Baba Gurgur (Father of Flames), 1927

This work derives from a black-and-white archive photograph taken at Baba Gurgur in northern Iraq in 1932, the site of Iraq’s first oil discovery. It depicts natural gas fires seeping through cracks in the rocks, ‘eternal flames’ believed to have burned for at least 4,000 years. These perpetual flames heralded the birth of Iraq’s oil industry. When oil was struck there on October 15th 1927, 95,000 barrels of oil per day gushed high into the air for 10 days. Baba Gurgur became the centre of a resource struggle between the British, who controlled the territory at the time, the French, who controlled optimal pipeline routes, and the Americans, who feared the glut of Iraqi oil would threaten their dominant position in the market at the time. The fires at Baba Gurgur are still burning today, surrounded by the Kirkuk oil production facilities, still a contentious and vital strategic resource. 

The archival photograph condenses geological time and the origin of current middle-eastern geopolitical conflicts, economic ideology, and environmental catastrophe. This work is created using a video game engine, a meditation on the technology used in military conflict training and entertainment. It begins as a macro view, slowly tracking back to reveal a simulation of the landscape as based on the original photograph. The work creates a virtual bond with the past, transporting the viewer to a temporal space that encourages reflection on the provenance of current traumas.

Duration: 15 minutes