Plateaus (2016-present) is a collaboration between myself, Gabi Schaffzin, and Rebekah Blesing.
Plateaus is a meditation on the geological-scale impact of mobile technologies as well as the socio-political and environmental implications of the mining of minerals for these technologies. It seeks to elicit a new understanding of the relationship between humans, geology, and media technologies: media not as an immaterial phenomenon but as a geological phenomenon, as something composed of minerals harvested from the earth. By examining and representing the role of media consumption in the geological history and future of the earth, the project aims to call into question the ideologies driving the design and production of what have become our most treasured companions: our mobile devices.
When visitors encounter the Plateaus installation, they see a wall-mounted screen and an object on which sits a topographical model of the area around Goma, a region of the Congo in which some of the most essential minerals for our mobile devices are mined, including tin, Columbium and Tantalum. It is placed atop a stainless steel sifting tray, in reference to the way in which some children mine for these minerals. The system recognizes mobile devices via wifi signals and: 1) projects information about the phones and the networks for which phones are searching on the screen and 2) oscillates the landscape in proportion to the number of phones in the space. In response, the landscape erodes. Thus, in this machinic performance, the installation responds to visitors and changes over time. The exhibit is intended to represent the geological impact of the technology embedded in contemporary life, and is intended to cultivate an awareness about visitors’ own geological impact through their consumption of media technologies.
We have exhibited the work in a number of different locations and situations. The first iteration of the project was produced for an exhibition at Space 4 Art in San Diego. In the summer of 2017, we installed the piece on our campus in East Lansing and hosted high school students from the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum Contemporary Art Camps. During their visit, we engaged in discussions around the role of contemporary art in culture today and the intersections between technology, science, politics, and economy, and the power of art to reveal links between these. In the summer of 2018, the project was exhibited as part of the Ship in the Woods Festival, in an outdoor pavilion (images from “Shipfest” below).