Lubricated Substrates

Elia Vargas - Solo Exhibition, June 30 - July 29, 2017


June 30th, 2017, 6pm - 10pm - Opening Reception


July 15th, Archive of an Interval, 7pm - 10pm

8:00pm - systemritual performance featuring Elia Vargas, Nathan Blaz, Isobel Marcus, and Shimeko. 

9:00pm - screening of "Signal Works"

July 29th, Closing Ceremony, 7pm - 10pm

8:00pm Crude oil expanded video performance by Elia Vargas

featuring the release of an exhibition artbook, in collaboration with Vivian Sming, including essays by Dorothy Santos, TJ Demos, and more.  


Lubricated Substates is a solo exhibition with Elia Vargas featuring his expansive body of work investigating light as material, earth infrastructures, oil materialities, earth energies, and global transmissions. This culmination of his previous works and research will be presented alongside new works, including the US premiere of the video "Signal Works". 


Lubricated Substrates - Earth Infrastructure, Light and the Oil Ontology

Crude oil is media. Oil’s infrastructure and history inform new media formulation and this media materiality is ontological. New media is a framework to organize meaning. New media contextualizes the flow of knowledge that shapes the meaning of human culture. New media is always now–a coping mechanism of the present. It digests the past to metabolize tomorrow’s ecologies, speculating tomorrow from the infrastructure of yesterday. New media is, very literally, shaped by old media. Lubricated Substrates: Earth Infrastructure, Light and the Oil Ontology explores the ways in which oil and light have always been linked. At its industrial birth, oil was commercially extracted to replace whale fat used for light production. Oil is latent solar energy (light) transduction via millions of years of organic decay. Railroads and oil pipelines laid the foundation for transportation of oil energy sources, chronologically reinforcing path dependency. Old infrastructure is latent energy for the production of new infrastructure. The movement and organization of light shape meaning.


Lubricated Substrates explores crude oil as a network of ideological formulation, enabling certain pathways of enunciation. In this work, network meaning is revealed through what architecture theorist Keller Easterling calls its disposition–not what it does, but how it does it and what its tendencies are–tracing cultural infrastructure that is enabled, activated, or even manufactured by material flows of crude oil. This work reconnects the materiality of oil–specifically the hydrocarbon paraffin–with its early history steeped in mysticism, mythology, and medicine. This history reveals an entangled natureculture soaked in oil flow. Manipulating my crude oil source, the product Pennsylvania Crude Oil Scalp Treatment, invented by Edgar Cayce, father of the New Age movement, I trace oil extraction at the first U.S. commercial oil well, Drake Oil Well. In 1859 crude oil was used as a medicinal ointment but shifted dramatically upon successful commercial extraction, initiating a global pursuit of oil drilling and fissuring two binary embodiments: carbon energy source and mystical healing. 

- Artist Statement by Elia Vargas

Crude Illumination, Elia Vargas, 2016

Crude Illumination, Elia Vargas, 2016

Water Vessels, Elia Vargas, 2014

Water Vessels, Elia Vargas, 2014

Still from Signal Works, Elia Vargas, 2016

Still from Signal Works, Elia Vargas, 2016

US Premiere: "Signal Works" by Elia Vargas is a short film featuring dancers Sophia Wang, Micah Morris, Shimeko, Justin Hoover, and Joshua Batson. Signal Works is a platform for video signal exhibition, featuring the work of artists working with signal, including: transmedia composer and artist, Andrew Blanton, sourceless video artist, Andy Puls, composer and net artist, Gavin Gamboa, and cellular biologist, Breanne Sparta. 


About the Artist:

Elia Vargas is an Oakland based artist and curator. He works across multiple mediums, such as video, sound, and projection. He is co-founder and co-curator of the Living Room Light Exchange, a monthly salon on new media art and digital culture; half of improvisational modular synthesis duo systemritual; board member of Mediate Art Group; and a PhD student in Film and Digital Media at UC Santa Cruz. He is currently investigating the materiality of crude oil and media transmission in relationship to human time scales, temporalities, and flows. 

Vargas recently presented work in Hong Kong as part of ISEA 2016, Kochi, India, as part of Video Vortex 2017, and across the United States. His recent writing has appeared in Vice Motherboard, and he has given numerous talks on elemental media, projection, and the production of meaning. His video work and projection installations have been featured throughout the country, and widely on the Internet, including Vice, NPR, and the Zero1 Biennial. He has exhibited work with the Manchester International Festival, de Young Museum, Gray Area for the Arts, Artist Television Access, Experience Music Project Seattle, Creators Project, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the San Francisco Museum of Art and Design, and others. Vargas collaborates widely and often, past collaborators include Bjork, Vincent Moon, and many others. He holds an MFA from San Francisco State University.  

Cloud Points, Elia Vargas, 2016

Cloud Points, Elia Vargas, 2016


Support for this work is generously provided by a UCSC Film and Digital Media Department Fellowship and OpenLab