The Lithium exhibition features contributions by researchers, designers, musicians and artists. Here Godofredo Enes Pereira discusses The Ends of the World, the multi-screen installation about lithium extraction and its consequences, made together with Lithium Triangle Studio (Royal College of Art).
The Ends of the World addresses the socio-environmental destruction resulting from the extraction of brine for the production of lithium. Focusing on the microbial and symbiotic ecologies of the Atacama Desert in Chile, the installation looks at salares (salt flats) as environments that both live and give life. More than an analysis of lithium, the project aims at re-framing the ways in which resource extraction is understood and debated.
The Ends of The World is the title of a book by anthropologists Deborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. In it, the authors note how the western fixation with the end of the world is predicated on ignoring all those – human and other-than-human – for whom the world has already ended due to colonialism and extractivism. The ‘end of the world’ also marks a politics of exception, where the end supposedly justifies all means, a justification that has been crucial to the continuation of resource extraction on a global scale.
In the race for the ‘underground frontier’, the Atacama Desert is a unique planetary attractor. Due to its mineral riches, it has been systematically destroyed by the multiple cycles of mining that have ravaged the desert since colonisation, from silver and gold, to nitrates, copper and now lithium. With each mining boom come new forms of land appropriation, new forms of environmental destruction, and new forms of violence towards the peoples and beings of the desert. Biologist Lynn Margulis argues that instead of competition, it is alliance and symbiosis that are at the heart of creative evolution. Environmental semiotics allows us to trace some of these shifting relations of coexistence. The pink colour that permeates the installation is one such semiotic register, moving from mineral to bacteria, from there to algae and ultimately to the feathers of flamingos. The colour is a marker for material relations of coexistence.
Symbiosis, affinity and unnatural alliances are the topics of the multi-screen installation emerging from work by the Lithium Triangle Studio as part of the MA Environmental Architecture, Royal College of Art, London, and its collaboration with the Atacama Desert Foundation in Chile. Interviews with Alonso Barros, Cristina Dorador and Rolando Humire look at the pressure of extractivism over different ecologies of existence in the Atacama.
Soundtrack and animation
Musician Nicolás Jaar contributes a speculative soundscape recreating the elusive ‘voices’ of bacteria that can be heard at moments of drastic temperature shifts in Salar de Llamara. At the centre of the intervention is an animation in which Mingxin Li explores the unique stromatolites – sedimentary rocks produced over 3.5 billion years by the accumulation of layer upon layer of cyanobacteria – as monumental environmental architectures.
The Ends of The World is a lens through which to see the many worlds that make up the world, locating the ‘green transition’ in relation to non-western ecologies of knowledge and of existence.
In order to say which worlds are ending, we should first ask which worlds exist.
- Concept: Godofredo Enes Pereira / Lithium Triangle Studio
- Soundscape: Nicolás Jaar
- Animation: Mingxin Li with Anabel Garcia-Kurland
- Texts: Godofredo Enes Pereiraa
- Interviews: Lithium Triangle Studio / Mingxin Li, Antonio Del Giudici, Yvette Waweru, Melis Goksan
- Film editing: Andrew Copolov
Lithium Dreams: Extraction in the Salar de Atacama (TNL! Lithium)
On Thursday 19 November 2020, Godofredo Enes Pereira will give a lecture about the consequences of lithium mining in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Entitled Lithium Dreams: Extraction in the Salar de Atacama, this is the first in a series of public activities related to Lithium and Thursday Night Live!. After a screening of the visual essay Lithium Dreams, Pereira further explains the themes of the installation in a conversation.
The discursive programme TNL! Lithium offers an in-depth addition to the exhibition that is now showing at Het Nieuwe Instituut. (Online) visitors can be recharged by the sustainable energy source of lectures and debates. In each event, they can learn more about the role that lithium plays in the different forms and aspects of burn-out that are covered by the exhibition; from raw material extraction to mental health and the so-called green energy landscape.