Of Oil and Ice
Sharjah Biennial 13: Tamawuj, 2017

Project Team:
El Hadi Jazairy + Rania Ghosn
Kelly Koh, Rawan Alsaffar, Max Jarosz, Shuya Xu

In 1976, in response to the growth of desalination industries in a dry region with high water demands, Saudi Prince Mohammed Al Faisal created a venture company to study if an iceberg could be towed from Antarctica to Jeddah. He even brought experts together to debate this hypothesis at “First International Conference and Workshops on Iceberg Utilization for Fresh Water Production, Weather Modification and Other Applications” at Iowa State University. Prince Al Faisal wondered: why simply allow the billions liters of fresh and pure water that make up icebergs to be diluted in oceans if “an iceberg project is a better enterprise than oil?” After all, global ice trade was a lucrative industry in the nineteenth century. The conference ended in disagreement on the possibility of iceberg-towing across the tropics. The idea however remains alive and potentially more alluring as climate change puts Antarctica on the world’s mind. Of Oil and Ice weaves together two concerns brought forth by climate change — melting glaciers in Antarctica and energy intensive desalination industries in the Arabian Gulf — in a proposal to haul icebergs from Antarctica to Hormuz Strait. Antarctica’s ice is no longer the enemy it had been for early explorers. Declared in 1895 as the last undiscovered place on earth by the Royal Geographical Society, and without human natives, Antarctica has since been predominantly defined by its mapping. During the Cold War, the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) organized Antarctica into a series of polar sectors radiating from the South Pole to contain contemporary claims of national sovereignty as well as any future possible claims put forth should economic resources be discovered. It deemed the continent a “natural reserve devoted to peace and science.” In 2048, the treaty’s ban on development and extraction will be renegotiated under the pressures of international competition over resources.

Watch: Of OIl and Ice