Asphalt – in its natural form – is a distillate of petroleum, generated by oxidation and evaporation of the petroleum’s volatile components. Since early times it was used as building material, for mummification and the waterproofing of ships.
Within the ancient forms of asphalt mining and trading, the Dead Sea played an important role. Big pieces of asphalt, called thawr (Arabic for “bull”) were rising up from the seabed and were floating on the water, from where they were brought ashore and prepared for trade.
As a color pigment the Dead Sea’s asphalt was used in Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa (1819), a painting, that refers to the shipwreck of the French frigate Méduse. Its mission was to accept the British return of the colony Senegal, which was captured by England during the Napoleonic Wars. When the ship ran aground on a sandbank off the West African coast, a raft was hastily built, providing space for about 147 people. During the thirteen days until their rescue the raft-passengers were exposed to starvation, dehydration, cannibalism and madness – only fifteen survived.
A wooden pallet, taken from an Israeli export company (Tadiran Batteries Ltd.) is brought to the Dead Sea. On site it is painted with asphalt-paint and put into the sea, where it drifts slowly on the surface of the water in front of a running video camera. Afterward the black pallet is given back to the same company, to be reused for carriage of freight.
When the pallet arrives at a German subsidiary company, it is withdrawn from the transport cycle and presented in an installation confronting its projected video image. Both transfers of the pallet were an exchange: the company’s employees received each time a photograph, depicting the pallet floating on the Dead Sea.