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Michael Whitehead, “Power Structures”
May 4 @ 12:00 pm - May 8 @ 5:00 pm
MFA Thesis Exhibition
Social Distancing and masks required.
I created a body of prints and drawings about “Power Structures.” The oil and gas industries touch every aspect of modern life. Hundreds of milesof overland piping, complex networks of transformers and wires carry their products across the state and into our homes for consumption. We take these power structures for granted. For my thesis, I plan to research the 85-mile-long stretch ofpower stations, oil refineries and petrochemical plants along the Mississippi River, known as “Cancer Alley.”
I encountered this horrific stretch of highway for the first time last semester. The experience was truly surreal. The worn steel surfaces of the power stations were caked in black dust from their massive coal yards. Their barge unloading bucket elevators and water intake pipes resembled a thousand interconnected arms that jutted across the highway and pierced the levee. The structures loomed over the small communities built in their shadow. The ever-burning fires of these unfathomable machines warm the hearths of a thousand homes. The oil refineries resemble glowing city skylines, constantly omitting opaque clouds of vapor. This carbon laced fog settles as a fine mist over everything surrounding them. Seeing the clusters of infinitely connected industrial plants filled me with awe and horror.
They are a necessity which simultaneously sustains and threatens life as we know it. People living in the shadows of these looming structures are 50% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than average Americans. The communities surrounding the refineries are dilapidated. Rows of modular homes are flanked by clusters fenced in neon yellow piles of extracted uranium. The oil and gas industries hold considerable influence over the political power structures of Louisiana, opposing environmental regulation in the name of profit while the state slowly sinks into the Gulf. For me, the industrial parks of “Cancer Alley” are a microcosm of the wealth disparity and environmental destruction created by the petroleum industry.