Library Gallery: Petrography:  Viewing the Land through Petroleum by Warren Cariou, February 2 - March 2

at Library Gallery, Winnipeg

Opening Friday, 2 February 2018 6-9 pm

The exhibition continues until Friday, 2 March

Library Gallery (AKA L'Briary) is pleased to host the first solo exhibition of photographs (petrography) by Warren Cariou, a Winnipeg-based artist.

The photos in this series use tar sands bitumen as the photographic medium to document the land affected by tar sands mining operations in Canada's Athabasca region. Inspired by Nicephore Niepce's 1826 bitumen "heliography" experiments, Warren Cariou has gathered bitumen from natural sources on the banks of the Athabasca River and used it to create these images of the boreal landscape in the vicinity of Canada's largest and most visible oil extraction projects. Many photographers have documented the extraordinary altered landscapes of these bitumen mines, but Cariou is the first to do so using the bitumen itself as the medium.

"When I first learned that bitumen is photosensitive," Cariou said, "I wanted to see how Athabasca bitumen could be used to reveal what humans are doing to the land in their quest for cheap energy. I thought it would be fascinating to utilize bitumen in a different way—not as the raw material for fuel, but as the medium for a particular kind of vision: revealing the landscape of oil extraction through a film of petroleum itself."

The result of Cariou's photographic experiments is a series of monochrome images with a distinctive golden hue and a shimmering, holographic surface. The images depict different aspects of the bitumen mining process, including strip mining, water treatment, pipelines and trucking. In addition, Cariou has created petrographs representing the natural flora and fauna of the Athabasca region, to show that not all the natural vitality of the ecosystem has been lost, and to underline what is at stake in the ongoing practice of oil extraction.

These petrograph images are contact prints, made with a thin coating of bitumen on polished aluminum plates. The prints require an exposure time of thirteen to sixteen hours in full sunlight, and they are developed with a mixture of kerosene and lavender oil. Because of the toxicity of the material, great care must be taken to avoid inhaling fumes during the developing process.

Warren Cariou is a writer and artist originally from Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, which is near the Athabasca tar sands region. Much of his work engages with the Indigenous environmental politics and oral cultures of his homeland, with a particular focus on his Métis heritage. He has published award-winning books of fiction and nonfiction about his home community, including the memoirLake of the Prairies, and he co-directed two films about Indigenous communities in the Athabasca tar sands, Overburden and Land of Oil and Water.

Cariou has published widely on Indigenous literature, oral traditions, and environmental philosophies, and he has worked with some of the most celebrated Indigenous storytellers of our time, including Omushkego Cree Elder Louis Bird. He is a professor in the Department of English, Film, Theatre and Media at the University of Manitoba, where he directs the Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture.

For more information, visit

Exhibition curator: Cliff Eyland

Library Gallery, 70 Arthur Street, Suite 540 Winnipeg text: 204 297-8421