In an essay on the relationship between media and ecology, media philosopher Jussi Parikka discusses the obscene side effects of new media and digital, smart technologies. These mostly battery-powered devices operate thanks to so-called "rare earth metals" such as cobalt and neodymium. The mining required to extract them causes wars, geopolitical conflicts and most importantly, a lot of pollution. That is what makes them so rare: it takes a lot of energy and contaminated land to dig them up. Applications such as electric cars and solar panels, sold to us as green technology, are much less innocent than they seem. Noemi Iglesias Barrios' Technoceramics give form to this "techno-waste," to the fossils of digital society. She makes ceramic sculptures based on the waste that remains after cobalt mining, and painted in the cobalt blue so widely used in the visual arts.
Dirt and death
The slick, sterile look and feel of these sculptures - but also, certainly, of smartphones, laptops and electric cars - hides a harsh, physical reality. In the photographs of Australian artist Judith Nangala Crispin, we see prints of dead animals on paper. These "lumachrome glass prints" of roadkill - animals left by the side of the road after being run over - are the result of an organic photographic process. The animals, mud, blood and other juices are placed on paper in a mixture of liquids, then placed under a glass bell jar. As the sun shines on them, these remains form an imprint on the photographic paper. For Crispin, these lumachrome prints are a collaboration with the land, a way of sculpting the disruption the colonizers brought and continue to bring. Her titles underline the poetic power of this process: Anthony over Henry's Country, where the possum-men armies fought and were buried by pythons, beside speartrees, on the edge of a dry waterhole, for the print of a roadkill possum and Ben sometimes felt he carried his artist girlfriend a lot, but she painted him stars while he slept, for the print of a roadkill magpie.
This visceral line is continued in the work of Austrian performance artist Hermann Nitsch. His performances with blood, paint and organs sought to connect to older ritual practices while also responding to the contemporary violence in the world. Like Iglesias Barrios's sculptures and Crispin's photographs, the Aktionsrelikt (1988) of the 80. Aktion of Nitsch's Orgiën Mysteriën Theater in this exhibition is a residue, another kind of extract, of a ritualistic, physical process.
Especially for EXTRACTIONS 23, Stephan Balleux created a new work, Nomad, which resonates with the carnal work of Crispin and Nitsch. This large canvas is stretched like a skin hanging to dry. The visual composition holds the middle ground between painted and digital movement. Amid the wild, dark sea of smudges and colors is an unmistakable message: “migrants welcome, tourists fuck off.” This too is about extraction, as the direct and indirect effects of mining, deforestation, and exploitation of lakes and oceans make areas uninhabitable, setting off population flows. Climate wars cause people to flee, not seldom at the risk of their lives. To some, the sea is a graveyard, to others it is a view from aboard a cruise ship.
The sea is also a source of income and livelihood for many, and therefore occupies an important place culturally as well. Oil was recently found in the Niger Delta in Nigeria. Oil drilling there is polluting the water and is destroying the area, despite protests from the local Ijaw people. The Ijaw mask in this exhibition (on loan from artist-conservator Jos Humblet) was made to worship water spirits. Possibly it had a function during funerals or processions. In the context of this exhibition, it testifies not only to the skill and practices of its makers, but also to an ecocultural context under pressure.
Between past and future
In a sterile, museum-like manner, Frederic Fourdinier's installation Terraformation shows the large, industrial machines used to work the earth and landscape. Fourdinier recreated this infrastructure as models made of cardboard with attention to the smallest details, then placed them under Plexiglas. These models evoke at once an admiration for the technology of modernity, as well as a future time when these devices will be de-activated for good. Looking at them more like museum pieces, this installation is indeed an archaeology of mining, a retrospective of how modern human beings through land and mining have made the world impossible for themselves. But even if mining were to cease, its traces would still have long after-effects. Or are these models ready for shipment to a colony on another planet? Sabrina Ratté's installation Objets-Monde also employs a sci-fi aesthetic to speculate on the future of all media waste. This video collage shows a post-apocalyptic landscape composed of "zombie media": discarded computer screens, cars and cables. No more people here, but instead ruins of what must have been a monumental architecture of electrical devices, a kind of techno-Acropolis. Nostalgic and ominous at the same time.
The installations, photographs, sculptures and paintings together form a landscape in which different performances take place each weekend. Like the visual art works, these performances approach extraction through the tension between violence and absence, always with a strong focus on materiality. Maxime Denuc created a new composition for BRASS by Kris Verdonck, a performative installation consisting of three automated sousaphones. Verdonck himself presents DANCER#1 and DANCER#2, performances by a grinding disc with a large steel L that "dances" its swan song and a V6 AlfaRomeo engine that burns itself out over and over again, respectively. In turn, the installation ACT is itself an extract from Verdonck's performance with the same title. The voice of Johan Leysen performs Samuel Beckett's Texts for nothing XIII in a scenography designed for the occasion. Language becomes object and scream, in a relentless search for a way out of a limbo in which thinking and living, the 'I' and the world, just don't want to coincide.
The exhibition will conclude with a series of musical performances. Lucas Messler and Anita Cappuccinelli of the Brussels-based collective TUUM explore the melodic, rhythmic and electro-acoustic possibilities of percussion instruments such as cymbals. The gestures of the musicians are also a source of sound, resonance and feedback. Multimedia artist Gert Aertsen created an installation with aluminum rods. Through specific stroking and bowing, these become a new kind of instrument. The sine waves produced by the activation of this installation continue the lines of rods through the space, as it were. This attention to detail and to the materiality of instruments and sound resonates with the finesse of the other works in EXTRACTIONS 23. As such, attention contrasts with extraction, creation with destruction. Kristof van Baarle