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Xavier Ribas, Ignacio Acosta, Louise Purbrick

May 14th - June 26th, 2021

Opening: Friday May 14th (19 - 21 h)


The exhibition in organized together with the Bienal de Fotografia do Porto.

Trafficking the earth is a collaboration between photographers Xavier Ribas and Ignacio Acosta and art historian Louise Purbrick. As the authors explain in the introductory text, this research documents “the movement of mineral wealth of Chile into global markets and European landscapes. Nitrate and copper is their focus. The transformation of these natural resources into industrial materials draw desert and city, slag heap and country house, ruin and regeneration, landscape and archive, Chile and Britain, into the same circuit of capital”.

Each of the authors addresses the issue from a particular perspective that make up a fragment of a common story. Xavier Ribas examines the legacy of British investment in Chile's nitrate mines of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and its implication in global trafficking. Through an exploration of places, objects and images, Ribas considers the dynamic effects of Nitrate by examining the original scenes of the detonations and the traces of a history of violence and exploitation. On his part, Ignacio Acosta studies the global movement of copper, once extracted from the earth and absorbed by a capitalist economy. His photographs are an investigation into a global copper mining policy, making visible hidden connections between environmental pollution and capital accumulation. The historian Louise Purbrick reflects on the matter itself through her essay. Her texts attempt to capture mining waste with words, and thus make a recognition of the material loss of Chilean landscapes: Nitrate and copper became –and are becoming– mere values ​​of commercial exchange.


The project was previously presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art, in Santiago de Chile (2017) and at the Center for Art and Nature, in Huesca (2019). For the current presentation, which is part of the Porto 2021 Photography Biennial, the installation consists of a mural of 200 documents, images and texts, which collect "anachronisms, displacements, insights ...", in which the authors they reject the single image to favour multiple relationships, such as those that occur throughout the chain of extraction, handling, distribution and sale of minerals. The installation is completed with the presentation text and two maps that help to make these interconnections visible. The first, The Invisible Corporate Network, shows the different agents that operate in the London Metal Exchange while the second, Nitrate Companies listed in the London Stock Exchange, offers the records of the companies that traded with Nitrate in the British capital in the year 1908.


The book Trafficking The Earth, published coinciding with the exhibition in Santiago de Chile and presented in the framework of the Symposium "Causality, Materiality and Mining", organized as a complement to the exhibition, can be also consulted at the exhibition. The publication can be downloaded free of charge here. Both monographs of the work of Xavier Ribas and Ignacio Acosta complete the exhibition.

Check the Biennial's program here.

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Trafficking the Earth traverses past and present, one folds into the other in constant transformation

Xavier Ribas is a photographer, professor at the University of Brighton and associate professor at the Polytechnic University of Valencia. His photographic work investigates disputed sites and histories and geographies of neglect. Ribas has participated in numerous international exhibitions, such as the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS), the Stedelijk Museum, the Bluecoat Liverpool, Belfast Exposed, Aperture Gallery, George Eastman House , Le Bal, Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Huarte Center for Contemporary Art and Dos de Mayo Art Center (CA2M).


Ignacio Acosta is a London-born, Chilean-born artist and researcher who works in places vulnerable to ecological exploitation due to colonial intervention and intensive capitalization. He works with interconnected research projects that involve extensive field work, research analysis, audiovisual documentation, and critical writing on sites and materials of symbolic importance. Recent exhibitions of his work include: Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen, Germany (2020); Västerbottens Museum, Sweden (2020); Arts Catalyst, London, England (2019); Salvador Allende Solidarity Museum, Santiago, Chile (2019); o Ájtte Museum, Jokkmokk, Sweden (2019).


With a PhD from the University of Sussex in 1993, Louise Purbrick's current research examines how the past remains present in its material forms. Her recent work as part of the Traces of Nitrate project, an interpretation of abandoned mining architecture in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile and the legacies of the saltpeter trade in Britain, is in publication. In addition to research and writing, Louise works as a curator and creator.

+ info

Trafficking the Earth: Documents on Nitrate, Copper and Capitalism. PDF

Transformations Journal, Issue 33: Mineral Transformation and Resource Extraction: Pasts Presents and Futures. Southern Cross University, Lismore 2020. ISSN 1444-3775

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