Tabet’s Tapline trajectory
Cover Story, December 2017
Rayyane Tabet’s Steel Rings and the mobile Three Logos (both 2013) slice through and loom over the web of natural histories and human natures, mineral agency and political ecology that comprises the exhibition 4.543 billion. The matter of matter. Rayyane was one of the first artists to come on board what would become this Latitudes-curated exhibition at CAPC Bordeaux. And as the show approaches the end of its journey—it finishes on 7 January 2018—it seems appropriate that this month’s cover story creates a bookend of sorts. Moreover, it gives a perfect reason to mention Rayyane’s stunning exhibition Fragments that has recently opened at Hamburg Kunstverein.
Seen in this installation view with works by Alessandro Balteo-Yazbeck & Media Farzin on the wall to the left, and Martín Llavaneras on the floor, Steel Rings and Three Logos address the story of the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line (Tapline for short). The pipeline was conceived as a faster, cheaper, and safer alternative to the export of Saudi Arabian oil by ship. Its origins lay in US efforts to replace the enormous drain on its reserves in ‘oiling’ the second world war. The Tapline was constructed between 1947 and 1950 as a joint venture of Standard Oil of New Jersey, the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company (both now merged into ExxonMobil), the Texas Company, and Standard Oil of California (now Texaco and its parent company Chevron, respectively). The pipeline was planned to run in a direct line from the Abqaiq oil field to Haifa, then in British-administered Palestine. Yet as the disputed 1947 United Nations Partition Plan divided Palestine into Arab and Israeli sections, a diversion had to be made in the route. The final stretch of the 1214 km line thus headed off at an angle through Jordan and Syria, and terminated in southern Lebanon. Oil exports flowed from 1950 until the Lebanese Civil War broke out in 1975. The Tapline later supplied oil exclusively to Jordan until Saudi Arabia stopped the agreement in 1990 in response to Jordanian support for Iraq during the first Gulf War. The pipeline has lain dormant ever since.
Rayyane tackles the pipeline as a form of line drawing, distilling his exhaustive research into its history to focus on the abstract and geometric qualities of a remarkable feat of engineering and logistics. His primary interest lies in the Tapline’s route as a cartographic vector, and the physical presence of a thirty-inch tube of steel that cuts through five political entities. The steel rings replicate the scale of the pipeline in section. Each ring is engraved with the longitude, latitude and elevation corresponding to a kilometre-marker of the pipeline’s path. Three Logos evokes the numerous mergers and rebrandings of the American corporations involved. The blue oval of the Esso logo (originally a brand of Standard Oil), intertwines with the red star of Texaco and the winged horse of Mobil.