Tile link to Alice Owen's contribution: Drilling Through the Anthropocene
Drilling Through the Anthropocene . Alice Owen

Alice Owen

Drilling Through the Anthropocene

Drilling Through the Anthropocene by Alice Owen
In a community workshop, local clay is transformed.

Drilling Through the Anthropocene is an ongoing creative response to my  PhD research into the community campaigning against fracking and new fossil fuel projects in the UK. This work focuses on a particular site, Horse Hill, in Surrey in the South of England where the small oil and gas company UKOG (UK Oil and Gas PLC) has recently been granted planning permission for twenty years of oil production. The same company are pursuing similar projects across the region.

The Horse Hill site is relatively small and well-hidden behind trees, with the expansive underground network of horizontal wells  and the associated risks invisible. Extractivism here does not look like the spectacular scenes of landscape destruction  seen elsewhere, and is not experienced as a loss of life  and rarely as a loss of livelihood. At first glance, these developments are relatively easy for some nearby residents to ignore. But the risks  – climate change, water contamination,  seismicity,  air and noise pollution, the industrialisation of the countryside, economic losses and the repression and criminalisation of activists- are real. This, perhaps, creates a moment in which a solidarity with other communities on the frontlines of extractivism can be cultivated. Local action groups and the broader community are campaigning, organising and protesting to obstruct these harmful developments in the many ways they know how, from legal cases to non-violent direct action to creative or faith-based interventions.

This exhibition contribution reflects upon the resonances and dissonances between academia and activism, between the grand narratives of the Anthropocene and the everyday sites of extractivism, between the intangible and the material, between the planetary and the personal, between the abstract and the embodied, between the spectacular and the mundane. It explores how the story of Horse Hill can be variably told and situated across and between these scales, and how doing so might encourage different kinds of responsibility. These ideas have emerged from and become  entangled with the moments and spaces of community and collective action where my research (and activism) has been taking place.

Adapting to the online format of this exhibition, my contribution for the most part has come to rely on the campaign community’s and my own chance images not necessarily meant for display in this way. As such these images reflect the grassroots spirit of ‘ordinary people’ doing what they can with the tools that they have, however the full diversity of encounters and campaigning work associated with Horse Hill are obscured.

take action

Campaigners, with the support of the local community, are taking Surrey County Council to court to contest their decision to allow oil production at Horse Hill.  Donations in support of this legal challenge are gratefully received..

Join this informative webinar on 24th September to find out more about the legal challenge and how you can get involved.

Follow the campaign at Horse Hill and across the South East of England by searching for ‘Weald Action Group’ and ‘Frack Free Surrey’ on social media, or http://www.wealdactiongroup.org.uk/ and http://frackfreesurrey.com/.

More updates can also be found at https://www.facebook.com/HorseHillPG/.

continue to view Drilling Through the Anthropocene

Drilling Through the Anthropocene

Anthropocene. Noun. The current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

At Horse Hill and elsewhere, extractive industries are drilling for fossil fuels and other natural resources throughout and despite this proposed Anthropocene epoch. They are also drilling through the sediments and deposits that compose the literal strata of the Anthropocene, which are marked by traces of nuclear fallout, industrial chemicals, plastics, concrete, increased atmospheric CO2 and the fossil record of the sixth mass extinction event.

In these ways, the specific site of oil production at Horse Hill is part of a narrative which is planetary in scale and spans deep geological time both past and future. The commonplace and mundane traces of the industry, such as the oil tankers and equipment entering or leaving the Horse Hill site, are a quite unremarkable occurrence in the Anthropocene.  Yet they simultaneously epitomise the extractivist logics and political economies which are disrupting earth systems and foreclosing certain possibilities in which human and other-than-human life can flourish.

Does the grand concept of the Anthropocene, rooted in deep time, allow for a sense of deep responsibility to be cultivated? Who is responsible for the Anthropocene and how can they be held accountable? What kind of resistances, alternatives and reimaginings might it inspire?  And can the scales and scope of the Anthropocene resonate with the urgency of the local environmental injustices and global climate injustices already being experienced?

This short video sequence brings together footage taken whilst monitoring site traffic at Horse Hill and shots of outcrops of the fossil-rich and naturally-fractured Portland and Kimmeridge rock types (formed approximately 145 to 155 million years ago). These geological strata are equivalent to those from which UKOG are extracting oil at Horse Hill.
With thanks to Jennie Owen.

Making a Scene

The Anthropocene is also a call to action. It is the multiple and layered struggles and stories of resistance against the domination and exploitation of nature at small and grand scales. At Horse Hill the story continues to unfold, with an ever-evolving cast of concerned individuals and committed community groups finding new ways to stage their protest and to campaign against new fossil fuel developments.

This photo-collage series, comprising photos contributed from the archives of campaign groups, showcases nearly a decade of persistent collective action at Horse Hill. Through the seasons and across the years, various groups have claimed and shared the space that marks the border between the world being resisted and the world being fought for. The Horse Hill gates are the gateway to decades of drilling and fossil fuel production at this site and across the region, and in turn the space in which this can be physically and symbolically occupied in an articulation of a different vision for the present and the future.

This staging of dissent is a compelling embodied experience and visual spectacle, yet behind and between these scenes are the countless hours of less photogenic or spectacular campaign work that has been undertaken since the first planning applications in 2010. This includes researching and preparing for planning applications and court cases, writing and distributing outreach materials, organising meetings, trainings and events, and networking and relationship building. There are diverse reasons for and ways of objecting to oil extraction at  Horse Hill, with fractures as well as alliances emerging within and between campaigning communities.

Campaigners proceed towards the Horse Hill gates

Photos from left to right:

Local campaign groups are joined by other climate action groups including Extinction Rebellion for speeches and a peaceful demonstration at Horse Hill. October 2019. Photo by Back Off Horse Hill.

Cyclists and campaigners from across the South of England join the ‘Time to Cycle’ action and Solidarity March, carrying a red ribbon to show that drilling at Horse Hill is a ‘red line’ that should not be crossed. February 2016. Photo by Jono.

By slow-walking in the road, climate activists delay the arrival of oil tankers to the site. August 2020. Photo by Chris Jerrey: chrisjerrey.photography

Cyclists stop at Horse Hill gates before hearing speeches from local campaigners as part of the ‘Tour de Frack’ action. June 2018. Photo by Back Off Horse Hill.

Solidarity at the gates from across the country

Anti-fracking campaigners from around England come to Horse Hill to show their support and join a slow-walk action, February 2016. Photo by Jono.

Earthfirst! activists from across the country slow-walk and blockade vehicles as they leave and enter site, August 2018. Photo by Rod Harbinson (Copyright). www.RodHarbinson.com

Campaigners from Frack Off London and Rising Tide London organise a drill-site tour for London activists, expressing their concern that drilling at Horse Hill will lead to similar projects across the region. March 2018. Photo by Frack Off London.

Holding space at the gates

Anti-fracking campaigners hold the space at the Horse Hill gates and await the departure of the drill rig from site. When the drill is driven off the site the next day, activists climb aboard the vehicle and ‘lorry surf’ to protest the drilling and to delay operations.  November 2014. Photo by Horse Hill Protection Group.

Following talks and a peaceful demonstration, a candle shines a light amidst the darkness of the hostility and fear associated with being at the Horse Hill gates.  October 2019.  Photo by Alice Owen.

Climate activists lock themselves together and block the site entrance. December 2019. Photo by Horse Hill Protection Group.

Gatherings at the Horse Hill Gates

Frack Free Surrey campaigners and other supporters gather for the ‘No Fracking Way’ demonstration. January 2016Photo by Bryn Truscott.

At the regular Faith at the Gate gatherings (including online meetings whilst Covid-19 restrictions on gatherings are in place), campaigners bring their  prayers, poems and thoughtful silence to Horse Hill.  December 2019. Photo by Back Off Horse Hill.

More than 80 people from both the local area and the wider south-east gather for a picnic by the Horse Hill drilling site to demonstrate their concerns and listen to talks. October 2014. Photo by Jono.

Campaigners peacefully express their concerns about the local impacts and climate change impacts of oil production at Horse Hill. October 2019.  Photo by Back Off Horse Hill.

The Anthropocene In Your Hands

Rather than drilling through the literal Anthropocene earth, what other possibilities are there for interacting with this land? Naturally occurring deposits of clay found near the Horse Hill site invite us to consider creating with and making use of the Earth’s resources, and to contemplate how the kind of extractivism witnessed at Horse Hill is fundamentally different to other kinds of human-nature relationships.

Through experimenting, making and organising workshops with this clay, potter Xanthe Maggs and I have been exploring how this Anthropocene earth can be part of campaigning and part of building a community of resistance. We are also inquiring into how interacting with the clay and making together can be part of personal and shared journeys of our activism as we continually learn new ways of relating to the natural world and to each other.

Handling Horse Hill clay

Clockwise from top left:

Mark-making with found materials.  Photo by Xanthe Maggs.

A clay crayon before firing, to be used by activists for writing or drawing in public spaces. Design and photo by Xanthe Maggs.

Processing clay by removing organic matter to make it suitable for firing. Photo by Alice Owen.

Sculpting clay at a workshop with the campaign community.  Design by Collette Barber. Photo by Xanthe Maggs and Alice Owen.

Finding clay deposits near the Horse Hill site. Photo by Xanthe Maggs.

Clay and community

Clockwise from top left:

Horse Hill campaign supporters share their activist stories and make together. Photo by Xanthe Maggs and Alice Owen.

‘No Drill Horse Hill’ badges are shared with campaigners or sold for fundraising, promoting a sense of a shared campaign community. Design and photo by Xanthe Maggs.

Fired makes from the campaigners’ workshop are displayed at the Horse Hill Monitoring Camp. Photo by Alice Owen.

Students display their creations on a map of the Horse Hill area overlain with a geological map showing clay deposits. Map and photo by Xanthe Maggs.

Clay creations

Clockwise from top left:

“This pot is a tribute to the determination of the many women I have encountered who have been integral to the anti-fracking movement and Horse Hill campaign, cultivating and carrying life as they stand and speak for and with nature.  It also echoes early clay pots and sculptures, inviting reflection on what distinguishes the Anthropocene from other kinds of human interaction with the natural world.”. Design and photo by Alice Owen.

“The piece I made reflects my love of nature; the reason why I choose to petition against oil extraction and the destructive methods used to obtain it. I love my garden and consider it an extra “room”. I love to share my garden with friends, inviting them round for long summer evenings outside listening to the wildlife and watching the stars. The piece I made was to sit on the table outside and hopefully prompt discussion. It has sat there, but due to COVID it too has been in isolation!”. Design and Photo by Deborah Elliott.

“Inspired by the traditional ‘Surrey Sharing Cup’ described in Dorking Museum, this convivial receptacle was created with the co-operation of the various Horse Hill campaign groups and individuals in mind. I have since also imagined it, full of oil, as the poisoned chalice of UKOG from which the share-holders who have lost a lot of money have sipped.”. Design and photo by Alice Owen.

“I took my clay beads up to Parliament Square each time I had a slot in the 40 Day Vigil we held during Lent; an action organised by Christian Climate Action and Extinction Rebellion Faith Groups. It was symbolic of our prayerful protest against extractivism which formed part of a wider Fossil Fuel Fast in which many of us gave up fossil fuels for Lent  ( cars, hot water etc). The clay now sits on my desk as I work as a constant reminder of the call of the earth for reparation, and will return to London with me in September for the Earth Vigil which forms part of the September Extinction Rebellion.”. Design and photo by Helen Burnett.

take action

Campaigners, with the support of the local community, are taking Surrey County Council to court to contest their decision to allow oil production at Horse Hill.  Donations in support of this legal challenge are gratefully received.

Join this informative webinar on 24th September to find out more about the legal challenge and how you can get involved.

Follow the campaign at Horse Hill and across the South East of England by searching for ‘Weald Action Group’ and ‘Frack Free Surrey’ on social media, or http://www.wealdactiongroup.org.uk/ and http://frackfreesurrey.com/ .

More updates can also be found at https://www.facebook.com/HorseHillPG/.

back to top
Skip to content