Design: Femke Herregraven
Development: Leonidas Diamantis (development)
Content Manager: Constance Nguyen
Initiated by: Picha (Lubumbashi, DRC) and Enough Room for Space (Brussels, BE)
Currently involved: Lotte Arndt, Alexis Destoop, Marjolijn Dijkman, Gulda El Magambo, Pélagie Gbaguidi, Oulimata Gueye, Femke Herregraven, Dorine Mokha (†2021), Jean Katambayi Mukendi, Musasa, Alain Nsenga, Georges Senga, Aïko Solovkine, Pamela Tulizo, Maarten Vanden Eynde
Formerly involved: Sammy Baloji (2018-2019), Daddy Tshikaya (2018-2019)
Taking the recent run on lithium as a starting point, On-Trade-Off explores a broad range of questions surrounding the connections between raw materials, technological industries, financial speculation, and the history of electricity. How can we think beyond the dividing force of exploitative technologies today and, as artists, create new spaces for imagination, story telling, and connection across continents? As a collective we strive to reveal the blind spots in the dominant narrative about energy production and distribution by giving form to mutations and by exploring the imaginary potential of the very present moment.
On-Trade-Off was sparked by the ‘discovery’ of a large lithium deposit in Manono, a mining area in the DRC. The mine is not only a place of historical extractivism (it was the central tin mining and smelting hub in Belgian colonial times), but also plays a key role in the speculative promise of green energy. The project follows a virtual trail of lithium, starting from its coming to light in the first seconds after the Big Bang to the Manono mine in the DR Congo, which is now confirmed to contain the world’s largest reserves of this raw material as ore. Informed by the complex, global processes to produce ‘green’ energy, the journey continues to the largest single battery in the world, Tesla's Energy Storage System in Australia, to finally land in the South of China, retail hub for electronic- and storage devices, and producer of 90% of globally distributed Li-Ion batteries.
On-Trade-Off brings together the extremities of world-spanning value chains, from its exploitative mining economies to its seductive product surfaces, and simultaneously experiments with a large array of artistic languages enabled by those same raw materials and technologies. The tension between examining matter and myths underpinning high tech innovation, and the use of those same technologies for our international collaboration became a fertile ground for the project. The new artworks – in media as varied as photography, film, painting, sculpture and digital formats – are developed during residencies and research on site in Belgium, The Netherlands, France, DR Congo, China and Australia.
The project is designed as a collaborative research activity by a (still growing) group of visual artists and critical thinkers that results in a series of (collaborative) art works, exhibitions, essays. While all the participants approach On-Trade-Off from their own perspective and specialism, looking at different raw materials, the history of electricity, financial speculation, or social and economic inequality, their works come about from collectively developed knowledge and research material around the subject, to be used as open source / shared materials, introducing a more sustainable method of (art) production. This so- called ‘(Re)Source Collective’ exists both physically, consisting of books, objects and raw materials, and digitally as a collection of articles and other source materials that are accessible online, bringing to light the frequently invisible global interdependence and interconnectedness.
On-Trade-Off constructs a digital platform for trans-disciplinary knowledge that, through its holistic and inclusive approach, aims to better understand the processes that shape(d) the world we live in. To enrich this narrative and create long-term spin-offs, collaboration with a multitude of people and organisations from different backgrounds is established, ranging from visual artists, cultural producers, local communities, filmmakers, thinkers, activists, engineers and designers that are engaged in these complex global issues. The outcomes debate, emphasise and question how technological innovation depends on raw material extraction by merging multiple sites of work, life and exchange that – although geographically distant – are central to its existence.
The website, which is currently under construction, aims to present the work of the collective as well as the programme and various exhibitions in which OTO participates. Later, the website will allow members to access archives and research online with the challenge and main goal of being accessible from anywhere in the world and especially in countries like the DRC where data is expensive and access to electricity unequal. It is thus optimised to prioritise data and to be as light as possible. The consumption of the website is also specified in order to raise awareness of our consumption.