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Friday, June 9 • 1:30pm - 1:50pm
Pit Glitch

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A paradoxical condition of repudiation, reliance, and elision characterizes the place of mining in our society. In 2022, it was estimated that the average American with a lifespan of 78.6 years will consume 3.02 million pounds of minerals, metals, aggregated stone, and fuel in their lifetime.1 The mining industry, as these numbers show, is a deeply entangled facet of American life. This paper engages entanglements of extraction and image production by way of Lucy Raven’s China Town (2009), a video work that disjointedly charts the transnational web of copper extraction and wire production by stitching together thousands of digital photographs and recorded ambient sounds over the course of fifty minutes.

Copper and copper wire are key components in the fabrication of various technologies, including cameras and digital photographs. Copper also contributes to maintaining our contemporary age of web-based interconnectivity, supplying electricity and acting as the conduit of data currents in the global cloud. In Raven’s China Town, the photograph is used as both a medium and metaphor, interweaving matter and apparatus in both material and conceptual registers to highlight the spectral circulation of extractive industries in our contemporary moment.

Through a series of staccato-like glances, China Town follows copper’s journey in the global commodity chain, from the front seat of a mining haul truck in Nevada to the floor of the Jinlong Copper Smelter China nearly 7,000 miles away. Raven’s animation of thousands of still images, pieced together like stop-motion, precludes China Town from taking on a characteristically smooth cinematographic or documentary flow. Rhythm in China Town is incoherent. Photographs appear on the screen in irregular intervals, taking on a stuttering or glitch-like quality. These photographic glitches subtly intercede in one’s visualization of copper’s circulation through global commodity chains, slowing down and momentarily interrupting the stream of extraction and consumption.

Sharp cuts between processing steps and a lack of narration leave gaps in viewers’ understanding of how ore turns into the wire that connects our increasingly digitized world. Raven’s accompanying on-site audio recordings correspond to her photographs, but the audio is not precisely synchronized with the sequence of images. One sees images of the mine and hears its operations but only through mediated and disparate glimpses which never add up to a distinct whole. Raven’s sutured photographs and sounds are moments of splintering. These aural and visual disjunctions, or glitches, reiterate the mediated and spectral quality of extracted matter and its circulation in our contemporary moment.

In China Town, photographs offer a visual framework through which we can ruminate on networks of extraction. They capture matter, movement, systems, and transformations as fragments and traces; they do not prescribe a simple solution to our perhaps irreconcilable reliance on and alienation from extractive industries. Visual glitches in the flow can initiate a slower and more deliberate confrontation, image-by-image, with our own disassociation from the transmutations and circulations of extracted matter subtending the shaping powers of globalized contemporary life.
1 Minerals Education Coalition, “Mining and Mineral Statistics,” 2022, accessed November 14, 2022, https://mineralseducationcoalition.org/mining-mineral-statistics.


Friday June 9, 2023 1:30pm - 1:50pm EDT
PS 401 (Design Center)