Mining and Earth artist Jeannette Unite’s new exhibition, PLOT: Critical Zones, interrogates humans’ relationship with minerals at the heart of mining, industrialisation, manufacture, and consumption through an installation of “bar-code” paintings.
Gold, platinum fines, copper, coal, cobalt, iron and chrome are among the elements in the paint ingredients that the artist has collected directly from mines since the 1990s. These elements were all extracted from the Critical Zone – the Earth’s outer layer, from above the treetops to below ground water, where life has arisen and been sustained over millennia.
All wealth in global capitalist systems is created directly or indirectly from the Critical Zone, and the laws that plot and control access and ownership of real estate and mineral rights often override the rights of nature.
Artist Jeannette Unite has focused on Africa’s rich and contentious mining histories, and the ways humans exploit the Earth, since living on alluvial diamond mines on Africa’s west coast in the 1990s. Unite’s practice and research, dwell on the ongoing role of mining in (re)producing colonial power relations.
About the artist
Artist Jeannette Unite has focused on rich and contentious mining histories, and the ways humans exploit Earth, since living on African west coast alluvial diamond mines in the 1990s. It was during this time that she realised that, as an artist, she is an end-user of titanium dioxide: this diamondiferous mineral washes up onto the Palaeozoic beaches and is the ubiquitous white pigment we see used in paint.
Unite has travelled through more than thirty countries accumulating an extensive personal archive of images and materials from the extraction industries. Her photographs from these travels, and the images she captures from mining museums and archives, are as precious a resource to Unite as treasure troves of site-specific sands and slime from tailing ponds at the mines. This industrial detritus is soiled with history and loaded with meaning that she mixes them into her paints, pastels and hot-glass recipes.
Unite has mined for her paint box – using oxides, metal salts and residues from extraction, heritage and industrial sites – and has developed paint, pastel and glass recipes guided by advice from Earth scientists, geo-chemists, paint-chemists and a ceramicist to develop this ‘eco-alchemic’ work. These mining artworks are made from the very mined material they interrogate; the material is thus both subject and object in her predominantly large-scale art pieces.
Unite explores the impact and relations between power and Earth through the mechanisms, both technical and social, of our modern world that are so inextricably linked to mining. All wealth is derived from the Earth and laws and legislation are constructed to regulate who has access and ownership of the resources from the planet. Unite’s celebration of the industrial sublime critiques the force of human compulsion for material goods regardless of the environmental and social consequences.
Jeannette Unite is enrolled for a trans-disciplinary PhD in Geology in the Africa Earth Observatory Network (AEON) Earth Stewardship Science Research Institute at Nelson Mandela University.