The Tale of the Sarnia Nose (an excerpt)
By Peter Hobbs, York University
These drawings are an excerpt from my PhD dissertation, Chemical Intimacies and Toxic Publics. To be more specific, they are part of a comic book chapter, “The Tale of the Sarnia Nose”, which examines Canada’s Chemical Valley, a massive industrial complex of petrochemical plants located just outside the small city of Sarnia, in southwest Ontario.
Deciding to incorporate the graphic novel format into my dissertation was incredibly exciting for me, as it has allowed me to combine my skills as both a practicing artist and an academic. In addition to helping me trace the geopolitics of petroleum, comic book imagery has also allowed me to pursue some inherently slippery ideas (affect, the technological sublime, posthumanism, agential realism) as well as slippery phenomena (ambient particulate, the effects of low industrial emissions/slow poisons, the neuron activity of the human brain). Rather than using drawings to simplify things, I have tended towards thick description and complexity. In other words, while I have used the comic format to depict sequential events, much of the imagery consists of isolated fragments that together speak/depict a larger ecological story or assemblage. This is the primary goal in my work: to draw the subtle and not so subtle structures of power inherent to the technological landscapes, the gothic ecologies, that we live in.