Oil Extraction, Disability, and Survival: A Review of Kara Springer’s “Do I Have to Build You a Fucking Pyramid?”

Art Windsor-Essex
4 min readSep 6, 2023

Written by Tejaswini Abhijna Medicharla, Lensa Ali and Rana El Kadi

Front: Kara Springer. Do I have to build you a fucking pyramid?, 2021. Poplar wood armature, double-sided photo prints on Dibond panels. Commissioned by MOCA Toronto, on loan from the artist. Photo by Frank Piccolo.

Do I Have to Build You a Fucking Pyramid?” is a visually stimulating and thought-provoking art installation created by the artist Kara Springer. It is currently part of the BioCurious exhibition held at Art Windsor-Essex (AWE). The exhibition pushes us to seriously consider our relationship with the environment: How have we impacted it by draining its resources? And how is the environment shaping our lives in return? As students in Disability Studies, we will explore Springer’s artwork on environmental devastation from the perspective of disability and disabled people. Thinking in this way about the relationship between people’s bodies/minds and the environment is called “crip ecologies.”

Front: Kara Springer. Do I have to build you a fucking pyramid?, 2021. Poplar wood armature, double-sided photo prints on Dibond panels. Commissioned by MOCA Toronto, on loan from the artist. Photo by Frank Piccolo.

All creatures on Earth live in interconnected ecosystems, so if we change one part of the ecosystem, we change it all. Artist and scholar Sunaura Taylor invites us to map out all the environmental impacts that come about when we as humans corrupt and change ecosystems (2022). She urges us to think about how actions such as oil extraction actually produce disability in humans, animals, plants, and other organisms. This is what she calls a “disabled ecology.” Springer’s artwork provides a great example of this. It is made up of five wooden pyramids placed on the floor asymmetrically and facing different directions. Each pyramid is hollow on one side and features a blown-up photograph of light reflecting off of thick, black oil. The angled design of the photographs gives the structures a three-dimensional feel. The five pyramids appear unstable to us, almost as if they are falling apart and broken. This aesthetic seems to match well with the artwork’s theme of oil extraction causing environmental destruction.

Springer’s art installation aims to demonstrate how oil extraction is one of the primary drivers of economic inequality, political violence, climate change, and population displacement. In addition, when humans extract oil from their environment, it leads to land, air, and water pollution, which negatively impacts the health and well-being of all organisms, including humans (Nkem et al., 2022). Oil spills are also extremely dangerous because they can lead to explosions and fires that endanger the lives of all organisms on land and in water (Terminski, 2011). In this way, “Do I Have to Build You a Fucking Pyramid?” pushes us to consider the undeniable connection between oil extraction and disability.

Front left: Kara Springer. Do I have to build you a fucking pyramid?, 2021. Poplar wood armature, double-sided photo prints on Dibond panels. Commissioned by MOCA Toronto, on loan from the artist. Photo by Frank Piccolo.

Environmental activists have traditionally considered disability as evidence of the environment’s material harm on the body. However, disability activists consider disability as vitality (Besler, 2020). Although disabled people constantly face inaccessible and even violent surroundings which produce disability, they adapt, figure out access, and improvise environments. As poet and essayist Kay Ulanday Barrett states in their essay on crip ecologies, there is a kind of poetry in these everyday actions of survival (2022).

In conclusion, when we think about Springer’s artwork from a crip ecologies perspective, it pushes us to consider how humans damage the environment and how the environment damages them back. Crip ecologies help us shed light on the complex “webs of disability” (Taylor 2022) that are created when humans’ actions start such cycles of harm. At the same time, this perspective opens up the possibility of learning from the wisdom of the disability community about everyday acts of survival in the face of environmental devastation.

This article was written by Tejaswini Abhijna Medicharla, Lensa Ali and Rana El Kadi, students at Toronto Metropolitan University.

In summer 20223, AWE collaborated with students and faculty from the School of Disability Studies at Toronto Metropolitan University on a work-integrated partnership. This program was supported by Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada, the School of Disability Studies, Toronto Metropolitan University, and Art Windsor-Essex.

Sources

Barrett, K. U. (2022). To Hold the Grief & the Growth: On Crip Ecologies. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/articles/156938/to-hold-the-grief-the-growth1-on-crip-ecologies

Nkem, A. C., Topp, S. M., Devine, S., Li, W. W., & Ogaji, D. S. (2022). National Center for Biotechnology Information. The impact of oil industry-related social exclusion on community wellbeing and health in African countries. Frontiers in Public Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9627145/

Taylor, S. (2022, May 6). Keynote Lecture by Sunaura Taylor: Disabled Ecologies: Living with Impaired Landscapes [Video]. Art Windsor-Essex. YouTube. https://youtu.be/JXTvQvDdYS8

Terminski, B. (2011). Oil-Induced Displacement and Resettlement: Social Problem and Human Rights Issue Journal of Development Studies. Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. https://ssrn.com/abstract=2029770

Watts Belser, J. (2020). Disability, Climate Change, and Environmental Violence: The Politics of Invisibility and the Horizon of Hope. Disability Studies Quarterly, 40(4). https://doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v40i4.6959

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Art Windsor-Essex

Art Windsor-Essex (AWE) is a non-profit public art gallery that uses the power of art to open hearts and minds to new ideas. Change happens here.