During Contour Biennale 9, the artist initiatives Picha and Enough Room for Space will be developing an experimental research project, called On-Trade-Off. To be understood as a collective artistic trajectory, the project looks both at the importance of one specific raw material, called lithium, for the transition into a green and fossil fuel free economy, and the influence its extraction and transformation has on everyone and everything involved, ranging from the miners who take the lightest metal in existence out of the ground, to the produced batteries that power cars, homes and potentially the entire planet.
Using one chemical element (Li3) from the periodic table, allows us to zoom in on particular social, ecological, economic and political phenomena that are present in almost all production processes since the start of triangular trade in the 16th century: inhumane labor during the exploitation and extraction processes of the raw materials, a perpetuated economic imbalance to maintain economic growth, and uninformed end-consumers that are unaware of the afterlife of their purchased wholesale goods.
Exposing the whole chain of production around Lithium enables us to connect the (seemingly independent) elements that sustain this recurring disbalance. For each presentation, we will focus on different parts of one storyline that captures this repetitive behaviour. The research follows the trail of lithium, starting from one specific mine in D.R. Congo, called Manono, which probably contains the world’s largest reserve of lithium. Informed by the complex global production process to create ‘sustainable’ energy, the journey continues to the largest single battery in the world, Tesla's Energy Storage System in Australia and other storage devices worldwide.
In March 2019, Jean Katambayi, Maarten Vanden Eynde, Gabriele Salmi, Gulda El Magambo will undertake a collective research trip to the mine and collect both raw material and audio/visual documentation. This material will be made available to all participating artists for the production of new works. The research will thus be used as open source / shared materials, introducing a more sustainable method of (art) production like film, photography, sculpture and discursive events. A second trip to Australia with the same aim and using the same methodology, will take place by the end of 2019.