‘Geologies of Value and Vestige’ Symposium

Wednesday, 10 July 2013 from 09:30 to 18:00 (BST)

Kingston upon Thames, United Kingdom

The one-day symposium has been developed by Martin Westwood and Charlie Tweed who are PHD researchers in the Contemporary Art Research Centre (CARC) at Kingston University. As a result of our ongoing research projects, two objects, an image and a text, are proposed for discussion. A selection of artists, curators and writers have been invited to respond to them through replies that can include both the generation of artworks and academic papers.

The symposium intends to explore, through curated responses, the movement and transformation of commodities, investigating the biographies of materials and products. In differing ways the text and the image both articulate the metamorphoses of material and information as it forms, constructs and negotiates economies. The event aims to expand the understandings of the biopolitics of objects, the geologies of materials and the system of valorisation and accumulation that commodities engineer. We are also interested in how processes of automation and feedback that are enabled by new technologies have created what Michel Serres calls “a revolution operating on matter”*; and how circulation becomes closely linked with devaluation and vestigial waste.

As artists we are interested in looking at how art practice can engage with, highlight or renegotiate these complex geologies of value and vestige.

The symposium will be hosted in the Centre for Useless Splendour at Kingston University and there will be additional screenings within the Stanley Picker Gallery.

Structure of the day:

The day is divided into morning and afternoon sessions. Though each session addresses overlapping and parallel themes each focuses on a different object, the first upon an image the second upon a text. Speakers have been selected in order to respond to one of the objects of discussion although the development of themes across the sessions is encouraged. A panel discussion will follow each session.

Morning Session

Martin Westwood inviting Ali Eisa (artist/Lloyd Corporation), Melissa Gordon (artist), Isobel Harbison (curator) to respond to:


gty.im/88187793 is a rights managed photograph taken at the opening of Francois Pinault Foundation by Vittorio Zunino Celotto and vendored by Getty Images of an art-work called ‘Oozewald’ by Cady Noland; a silk screen print on aluminium of the Robert Jackson/Associated Press photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby.

Afternoon Session

Charlie Tweed inviting Melanie Jackson (artist), Jennifer Gabrys (author), Andy Weir (artist and PHD researcher) and Tom Trevatt (curator and PHD researcher) to respond to:

“Coltan is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo and from its ore the element Tantalum is extracted. This Tantalum is shipped to a factory in China where it then forms part of an assemblage of materials that are housed in a casing to form the battery of a mobile phone. This phone is sold by a phone operator in the USA and is purchased by a user who plugs it in and charges the battery which becomes enlivened.
After one and a half years of use the owner perceives the phone to be too slow, out of date, lacking functionality and obsolescent. They discard it at a local phone recycling company and purchase a more up-to-date replacement, which they perceive to be faster, lighter and better.
The old phone is then sent for recycling, it is added to a container which is loaded onto a ship containing many other types of e-waste and which is headed for Guiyu, in Guangdong Province, China which is perhaps the world’s largest site of e-waste ‘recycling’. Vital metals are extracted from the phone in haphazard recycling processes but the battery assemblage containing the Tantalum is of no value so this is simply buried in landfill where it now takes on a completely new deep geological time as its waste materials gradually break down, decade after decade until they finally return to their origin in the soil but this time as a form of dirty matter.” (Charlie Tweed, 2013)

Video Programme

An accompanying video programme will screen through the day until 7.30 pm in the foyer of Stanley Picker Gallery. The screening includes video from Benedict Drew, Lloyd Corporation, Hannah Sawtell, Charlie Tweed, Andy Weir and Martin Westwood.

* Serres, Michel, ‘Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy’, edited by J.V. Harari and D.F. Bell, Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1982

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