Advances in technology – from atomic energy to the latest smartphones – are underpinned by a material reality that depends on extracting the planet’s natural ores, driving a global mining industry. While the term “conflict minerals” is most frequently used to describe the situation in Congo, where the mining of valuable minerals fuels violence and armed conflict, across the globe many different types of conflict and tension are unfolding in countries and communities inextricably connected to mining and the minerals trade. How are artistic inquiry and the eco- and geo-political aesthetics of art and film contributing to our understanding of conflict – on varied scales – within countries and communities affected by large-scale Anthropocenic and geopolitical forces?
Showing throughout the month, Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway’s film Kuannersuit; Kvanefjeld (2016) is a work in-progress, forming the first part of the artists’ long-term investigation into tensions and conflicts within the small, mostly indigenous, community of Narsaq near the Kvanefjeld plateau in southern Greenland; site of one of the richest rare earth mineral resources and uranium ore deposits in the world. The film portrays a community divided on the issue of uranium mining as a means of gaining autonomy, social progress and financial independence, in a region where traditional ways of living from the land and the sea are struggling to compete with big investments from foreign mining companies. The film explores the difficult decisions and trade-offs faced by a culture seeking to escape a colonial past and define its own identity in a globalised world. Kuannersuit; Kvanefjeld was commissioned by Arts Catalyst.
Running concurrently, artist and researcher Nabil Ahmed presents maps, drawings and archival material from his project Inter-Pacific Ring Tribunal (INTERPRT), a three-year spatial investigation of the West Papua/Indonesia conflict towards a series of alternative tribunals on ecocide in the Pacific region. Papua is one of the most bio-diverse areas of the world, with 32 million hectares of tropical rainforest and mangroves, and rich marine reef environments. It is also the site of a long-term conflict between Indonesia and indigenous Papuans seeking self-determination. Central to the conflict is the Grasberg mine, which contains the planet’s largest combined reserve of copper and gold. Ahmed’s painstaking research contributes to building a case of ecocide against the Indonesian state, which includes Indonesian military campaigns of mass killings of indigenous Papuans, soil contamination and deforestation from the Grasberg mine, industrial land grabs and intentional forest fires that together show the deliberate destruction of Papuan social, cultural, and natural environments.
A series of discussions and study sessions accompanies the programme, with confirmed participants including exhibiting artists Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway and Nabil Ahmed, lawyer turned artist Jack Tan, curator Ele Carpenter, artist Melanie Jackson, writer and academic Angus Cameron and theorist Jussi Parikka. A visit to the Institute of Making with a guided tour of the Materials Library will explore some of the materials underpinning the minerals trade.