Conflict Minerals

Arts Catalyst highlights artists’ practices that explore the nature of conflict in relation to the use of the Earth’s geological natural resources. Through the joint work of Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway, as well as an associated enquiry by Nabil Ahmed, the gallery will invite audiences to consider the impact of modern living on the planet. Advances in technology are underpinned by a material reality that depends on extracting natural ores, driving a worldwide mining industry. While the term “conflict minerals” is most frequently used to describe the mining of valuable minerals to fuel violence and armed conflict in Congo, across the world many different types of tension are unfolding in communities linked to the minerals trade.

Conflict Minerals poses the question: how are artistic enquiry and the eco- and geo-political aesthetics of art and film contributing to our understanding of conflict within countries and communities affected by large-scale Anthropocenic and geopolitical forces? Autogena and Portway’s Arts Catalyst commissioned 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, indigenous community of Narsaq near the Kvanefjeld plateau in Greenland; home of one of the richest rare mineral resources and uranium ore deposits in the world.

On view throughout March and April, 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. It explores the difficult trade-offs faced by a culture seeking to escape a colonial past and define its own identity in a globalised world. Running concurrently, artist and researcher Nabil Ahmed presents maps, drawings and archival material from his project Inter-Pacific Ring Tribunal (INTERPRT).

The project is 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. It is also the site of a conflict between Indonesia and 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 research contributes to building a case of ecocide against the Indonesian state, which includes Indonesian military campaigns of mass killings of Papuans, soil contamination from the mine, industrial land grabs and intentional forest fires that 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 Autogena, Portway and Ahmed, lawyer turned artist Jack Tan, writer and academic Angus Cameron, curator Ele Carpenter, artist Melanie Jackson and theorist Jussi Parikka. Conflict Minerals continues Arts Catalyst’s ongoing enquiry into the planetary commons, in dialogue with the Nuclear Culture research programme, and highlights the role of Arts Catalyst’s Centre for Art, Science & Technology as a space for research, thinking and discourse in cross-disciplinary art.

Lise Autogena, Joshua Portway and Nabil Ahmed, Conflict Minerals, 24 March – 22 April, The Arts Catalyst, 74-76 Cromer Street London WC1H 8DR.

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1. Film still from Kuannersuit; Kvanefjeld by Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway. Courtesy the artist.