Mining negative monuments: Ângela Ferreira, Stone Free, and The Return of the Earth
Cover Story, November 2017
On 15 November the study day The Return of the Earth: Ecologising art history in the Anthropocene takes place at the CAPC musée d’art contemporain Bordeaux in conjunction with the Latitudes-curated exhibition 4.543 billion. The matter of matter. With a keynote by science historian Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, and a conversation between artists Xavier Ribas and Ângela Ferreira—the latter both featured in the exhibition—the event will intertwine discussions of art practice and historical research, with environmental and geological narratives, and vice versa.
Ângela’s project Stone Free is so-called in reference to the 1966 hit song performed by Jimi Hendrix. Stone Free creates correspondences between two voids below the ground, two “negative monuments” as the artist has termed them: Chislehurst Caves, in southeast London, and Cullinan Diamond Mine in Gauteng Province, South Africa. The latter pit is pictured here in an arresting aerial shot by Paul Parsons that is the source of the photographic print in Ângela’s suite of works in the 4.543 billion exhibition. Cullinan Diamond Mine (known as Premier Mine from its establishment in 1902 until 2003) is famed for being the source of the largest gem-quality diamond ever discovered, in 1905. Most of the gems cut-and-polished from this stone were used to adorn the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. The recent history of the diamond industry is inextricable from that of vicious settler colonialism in southern Africa and a racist commodity cartel established by the De Beers corporation founded in 1888 by British despot Cecil Rhodes, two years before he became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony. De Beers owned all of the major mines in South Africa, as well as controlling global distribution, until it began a recent sell-off of its less productive mines to the Petra Diamonds group, including divesting itself of Cullinan in 2008.
Both Xavier and Ângela make art that resists the generalising story of the Anthropocene, a narrative that Jean-Baptiste unmasks in his book The Shock of the Anthropocene (with Christophe Bonneuil). Echoing the meticulous approach of the latter, both Xavier and Ângela’s projects in the exhibition deal with case studies of specific places and politics to address the brutal intertwining of mineral agency and colonial extraction.