Solid Water, Frozen Time, Future Justice: Photography and Mining in the Andean Glaciers

Lead Research Organisation: University of Brighton
Department Name: Sch of Humanities & Social Sci (SHSS)


Solid Water, Frozen Time, Future Justice (hereafter Frozen Future) is a collaborative visual research project that will document the effects of copper and lithium mining on glacier systems of the Chilean Andes. Extractive industries are encroaching upon these glaciers, and at times of water scarcity, diverting their ice for industrial purposes. The future of glaciers is contested. A water conflict between global mining and local livelihoods is already acute with water rights in Chile stacked in favour of mining interests that may increasingly, perhaps exclusively, depend on solid water supplies. Whilst mining is a global industry, Britain has a particular place in its networks of extraction; London is home to the head offices of the wealthiest corporations which trade in its stock markets. A future of accelerating extractivism is assumed to be inevitable and, most recently, asserted as essential to global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. But glacier systems are not simply subject to corporate agency: environmentalists, activists, indigenous and local communities imagine another future of environmental justice. Frozen Future will document how extractivism at glacial sites is contested in the present and projected into the future, prioritising the visibility and the voices of those most affected by mining operations. The research re-thinks the capacity of photography as a means of recording past events and re-directs the camera towards the future.

Visual research at sites of copper and lithium extraction in Andean glaciers will create new documentary photography, drone imagery, audiovisual projections, two and three-dimensional maps as well as written records and textual analysis. In place of the Romantic representations of glaciers as sublime objects of timeless isolation that have disconnected their stores of solid water from local ecologies and global economies, Frozen Future will record the contemporary glacial extractive zones of the Chilean Andes and demonstrate the entanglements of ice and the position of glaciers within global systems. Connections between local sites of mining and global sites of exchange of capitalised mined materials will be mapped and made visible.

The development of a collaborative arts practice will establish de-colonial perspectives from which indigenous ontologies of the life of landscapes as well as concepts of use of natural resources can be recorded. Collaborations with Chilean environmentalists, activists, local communities and museum curators will enable knowledge of the effects of extractivism upon a future stored in solid water, frozen in ice, to be shared with stakeholders, specialist audiences and wider publics, from arts and ecology researchers in universities to corporate shareholders.

Frozen Future research will generate a 'documentary dispositive' composed of a major photographic exhibition, edited into audiovisual screenings for wider distribution. Both forms of dissemination will increase understanding of the effects of extractivist economies upon glacial and global ecologies. Collaborations between researchers and activists at Chilean glacial extractive zones are extended to environmentalist stakeholder groups based in Europe through participation in the different forums accompanying exhibition and screenings facilitating open debate about redressing the material inequalities of mining and achieving forms of future justice. Frozen Future's collaborative documentary will contribute to a critical aesthetic of the Earth's landscapes. A critique of conventional representations of nature and the possibility of de-colonising landscape photography will form academic publications: a monograph, journal articles and conference papers. Thus, the splendid isolation of glacial systems from a global world filled with a myriad of electrical exchanges is re-examined in Frozen Future and landscapes ruptured by mining are are revealed as living spaces.


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