1851, its offshore gas and oil basins were only discovered in 1967, following the invention of hydraulic fracturing by American engineers in 1949 (Gillen 2013, 10, 202-04). This highly technologised process, commonly called ‘fracking’, is described by Madelon Finkel as the injection of “millions of gallons of water, chemical additives, and a proppant at high pressure into the wellbore to create small fractures in the rock formations to allow natural gas (or oil) to be released” (Finkel 2015, xv-xvi). In the North Sea “[to] date”, Gillen states, “almost 11,000 oil wells have been drilled for exploration and production, and there are currently about 300 offshore installations”, running 23,000 kilometers of subsea pipping (Gillen 2013, 205). A number of recent studies performed in the UK, Europe and the US trace the impacts of the extraction, production and transportation of fossil fuels on humans, animals and the environment by detailing the hazards arising from each phase of activity (Watterson and Dinan 2018, 16).

         Findings confirm two major impacts. The first is toxicity from exposure to chemicals, “heavy metals, radioactive materials, volatile organic compounds [and] hazardous air pollutants”, such as methane and benzene, which growing evidence shows cause endocrine system disruptions in both humans and animals at “developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune” levels (Law 2015, 24, 26; De Jong, Witter and Adgate 2015, 64-70). The second major impact is the intensification of seismic and weather events believed to be induced by the extensive puncturing of the Earth’s underlying formations, on the one hand (Kim 2013), and the continuous burning of fossil fuels (gas and oil) into the atmosphere, on the other. Scientists believe that by 2100 the likely increase in global temperature will be between 2 and 4° C, surpassing the danger threshold for the Earth’s warming (Staddon and Depledge 2015, 82). Rigorous health and sustainability assessments required for a radical review of the legislation and regulation of fracking are thwarted by the petrochemical industry’s lack of transparency (Broomfield 2012; Law 2015, 29-32; Reap 2015; Watterson and Dinan 2018, 24). In recent years, however, the use of fracturing technologies on Scottish land and its offshore territory has been under scrutiny by the Scottish government, resulting in a moratorium on shale extraction.[i] There nonetheless remains uncertainty on future policy as central politics and economic gain hang in the balance.

         Despite the incompleteness of available data, evidence-based findings paint a daunting picture of human-induced impacts on the welfare and future survival of planet Earth and all earthly beings, humans included. Such facts and statistics form the backbone of environmental activism delivered by groups, organisations and the media, playing a crucial role in generating awareness towards instigating change. Two questions arise: can we implicate ourselves more deeply by re-thinking environmental urgency fundamentally, beyond established registers of representation? And, might the medium of visual art offer the open site we require to do so?


[i] Scottish Government, “Unconventional Oil and Gas: Ministerial Statement”. 2019. (accessed 20 July 21).


Broomfield, Mark. “Support to the Identification of Potential Risks for the Environment and Human Health Arising from Hydrocarbons Operations Involving Hydraulic Fracturing in Europe”. Report for European Commission DG Environment, 2012. (accessed 12 June 2021)

De Jong, Nathan P., Roxana Z. Witer, and John L. Adgate. “Natural Gas Development and its Effect on Air Quality”. The Human and Environmental Impact of Fracking, edited by Finkel, Madelon L. Praeger, 2015, pp. 61-79.

Finkel, Madelon L, ed. The Human and Environmental Impact of Fracking. Praeger, 2015.

Gillen, Con. Geology and Landscapes of Scotland. Dunedin Academic Press Ltd, 2013 [2003].

Heidegger, Martin. Contributions to Philosophy (of the Event). Trans. Richard Rojcewicz and Daniela Vallega-Neu. Indiana University Press, 2012.


---. Basic Writings. Edited by David Farrell Krell. Routledge, 1993.

         “Origin of the Work of Art” (pp. 143-212)

         “The Question Concerning Technology” (pp. 311-41)

Kim W.Y. “Induced Seismicity Associated with Fluid Injection into a Deep Well in Youngstown, Ohio”. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, Vol. 118 (2013): 3506–3518;  doi:10.1002/jgrb.50247, 2013.

Law, Adam. “The Public Health Risk of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals”. The Human and Environmental Impact of Fracking, edited by Finkel, Madelon L. Praeger, 2015, pp. 23-33.

Reap, Elisabeth. “The Risk of Hydraulic Fracturing on Public Health in the UK and the UK’s Fracking Legislation”. Environmental Sciences Europe 27: 27, 2015; doi:10.1186/s12302-015-0059-0.

Watterson, Andrew and William Dinan. “Public Health and Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction Including Fracking: Global Lessons from a Scottish Government Review”. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2018 Apr 4; 15(4):675; doi:10.3390/ijerph15040675.

Staddon, Philip L. and Michael H. Depledge. “Implications of Unconventional Gas Extraction on Climate Change: A Global Perspective”. The Human and Environmental Impact of Fracking, edited by Finkel, Madelon L. Praeger, 2015, pp. 81-93.

Image: The Dawning of the Rig, Cromarty Firth, Scotland. The Deep stills series, digital c-type print from medium format film, 2023. 

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