Tantalum Memorial

Submitted by richard on Sun, 2010-09-19 17:42.

“Tantalum Memorial” 2008
a new artwork by Harwood, Wright, Yokokoji

“Tantalum Memorial” is a series of telephony-based memorials by the artists group Harwood, Wright, Yokokoji, to the people who have died as a result of the “coltan wars” in the Congo. The installation is constructed out of electromagnetic Strowger switches – the basis of the first automatic telephone exchange invented in 1888. The title of the work refers to the metal tantalum, an essential component of mobile phones

The movements and sounds of the switches are triggered by the phone calls of London's Congolese community as they participate in “Telephone Trottoire” – a concurrent project also built by the artists in collaboration with the Congolese radio program “Nostalgie Ya Mboka”. The precisely poised movements and sounds of the switches create a sculptural presence for this otherwise intangible network of circulating conversations. In “Tantalum Memorial”, Harwood, Wright, and Yokoji weave together the ambiguities of globalisation, transnational migration and our addiction to constant communication.

Tantalum Memorial - Reconstruction, fig. 1 Tantalum Memorial - Reconstruction, fig. 2 Tantalum Memorial - Reconstruction, fig. 3
Tantalum Memorial - Reconstruction

Tantalum Memorial - Residue, fig. 1 Tantalum Memorial - Residue, fig. 2 Tantalum Memorial - Residue, fig. 3
Tantalum Memorial - Residue

view Tantalum Memorial video here

The “Coltan Wars”

Since August 1998 there have been 3.9 million deaths and over 361,000 refugees created by the so-called “coltan wars” in the Congo region. Coltan ore is mined for the metal tantalum - an essential component of mobile phones and other communication devices that is now coveted by dozens of international mining companies and warring local militias. Although the conflict has continued up to the present day it remains almost entirely unknown outside of Africa.

Almon Strowger

Almon Brown Strowger was born in Penfield near Rochester, New York. An undertaker by profession, he believed that the wife of a rival undertaker who worked at his local telephone exchange was routing customers through to her husband. His automatic telephone exchange made it possible to call someone directly instead of going through a human operator. The invention, patented on the 10th March 1891, is thought responsible for the conceptualization of modern telephone networks. His switches were in service until the 1990s when they were replaced by digital technologies made from tantalum.

“Telephone Trottoire”

“Telephone Trottoire” is a “social telephony” network aimed at the Congolese community in London, approximately 90% of whom are refugees or asylum seekers. In the Congo, where free speech has been censored for over forty years, people spread information while standing on street corners – by “radio trottoire” or “pavement radio”. Produced by the artists in collaboration with the Congolese radio programme “Nostalgie Ya Mboka”, “Telephone Trottoire” calls people up and invites them to pass around stories or topical news items over their phones.

“Tantalum Memorial – Reconstruction” was the first version in this series, commissioned for the Zero1 Biennial “Superlight” show at the San Jose Museum of Art, May 10th - August 31st, 2008. “Tantalum Memorial – Residue” was the second in the series, this time utilizing a 1938 telephone exchange rescued from the old Alumix factory in Bolzano, Italy. This was also the site of Manifesta 7 - the European Biennial of Contemporary Art, 19th July to 2nd November, 2008.

”Phone Wars” was made in collaboration with the Science Museum in London. This version triggered their old rack of strowger switches using the phone calls from a telephony project created with students from the John Roan School in Greenwich. By working with Congolese asylum seekers the young people recorded messages exploring the question of “where does your mobile phone come from?”

In Summer 2009 the installation premiered in the UK at the opening of TAP in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, a new arts space set up by Coexist Arts and Metal Culture.

In 2009 “Tantalum Memorial” won the transmediale.09 award in Berlin.

“Tantalum Memorial – Reconstruction” May 10 - August 31, 2008 is A FUSE Commissioned Residency for the 2nd Biennial 01SJ Global Festival of Art on the Edge, ZERO1, CADRE Laboratory and the Lucas Artists Program, Montalvo Arts Center.
“Tantalum Memorial – Residue” was commissioned by Manifesta7 (courtesy Manifesta7).

Group Shows:

"Trapped in Amber" (cat.), UKS Gallery, Oslo (as part of “Africa in Oslo”), February 21st to March 22nd 2009.
“Tantalum Memorial & Phone Wars”, TAP Gallery (CoExist Arts), Southend-on-Sea, UK, July 23rd to August 9th 2009.
“After the Net”, Plymouth Arts Centre, UK, September 12th to October 23rd 2009.
“Cyberarts”, OK Centre for Contemporary Arts, Linz, September 3rd to October 4th 2009.
“Pronto! On Telephony”, PLUG.IN, Basel, September 3rd to November 8th 2009.
“Feedforward: the Angel of History” (cat.), LABoral Centre for Art, Gijon, Spain. October 23rd 2009 - April 5th 2010.

About the Artists:
Harwood, Wright, Yokokoji

Graham Harwood, Richard Wright and Matsuko Yokokoji collaborated together from 2004 to 2009, firstly as part of ‘Mongrel’ - an internationally recognised artists collective. Their collaborations explore the complex relationships between power, art and media in a globalized world. Using a socially active aesthetic, they connect spaces that include simultaneously the art gallery, public phone networks, the internet and the workshop. They are best known for their various projects in 'free media', 'eco-media' and 'social telephony'.

Previous projects include the first online commission from the Tate Gallery, London, a BAFTA award nomination and work in the permanent collections of the Pompidou Centre Paris and the Centre for Media Arts in Karlsruhe (ZKM).

“Our approach to media is to set up a series of ways that allow it to become strange to people, to allow it to become a space of fun and experimentation, of expanded thoughts and actions... It is about opening up the implicit meaning of media itself – to mediate not by controlling and ordering what can be said, shown or heard but by providing the means to unblock channels of access, release currents of energy and reveal the margins of what people can feel, sense, reason and imagine.”

For more information contact:
Harwood,Wright, Yokokoji at hwy AT mediashed.org


Telephone Trottoire: http://www.telephonetrottoire.net
Phone Wars: http://www.PhoneWars.org.uk

ZERO1 Biennial: http://01sj.org
Manifesta7: http://www.manifesta7.it