Oil Ancestors: Oral History

The ways humans make and use materials changes over time. Oil-based materials are an ordinary part of everyone’s life now, but this change has only happened in the last century. There are still people alive who remember a time before single-use plastic packaging and synthetic fabrics were so common. As people become increasingly aware of the impacts of climate change, there is a renewed interest in traditional materials.

Use your phone or other audio device to record conversations with elders in your community to capture their memories and experiences with material and energy transitions. You don’t have to ask all the questions, you can choose just a few and let the conversation guide you.

Interviews in all languages are welcome! Questions in Mandarin follow the English below. The questions are for all of us to contemplate, but I encourage you to reach out to friends and family who are in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. Experiences and stories vary depending on where people grew up and their living conditions.

This project was developed in response to the 2020 Westtown Artist Residency Project at The Weaving Mill in Chicago and the swatch exchange for Having Friends in the Future (HFF), an experimental project sponsored by the National Taiwan Crafts Research and Development Center and organized by Tribe Against Machine.

To add your interview to the Oil Ancestors collection, upload your recording and signed release document to this form:

1. questions list
2. phone or other audio recording device
3. interview release form downloaded from https://tinyurl.com/oil-OH-release

1. Choose someone whose experiences and perspectives you would like to learn about, perhaps an older relative or family friend.
2. Plan a date and time for your interview.
3. Test your recording capabilities ahead of time. You can use your phone or a video call app.

1. Make sure both people are in a quiet place when recording the interview.
2. Ask your questions and listen carefully to the responses. Allow time to think about answers; silence is okay!
3. You don’t have to ask all the questions and it’s okay to talk about things that are not on the questions list. Ask follow-up questions and encourage expanding upon answers.
4. At the end of the interview be sure to complete a signed copy of the release form.

1. Give your files a clear title. Name your file with Last Name of Interviewer-Date Of Interview (eg. Tsai_12-Jan-2021)
2. Write a brief summary of what you talked about and select a few keywords that would give a person who hasn’t yet heard your interview an idea of what you discuss.

a utility box showing marking the electrical grid

🎤 TO BEGIN, the interviewer should state the date, interview location, and interviewer’s name.

1. What is your name and age?
2. Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

1. What is your relationship to plant and animal textiles like silk, wool, cotton, and linen?
2. Tell me about the textiles your family used when you were growing up. What kind of household linens and clothing did you have? Where did they come from?
3. How have you seen textiles change since your childhood? What are the biggest reasons for those changes?
4. What is your relationship to synthetic textiles like nylon, rayon, polyester, spandex?

1. Do you remember when you first started using plastic in addition to cloth, wood, metal, and other materials?
2. How have plastics changed your life?
3. Which plastics are you grateful for? Which plastics trouble you?

1. When you were younger, where did the energy you used for heat, electricity and fuel come from?
2. When you were growing up, how did your family store and preserve food? Did you use a refrigerator? Did you have other methods?
3. How did you heat or cool your home when you were a child?
4. How have you seen the way we make and use energy change since your childhood?

1. When was the first time you heard about climate change?
2. How has your understanding about climate change changed since then?
3. What ways have you seen climate change impact your community or the world?

1. What are your hopes for how future generations will make and use materials?
2. What have you noticed about how COVID-19 is impacting our use of materials?

👋 TO END, the interviewer may express their gratitude and allow time for open comments.
1. Do you have anything else you’d like to say?
2. Thank you!
Thank you for participating! After you upload, you will receive updates by email. All English-language recordings will be transcribed and you will receive a copy along with credits on this website. If your interview was conducted in a language other than English, we'd love to work with you to find an appropriate transcription service. Many thanks to Shih Wei Chieh and Yi Chin Hsieh for their translations below.

Please contact natureconnectionarts-at-gmail.com if you have any questions.
pink plastic bag


如今,⽯油基材料已成為⽣活的⼀部分, 但這種變化僅在上世紀才發⽣,
仍有⼈還記得那個在⼀次性塑膠包裝和合成纖維普及之前 的時代。

讓我們收集、收藏, 並從這些變遷的故事中學習。
請使⽤你的⼿機或其他錄⾳設備記錄這些對話,並與你⽣活 中,

1) 問題清單
2) ⼿機或其他錄⾳設備
3) 訪問同意書


1) 您的名字和年齡?
2) 您在哪⾥長⼤,現在住在哪裡?

1) 您與絲綢,⽺⽑,棉和亞⿇等紡織品有什麼樣的連結?
2) 請告訴我您長⼤後家中使⽤的紡織品。
您有什麼樣的家⽤亞⿇布和衣物? 他們的產地 來⾃何處?
3) 從您的童年時代開始,紡織品產⽣了什麼變化?
4) 您與尼龍,⼈造絲,聚酯和氨綸等紡織品有什麼連結?

1) 除了布料,⽊頭,⾦屬和其他材料, 您記得第⼀次使⽤塑料的時候嗎?
2) 塑料如何影響您的⽣活?
3) 您最為依賴哪種塑料?⽽哪些塑料產品讓您感到不適?

1) 當您還⼩時,電⼒和燃料的能源從何⽽來?
2) 當您的成長過程中,您的家⼈如何保存食物? 您有沒有使⽤冰箱?
您還有使⽤其他⽅ 法儲存食物嗎?
3) 在您⼩時候,您的家⼈如何為家中供暖或降溫?
4) 從您的童年時代開始,能源⽣產和使⽤⽅式有什麼變化?

1) 您什麼時候第⼀次聽聞氣候變遷? 從那時開始,您對氣候變化的理解產⽣了怎樣的改 變?
2) 氣候變化如何影響您的社區?

1) 您對後代如何製造和使⽤材料有什麼想法與期望?
2) 您覺得新冠肺炎(COVID-19)如何影響我們使⽤材料?

1) 您還有其他想法嗎?
2) 非常感謝您的時間。