In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Take a Good Lamp
  • Revital Cohen (bio) and Tuur Van Balen (bio)

Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen ( have investigated the multiple materialities, modes of production, and long networks of contemporary technological culture in many of their installation and film works. This has ranged from work with bioengineering (Sterile) to work with the rare earth minerals and metals that form the backbone of contemporary media. In works such as H/AlCuTaAu and the later D/AlCuNdAu, they remediated the existing chemical elements of electronics and data centers into an odd sort of hybrid art-installation object; in 75 Watt, they investigated the long production networks of another sort of real, and yet imaginary, object as part of its production chain, producing a weird choreography of imaginary technology becoming a consumer product. Recently they embarked on a field trip to Congo, one that served both as artistic research and as a performance of returning some of the minerals back to the soil. The following text is a short excerpt from their travel diary: a meditation on a geography of the travels of minerals—the materials of media culture—as part of the postcolonial landscapes. From the microscopic dust returning to the soil, to the experience of gaining access to the mines, their images tell a backstory to the quiet colonial histories of media culture, now enhanced by the presence of global corporations from the ex-colonies and by newcomers from China.

The images shown here are from their field trip and from art projects such as H/AlCuTaAu and D/AlCuNdAu.

—Jussi Parikka [End Page 332]

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Figure 1.

Retour, 2015. C-type print. 75 × 75 cm

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Figure 2.

Retour, 2015. C-type print. 75 × 75 cm

It was almost too good to be true. … Whenever there was an acute demand for a certain material on the international market—ivory in Victorian times, rubber after the invention of the inflatable tire, copper in the full industrial and military expansion, uranium during the Cold War, coltan in times of mobile telephony—Congo turned out to have huge amounts of the desired stuff. Yet this economic history of improbable luck is also one of improbable misery.

(Van Reybrouck 2014: 119)

The demand for Congolese minerals and organisms has consistently been a direct result of industrial developments, making the Congolese soil the birthplace of objects of desire and destruction that are actualized in other realities, in other parts of the world. The nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki contained parts of the Congo, just as every smartphone and laptop does today. These technological objects exist in all places, while Congo exists in all these technological objects.

In the dust lies the tension between luck and misfortune, a blessing that is also a curse, the moment one’s earth turns into another’s fantasy.

Look at any single thing on the continent, it always comes under the sign of the multiple: the idea of one God is totally foreign to the continent, there have always been many Gods; the forms of marriage; the forms of currencies; the social forms themselves always come under the sign of multiplicity.

(Mbembe 2013)

A Dutch furniture manufacturer goes bankrupt; the contents of their warehouse, showroom, offices, and factory are auctioned online. We buy everything electronic. Most of the stuff is made in China: computers, smartphones, hand tools, monitors, keyboards, hard drives … and from the other side of the supply chain, we start mining. Every object is unscrewed, unglued, separated into parts. Using hydrochloric acid (34 percent, activated with hydrogen peroxide), gold is recovered from plated connections. A phone still has a note taped to it with the company’s internal numbers. Danny is on line 8. Whetstone is hammered into pieces and tantalum capacitors are filed out of their plastic shells. Copper and aluminum are melted down and poured in between. A new mineral appears from the burnt [End Page 333]

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Figure 3.

H/AICuTaAu, 2014. Aluminum, copper, gold, tantalum, whetstone. 12 × 7 × 6 cm

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Figure 4.



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pp. 332-338
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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