Black Gold

Petropolis and Crude Britannia

  • thumbnail_Petropolis_13

    Peter Mettler, Petropolis (still).

Thu 3 June, 7pm

Whitechapel Gallery Online

Monday Closed
Tuesday 11am–6pm
Wednesday 11am–6pm
Thursday 11am–6pm
Friday 11am–6pm
Saturday 11am–6pm
Sunday 11am–6pm

Access Information


“The most devastating thing you will ever see.” – Neil Young

Shot from a helicopter, Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands offers an unparalleled view of the world’s largest industrial, capital and energy project. Canada’s tar sands are an oil reserve the size of England. Extracting the crude oil called bitumen from underneath unspoiled wilderness requires a massive industrialised effort with far-reaching impacts on the land, air, water, and climate. It’s an extraordinary spectacle, whose scope can only be understood from far above. In a hypnotic flight of image and sound, one machine’s perspective upon the choreography of others suggests a dehumanised world where petroleum’s power is supreme.

As the need to move away from fossil fuel use becomes ever more urgent, two crucial works remind us of the terrible cost attached to our pursuit of ‘black gold’. Peter Mettler‘s startling aerial survey of the Alberta’s catastrophic tar sands extraction reveals the scale of the challenge, while long-time carbon cycle activist and writer James Marriott‘s new co-authored book brings the analysis back home. He will be in conversation alongside Petropolis. 

Find out more about Marriott’s book, Crude Britannia: How Oil Shaped a Nation, co-authored with Terry Macalister, here.

This event is part of our season Ways of Knowing: Water / Fluidity.

About Peter Mettler

From the beginning of his career, Peter Mettler has created films deemed impossible to make yet readily appreciated once they exist. Melding intuition with dramatic, documentary, and experimental forms, Mettler’s cinema is at the forefront of contemporary practice. Meditations on our world, rooted in personal experience, his films reflect the visions and wonder of their characters and audiences alike.

A restless cinematic adventurer, Peter Mettler’s singular body of work is characterized by hybridism, a sense of wonder, unusual forms of collaboration, and a disregard for classification. Frequently visiting themes of transcendence and the delicate relationship between technology and the natural world, Mettler’s films combine travelogue, essay, interview, fiction and critique. They are guided by instinct yet grounded in discipline, structure, craft, and a knack for apprehending stunning images and great stories.