Copper Geographies is practice-based thesis is a study of the uneven geographical development of Chilean copper mining industry and the circulation of copper in Britain.
This research examines three key historical moments in a pattern of ‘de-nationalisation,’ a term identified by Sassen (2003), of the copper resources of Chile: (1) 1840–1880; (2) 1904–1969; and (3) 1981–today, in which resources have been transferred from public to private management. In my research, Acosta uses a combination of photographic and historical methodologies to explore the impact of those processes on the extractive ecologies of Chile and to connect them to the global geographies of London, Liverpool and Swansea. This thesis considers how photography can be used to propose a re-mapping of the relationship between the global and the local, the national and the transnational, making visible the hidden geopolitical forces that shape the mobile and unequal geographies of copper.
Acosta's doctoral investigation explores the global circulation of copper and its agency to produce geographical and political change. With the aim of revealing their close connections and networks, it examines the notion of ‘unequal geography’ established by Baran (1957) and the newer ‘mobility paradigm’ proposed by Sheller and Urry (2006). I follow the flow of copper, in Held’s words, ‘across space and time’ (1999), creating a constellation of photographs and texts about the transformation and mutation of copper as it traverses the world, exploring traces of extraction, smelting, manufacture, transport and trade processes across geographies. In doing so, Acosta opens ways of thinking about how landscape carries traces of those processes, bringing to the fore the significance of photographic intervention in highlighting them.
The photographic research conducted during this investigation is organised in three lines of inquiry: Global mobility of copper; Post-industrial landscapes; and Contemporary mining industry and its relation to London. The first, Global mobility of copper comprises a visual essay that accompanies this thesis and explores the mutation and transformation of hard-rock mining, back and forth from Chile to Britain. The second, Post industrial landscapes, is explored through two case studies. The first of these is Coquimbo&Swansea (2014), which studies forgotten historical mining connections between Coquimbo, Chile and the Lower Swansea Valley, Wales between 1840 and 1880. This is followed by Miss Chuquicamata, the Slag (2012), which examines the Chuquicamata corporate town, Antofagasta Region, Chile and its contested history. The third line of inquiry, Contemporary mining industry and its relation to London involves two case studies. It opens with Antofagasta plc, Stop Abuses! (2010–14), which connects contemporary struggles of the inhabitants of Pupio Valley with the City of London, the world’s centre for mining investment. This line of investigation concludes with the site-specific studies LME Invisible Corporate Network (2011–15), which examines the London Metal Exchange within the City of London, using mapping methodologies. These case studies can also be used to map the three periods of denationalisation of copper resources in Chile.
Acosta's photographic work is based on extensive photographic fieldwork in each geographical location, conducted over the last four years, as well as his two years as an activist photographer. Through his written thesis he seeks to make visible the historical conditions that are central to the formation of the geographies of copper. Both aspects of his work are informed by the notion of ‘critical realism’ coined by Georg Lukács (1963) and developed later by Allan Sekula (1984). Alongside these case studies, Acosta written thesis contains photographic examples of his practice so as to give insight into his research process.
Ignacio Acosta is a London based artist working with photography and exploring power dynamics in minerals, geographies and historical narratives. In the series Copper Geographies he investigates the links between distressed ecologies of copper exploitation in the Atacama Desert, Chile and global centres of consumption and trade in Britain. Acosta understands landscape as a cultural construction; the result of problematic images, whose supposed innocence and peacefulness needs to be demystified. He is interested in challenging the viewer to reflect on what is lurking behind idyllic landscapes that can expresses the impact of capitalism.
With Mapping Domeyko Acosta tries to reconstruct the adventures and endeavours of pioneering Polish mineralogist, Ignacy Domeyko (1802-1889), who moved to Chile in 1838, invited by the Chilean government, to establish a mineralogical school and ended up being a fundamental cultural resource for Latin America, as he introduced the metrical system.
Intuitive Projects is perhaps a more personal series where he responds to the alluring discovery of having an illustrious ancestor, in whose mind Acosta seems to find uncannily similar patterns and preoccupations. Painter, poet, playboy and boxer Alvaro Guevara (1894-1951), who moved to England to study at the Slade School of Fine Art and whose work – at least the pieces survived from a severe bombing in 1940 – are held in the Tate Collections.
Acosta is part of Traces of Nitrate: Mining history and photography between Britain and Chile', a project initiated by photographer Xavier Ribas and developed in collaboration with Art and Design historian Louise Purbrick and artist Ignacio Acosta, based at the University of Brighton and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).