Oil Prospecting, DIY rush for oil

Jon Cohrs

Jon Cohrs is a visual artist and recording engineer whose work has focused on exploring technology and how it can promote connections that invoke a sense of development and growth. His last project, Winner of a Futuresonic 2009 Art Award Commission, is called Oil Prospecting and consists of a device for prospecting for oil in the city centre. As Cohrs explains on the project website, Newtown Creek (NY) has been home to oil refineries since the mid 1900s, which have contributed to the presence of between 17 and 20 million gallons of spilled oil in the ground. Much of the information about the spill is conveyed through data and lacks tangibility as the oil is hidden deep underground. Thus Cohrs has invented a modified metal detector fitted with a hydrocarbon sensor to track spilled oil in urban areas. The analog data emitted by the sensor are processed by a microchip that interfaces with the main computer running the metal detector. Until recently, oil prospecting has been a field left to the “professionals” because sophisticated tools were required for detection. This easy DIY device is therefore a technological accomplishment which has the potential to find small nuggets of oil. 
At the same time the tool is an artistic ‘conceptual object’ which challenges us to reassess our ecological responsibility. As Drew Hemment, Artistic Director of Futuresonic, wrote “In urban environments in particular we can be insulated from both nature and the consequences of our actions innovative approaches to participatory observation and mapping can overcome this separation, when combined with the way the internet and digital media has enabled individuals to produce and share information globally and instantly.” Riding on the coattails of the historical precedent of the Gold Rush, Oil Prospecting marries this approach. The aim of the project is to reach communities where oil spills have happened through web 2.0 communication and networking in order to create a sense of responsibility and collaboration on this issue.