New Internationalist

Fracking futures: a taste of what’s to come

Helen Evans, one half of the art and design duo HeHe, whose work will be showing at the Turning FACT Inside Out exhibition opening in Liverpool this week, explains the inspiration behind their latest installation, Fracking Futures.

Drill illustrationFracking is short-hand for ‘hydraulic fracturing’, a process which forces open fissures in subterranean rocks using liquid at high pressure, usually to extract gas or oil; a controversial procedure which has caused mass public debate in the US and is currently taking place in Britain.

Inspired by the debate on both sides of the Atlantic, we decided for our next installation, Fracking Futures, to turn gallery space into a temporary, experimental drilling site for hydraulic fracturing on a micro scale. As part of Turning FACT Inside Out, we will be transforming the environment of the gallery into a fracked landscape. We are keen for this installation not only to be seen as a performance, but also for visitors to dwell on the potential for reality that exists within the piece.

Fracking is fast becoming another point of commerce and energy and we are keen to expose people to the idea that fracking can become possible in the most unexpected places.

Within the gallery setting, a small-scale drilling rig will bore into the floor through the ripped up tiles, and in doing so, result in unquantifiable subterranean noise and minor ground tremors as tectonic plates shift. A nearby water pit will bubble and swell as it cools extracted chemicals and appears to be polluted. A flame will explode with a release of gas on top of the rig, as the ground continues to rumble.

In this experiential installation, visitors will be introduced to the sounds and sensation of hydraulic fracturing, allowing them to become more deeply connected to the contentious issues that surround the process.

The piece ties into a long history of mining and extraction in the northwest of England, and looks towards the sites around Blackpool, Manchester and Southport which have been, or are in the process of being, approved for initial testing and extended fracking. There are many community and activist groups which strongly protest against hydraulic fracturing, labelling it as an unnecessary and unwanted process that comes with many environmental and health risks, and threatens property prices in areas where wells have been dug.

Other groups consider the shale gas extracted by the process to be an excellent source of alternate energy, which will ease the pressure put upon universally diminished resources and which is more reliable than wind or solar power.

By bringing the fracking site into FACT, we hope to highlight the importance and current relevance of the debates surrounding the process, which are not only significant environmentally, but also economically. This installation will refrain from making judgements for or against fracking, rather offering a platform on which discussion can begin.

Fracking Futures not only illustrates the potential dangers and disruptions of the process, but also considers the fact that fracking attempts to produce an alternative source of energy and also the potential for commerce and growth. Whether this last point is genuine or tongue-in-cheek is for the visitor to decide…

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HeHe art duoParis-based art and design partnership HeHe was set up in 1999 by Helen Evans and husband Heiko Hansen. HeHe’s practice explores the relationship between the individual and their architectural, social and urban environment, often creating playful miniature representations of vehicles or intervening directly with light projections and large-scale visual interruptions.

Fracking Futures will feature at the ‘Turning FACT inside out’ exhibition, 13 June – 25 August 2013, in Liverpool. fact.co.uk

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