All posts filed under “Copper Geographies

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Green Gold

Green Gold – Work in progress

Archival postcard. Forest Punkaharju, Finland, 1934

The looming forest - another world, and doubtless our wild origin - touches us, surrounds us, permeates us, and doesn't leave us. Michel Serres

Abstract

'Green Gold' is new body of research on Finish wood production, which stems from my previous work on copper. It focuses on the intersection between capitalism forms of production and forest ecology, drawing upon notions of man’s control over and mastery of nature.

Forest is Finland’s foundation stone. However, forest social ecology is facing increasing challenges. On one hand, global warming has produced substantial changes in forest behaviour. On the other, cellulose and pulp production have moved abroad, raising unemployment and economic slow-down.

'Green Gold' aims to make visible Finnish timber production, its place in the global world economy and impact of the industry on the earth.

Working methodology

The project develops a site-specific working methodology through extensive archival research and sustained fieldwork. Firstly, archival research will be conducted in Helsinki to collecting visual/ written material on history of the Finish timber trade from the Forestry Ministry's archive at the National Archives of Finland. These images will be re-created in the studio with graphite pencil drawings. Secondly, a documentation of sites of timber production will take place using an analogue large-formal view camera. These include; forests, sites of scientific research and industrial facilities, as well as material products made with Finish wood, amongst others.

Context

We have entered the ‘Antropocene’, a term coined down by chemist Paul Crutzen and biologist Eugene Stoermer in 2000. This is a new age in which humans are the main drivers of geological change. The product of intense environmental degradation and intense resource exploitation. This new chapter in the history of the Earth is marked by the devastating impacts of global warming, including high levels of carbon dioxide, desertification, deforestation, melting ice, a rising sea level and a massive extinction of species. As a product of global warming, some species, such as foxes, butterflies and alpine pines have moved further north in the search for cooler areas. Due to increased temperature levels in the south of Finland, the growth of Norway spruce has been reduced, and that of Scots pine and birch is increasing. For Michel Serres, humankind is more conscious of the devastating effects of Western modernity over nature and today, more than ever, there is a pressing need for a new “natural contract” in our ‘relation to material objects and nonhuman life forms’.

Forest is Finland’s foundation stone. However, forest social ecology is facing increasing challenges. Based on a capitalist mode of production, which maximises economic profit, the market-driven industry uses a model of reforestation followed by harvesting. Although the Finnish model been traditionally based upon substantial forest research, it currently faces increasing challenges as result of climate change and the weakening competitiveness of the Finnish production in relation to other major competitive countries. On one hand, global warming has produced substantial changes in forest behaviour. On the other, cellulose and pulp production have moved abroad, raising unemployment and economic slow-down.

Outcomes
A workshop will be conducted at Serlachius Museum for local residents exploring the relationship between the timber industry, climate change and role of artistic practices addressing these issues. These activities will be followed by a talk at the Finnish Institute in London to non-arts audience, to stimulate discussion and awareness of the timber industry and my artistic role.

Participants and partners
Serlachius artists in residency and local community

The Finnish Institute in London

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Hidden Circuits (2015)

This series explores manufactured objects that contain copper within one of Liverpool's finest painting collections, which includes mayor Pre-Raphaelite works. This is the original collection, which George Holt (1825-1896) assembled through the trade of copper ore and other raw materials that helped boost Britain’s industrial expansion during the 19th century.

Merely looking at the collection gives no indication of how it was acquired or which capitalist networks it originated from: the broader economic and labour conditions in which copper was extracted, smelted and distributed; the impact on the social ecologies of mineral resource exploitation and the powers that controlled them.

The photographic intervention focuses on the relationship between copper circuits and fragments of the collection, raising questions on the hidden dynamics between the two.

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LME Invisible Corporate Network (2015)

Work exploring a network of 35 companies trading with the London Metal Exchange (LME) within the City of London, the global centre for mining investment.

The LME opened in 1877 using a standard three-month contract, reflecting the time necessary to transport copper from Chile and tin from Malaya to Britain. Today, the LME is the world's most important trading metals market, a meeting place of buyers and sellers of metal futures. Metal futures is a market exchange instrument designed to secure the future price of copper in the face of market volatility and is used mainly as an investment mechanism. The speculative nature of the business can mean that metals are exchanged up to forty times before they are delivered to the final consumer.

Using the LME’s seven categories of trading membership, the project builds an archive of information available in the public domain. Images for each company were collected from Google Earth and Google Street View. The images focused mainly on two aspects of human activity: 1) Labour – the workforce engaged in labour activities, such as cleaning or building; and 2) Mobility – people on the move, either cycling, driving or walking.

Download list of companies

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Antofagasta Plc. Stop Abuses! (2010-2014)

Through documents and photographs, the series 'Antofagasta Plc, Stop Abuses!' explores the symbolic case of Pupio, a valley in the north of Chile that has been heavily impacted by Los Pelambres, a copper mine located in the Andes Mountains. The mine is owned by Antofagasta Plc, a Santiago-based mining corporation that trades on the London Stock Exchange.

Antofagasta Plc. began construction of Los Pelambres in 1997 and operations started in 2000. There, ore is extracted through a system of perforation, then crushed, milled and transported to a concentration plant located at 1,600 meters above sea level where the materials are separated. In the concentration plant, an alkaline flotation system is used to selectively separate the copper concentrate form the worthless material or gangue – by using the way that the different physical properties of their molecules repel water. The unwanted material is deposited in El Mauro tailings.

Following a report by the Foundation Frances Libertés published by United Nations in 2012, a wall of 1,000 meters of compressed sand holds 2060 millions tons of toxic waste material and is just 470 meters above the town Caimanes. As the report claims, the tailings is located in an earthquake prone zone, and that if it collapsed, the 1,600 inhabitants of Caimanes would have five minutes to escape before being buried.

For its construction, 23 families were displaced from their original land. As the report details, the building of the tailings involved the re-direction of the natural course of the water and the contamination of underwater resources with heavy metals, with the consequence of the loss of agricultural activities, traditionally the main economic activity of the region before the installation of the mine. As a result of the construction of El Mauro there has been considerable damage to the national heritage, including the destruction of 140 archaeological sites, the flooding of indigenous burial grounds, and the destruction of the last forest of ‘Canelos’ in Northern Chile.

After copper is ground in the Andes, it is transformed into copper concentrate. This black powder is transported to Punta de Chungo, a port on the Pacific, through a pipeline 120 km long. For this transportation, the company uses large quantities of water to create flows using the power of gravity. At the Pacific port, the concentrate is dried and shipped mainly to Asian markets. The excess of water contains high doses of toxins, and particularly molybdenum and sulphate, both considered highly damaging to the environment and health. Therefore, it cannot be used in the food chain or deposited in the sea. To dispose of these toxic water residues, water-intensive monoculture of Eucalyptus specimens from Australia have been planted.

Download report by the Foundation Frances Libertés (2012)
Download record of slag heaps in Chilean territory (2015)

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High Rise (2012)

A series of 12 photographs exploring urban sprawl in Iquique linked to the ‘boom and bust’ of copper. These photographs were taken in 2012 in Iquique, in the heart of the Atacama Desert, northern Chile. They explore the 'back doors' of new high-rise urban developments, revealing the fragility of an economic system based on the extraction of raw materials.

Until the 1970s Iquique was a small port town characterised by low level urbanisation. Since the 1980s there was a dramatic accelaration in the urban sprawl beyond the city limits, due to the impact of neo-liberal policies imposed by General Augusto Pinochet.

As a result of these policies, new free trade agreements with the Latin American region and the opening of three large copper bodies by transnational corporations, the city became a magnet for investment and as such, its social fabric was heavily impacted. The flow of capital brought new geographies of inequality to this inhospitable desert territory. While slums spread chaotically throughout the Atacama, serving as an unplanned solution to a huge displaced population; gated communities and high-rise buildings close to the Pacific secured ‘sea views’ and flourished as symbols of status.

These urban developments are tied to the ‘boom and bust’ of base metals, such as copper. In the 2000s during the commodities boom, when prices rose by demand from emerging markets, particularly China, urban growth in Iquique accelerated rapidly. Most recently, with the slowdown of copper consumption from emerging markets, the city has experienced a dramatic fall in demand for housing, which has led to a stagnation of the local economy as a whole.

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Coquimbo & Swansea (2014)

The copper ore extracted in the remote geographies of Coquimbo, Chile, were shipped mainly to Wales and smelted in the Lower Swansea Valley between 1840 and 1880.

One of the most important industrial capitalists of the time was Charles Lambert (1793–1876), an Anglo-French man who travelled to Chile to work for a British company before developing his own mining enterprises with remarkable success, in particular his refining and export enterprises, and most importantly Las Compañias. The copper ore was extracted from the extraction sites Brillador, Panucillo, Huamalata and Totoralillo. Some were controlled by Lambert himself, with the copper brought by mule to Las Compañias where it was crushed and smelted at around seventy per cent purity. However, Las Compañias did not last long, as the over-exploitation of trees in its surroundings produced a drop in the supply of fuel for the smelting processes.

The copper was taken by clippers around Cape Horn to Swansea and refined at around ninety nine per cent. Merchants, such as Henry Bath and Sons, the Pacific Steam Navigation Company and Balfour, Williamson and Co. were actively engaged in the transport and trade of copper during the nineteenth century. As a result of copper the industry, the Lower Swansea Valley was heavily contaminated for more than two centuries. It was described as one of the most polluted landscapes in the world until the 1960s and 1970s, when the Lower Swansea Valley Project was established as a revolutionary scheme of conservation work to reclaim toxic land from the pollution caused by the smelting industries.

Today, in Coquimbo, the symbols of marginality such as discarded vehicles, abandoned lorries, trucks, buses and cars, as well prefabricated housing structures and improvised workshops, form part of the landscape. Additionally, the site is populated with symbols of British economic imperialism from the nineteenth century, such as bricks and corrugated iron cladding panels. In contrast to the dry and neglected landscape of Coquimbo, in Swansea, as result of the process of de-contamination, housing developments, shopping centres and stadiums have replaced the industrial facilities of the past.

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Metallic Threads (2010-2015)

A series of photographs documenting sites of transformation of copper alongise the commodity chain. This series weaves together one visual essay resulting from a series of photographic interventions in Chile and Britain.

Chile produces mainly ‘copper concentrate,’ a powder produced by means of a flotation system (crushing, milling and concentrating the primary material), typically containing 30 per cent of copper. Chile produces 1,400,000 tons of waste daily as a result of copper production. Whilst these toxic residues remain in the landscape where copper is being extracted, the primary material is shipped to industrial centres where it is transformed into ‘blisters,’ a more concentrated intermediate material.

Copper blisters’ are stored in warehouses around the world, where they can be exchanged up to forty times before final delivery. These intangible transactions take place through centres for metals trading, such as the London Metal Exchange, through ‘future contracts, agreements made to buy or sell a fixed amount of metal on a fixed future date at a price agreed today. The ‘blisters’ are melted down and mixed with other sources of copper, including recycled materials, forming ‘anodes’ that are transformed into ‘cathodes’ and then into ‘rods’ – the basic component for the production of cables for the energy and telecommunications industries.

Smelted copper returns to Chile hidden within manufactured goods, perpetuating a circle of mobility that began with the extraction of the ore.

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Sulphuric Acid Route (2012)

A series of landscape photographs exploring the 'camanchaca' in the Atacama Desert. The 'camanchaca' describes a unique meteorological condition consisting of a dense morning fog that makes it very difficult to see and never drops rain. This phenomenon takes place along the coasts of the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth.

In Aymara cosmology, camanchaca is associated to the obscure, the hidden, the secret and unknown; a point of no return connected to danger and death. These uncertain landscapes conceal the world's largest known reserves of copper. Across them, hundreds of trucks, each carrying twenty-six tons of sulphuric acid, transit daily to fulfill the thirsty needs of the extractive industry. In the extraction process, sulphuric acid is used to filter copper from unwanted materials, generating by-products which have transformed this vast desert, most famous for its rich mineral deposits, into a wasteland of hidden toxic residues.

Further, desertification means that it is expanding at the rapid speed of 0.4 kilometres per year, product of de-regulated land use and water appropriation.

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Miss Chuquicamata, The Slag (2012)

Chuquicamata is a former mining town in the Desert of Atacama purposely designed by Guggenheim brothers for mining workers in early twenty century. The town developed next to the Chuquicamata mine and followed patterns of other mining settlements in the U.S.A. such as Butte, Bisbee and Tyrone. Both the architectural formations and urban design are conceived in a typological form. While reducing costs substantially by increasing efficiency, the standardisation and mass production of the architectural foundations of corporate towns can be seen as a reflection of the mechanised nature of the modern mining industry. In 1923, in a highly profitable operation, the Guggenheims sold the Chuquicamata mine to Anaconda, another US multinational mining corporation who controlled it until 1971 when it was nationalized by Salvador Allende.

In 2007, when high levels of pollution caused by the expansion of the mine threatened public health, the town was closed by its current owner CODELCO, the Chilean state owned copper mining corporation. At the time of closure, the 25,000 workers living there were relocated to the nearby city of Calama where new neighborhoods were built. To secure continuing profitability, the new urban settlements followed the same strategies of social segmentation and urban standardization.

The photographic work is in relation to a satellite view of the mining town of Chuquicamata, captured by the Photogrammetry Services of the Chilen Air Force (SAF). It is also accompanied by an X-Ray Ray examination of a copper specimen collected during the photographic expedition, conducted by Dr Norman Moles at the Geology Department of the University of Brighton.

Download essay accompanying this piece – English version
Descargar texto que acompaña la pieza – versión en Castellano

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Installation

  • Copper Geographies 2

  • Copper Geographies 1

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