Virtual Fracking

“Frack” is an art-science project that builds on my previous work, which involves time-lapse macro-photography of photographic media being chemically destroyed. This project involves a kind of “virtual fracking”, where I am using chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing to destroy photographs of sedimentary rock.

The chemicals used in this project are hydrochloric acid, acetic acid, and sodium hydroxide. In hydraulic fracturing, hydrochloric acid is used to dissolve minerals and create fissures in rock; sodium hydroxide, a highly caustic alkali substance, is used to adjust the pH levels of fracking fluid.

What’s amazing is that the hydrochloric acid “fracks” the film in exactly the same way that it fracks rock: it seeks the paths of least resistance in the film, which are the lighter areas of the image where less silver is deposited, and these areas naturally align with the fissures in the rock as depicted. So while we’re not seeing “real” rock being destroyed, we are seeing images of rock being destroyed in a way that is directly analogous — both visually and materially — to what happens underground in a fracking operation.

Similarly, this project also depicts what is known as a “neutralization reaction”, where hydrochloric acid is mixed with sodium hydroxide, resulting in the formation of sodium chloride (salt) and water:

HCl + NaOH = NaCl + H2O

We see this at the end of the trailer above, where tiny particles swirl and coalesce until all we are left with is dirty salt crystals in the petri dish. And of course, salty water (and the problems this can cause in contaminating groundwater) is one of the main byproducts of the fracking process.

So what we witness in this project is a kind of “chemical allegory”, where it is images and photographic media that are chemically subjected to a process undertaken in our larger environment. The result is an “image” that is material, semiotic, chemical and conceptual all at the same time. Continuing this tight linking between what we see and hear and what happens in the world at large, the images are of sandstone and shale rock from various sites in Australia, and the soundtrack has been developed from the sonification of Australian seismic data, plus contact-mic recordings.



  • VIDEOFORMES video and digital art festival; Clermont-Ferrand, France, March 2016.
  • Syros International Film Festival, Syros, Greece, 3-12 July 2015.
  • Sunshine Coast Art Award, New Media Art Prize, Arts and Ecology Centre, Tanawah, October 2015.
  • Screengrab Media Arts Award, Pinnacles Gallery, Townsville, December 2015-February 2016.
  • “Now and After” International Video Art Festival, Moscow, October 2016 (a selection curated by VIDEOFORMES).
  • “Particle + Wave” Media Arts Festival, Calgary, Canada, February 2017.

This project has been developed with the support of the School of Arts and Social Sciences and the School of Environment, Science and Engineering at Southern Cross University. Special thanks to Amanda Reichelt-Brushett and Barbara Harrison for the super science advice! Thanks also to Klankbeeld of for a superb contact mic recording which forms part of the soundtrack (albeit processed beyond recognition I would think!).