Antofagasta plc, Stop Abuses!

by Cameron Procter

We are delighted to review the series Antofagasta plc, Stop Abuses! by artist Ignacio Acosta. For the last decade, Antofagasta plc has been a towering presence for residents of Caimanes, a village located some 200km north of the Chilean capital of Santiago. The construction of a dam in the El Mauro valley has caused a riff in their community: those in opposition, citing contamination and lack of water as some of their primary concerns, are battling with local supporters of the dam, won over by Antofagasta’s community support grants.

The dam holds not water, but mine tailings – the mud-like material that is leftover once the mineral concentrate has been extracted – from the nearby Los Pelambres open pit mine. Alongside the issues of contamination and water, the dam itself sits atop a fault in a country particularly prone to large-scale earthquakes. Protesters fear that the dam won’t hold in the event of a high-magnitude quake, rendering their community defenseless against the onslaught of toxic waste that would follow.

El Mauro tailings pond, holding 2,000 tons of toxic residues and containing arsenic, lead and other hazardous heavy metals.  Archival pigment ink print, 100×240 cm. Edition of 5 (from Antofagasta plc, Stop Abuses!). Ignacio Acosta, 2014


Ignacio Acosta addresses these concerns in his short series Antofagasta plc, Stop Abuses!. It takes us on a journey from the disputed area in the Chilean back-country to Britain, where Antofagasta plc has both headquarters and a listing in the London Metal Exchange, the world’s largest market for metals trading. Photographs of the Australian Eucalyptus plant, planted around the El Mauro valley to eat up contaminants in the soil, are interspersed with those of protesters on the visually discordant streets of London, calling out against the abuses perpetrated by Antofagasta plc.

Antofagasta plc. Stop Abuses!. Archival pigment ink print, 36×46 cm. Edition of 5 (from Antofagasta plc, Stop Abuses!). Ignacio Acosta, 2013


However, Acosta doesn’t directly showcase the mining or manufacturing processes in his Copper Threads series, of which this work is a single proponent, nor does he directly allude to the contamination and destruction caused by it. Instead, he opts for the middle ground, weaving a web of connections between the landscapes and communities battered by the copper mining industry and the societies that benefit most from it.

To find out more about Copper Threads, we invite you to join Ignacio at the Bluecoat this weekend, 17 May, as he discusses the impact of copper industry on Chile, Swansea, and Liverpool. You can also view his vast body of work on his website.

Images are by Ignacio Acosta, 1976, © Ignacio Acosta

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