Media culture, virtual and augmented reality often appear as immaterial phenomena. But the devices, infrastructure and storage, the preconditions for digital culture and mass media, are of a highly physical nature. This fact concerns the production as well as the disposal of electronic devices which have complex geopolitical, geological and ecological implications. The two-artist exhibition Tangible Remains. Hidden Matters explores a geology of media by means of two distinct artistic positions.
Investigated by Lisa Rave in her film Europium, the eponymous material is a chemical element classified as rare earth. For its fluorescent features, europium is used in Euro banknotes as a proof of authenticity, and in plasma screens the material contributes to a sharper, crisper display. It is an essential component to a technology that renders images vivid and thus facilitates the life-like representation of a reality which in many instances is threatened by the dangerous procedures of mining this very material.
The rare earth europium is named after a continent where deposits aren't found. By means of archival footage stored in German institutes, Rave’s film leads the viewer to the South Pacific Ocean, namely the Bismarck Sea, where mining enterprises have identified high levels of europium. While inquiring into the technical aspects of these mining operations, Europium also looks into the region's colonial past as well as questions of value and financial markets. With an awareness of the ever-persistent forms of resource-driven colonialism, Europium reveals some part of the complex set of relations hidden in the materiality of technology.
Shifting the focus from production to the disposal of electronic devices, Julia Varela has pulverized plasma screens to disperse their greyish remains like ashes on the ground. The medium which serves as a virtual lens of reality and the overabundance of digital images in this picture finds itself reduced to the very essence of its physical body: dust.
The two-part sculptural work Mehr Fantasie alludes to questions of e-waste and calls up images of corresponding dumping grounds. Agbobloshie, Accra, in Ghana for example has become one of these toxic environments, inhabited by people outside the range of economic and environmental privilege, who make a living by picking apart e-waste in order to salvage copper and other metals. These images, however, only come up as associations, a memory held by the viewer who encounters nothing but the ground remains of some of the devices that have facilitated the broadcast of those distant realities.
'Dust does not stay outside us but is a narrative that enters us: dust has access in every breath inhaled, and it entangles with our tissue.' (Jussi Parikka, A Geology of Media, 2015, p. 102) Fine particles thicken the air and become an embodied narrative. Once the dust settles Parikka links it to stories of deserted places but also to the temporality of matter itself, and, ultimately, to the formation of geological strata. Ashes to ashes. A geological stratum is a layer of sedimentary rock with consistent characteristics that builds on the surface of the Earth and reveals information about a mode of deposition and material presence during a particular epoch. For millennia to come, ours will bear testimony to the giant we called the Anthropocene.