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Environmental Futures: Architecture & Green Technologies in the Lithium Tri...

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Royal College of Art

Kensington Gore

London

SW7 2EU

United Kingdom

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Recent decades have witnessed a shift from an energy paradigm based on the extraction of fossil fuels to one based on the development of sustainable or “green” technologies. Within this context, lithium has become as unique commodity. From solar panels, to wind farms, laptops, cell-phones or electrical vehicles, most green technologies are electricity-based and dependent on the use of high-performance lithium-ion batteries for storing energy. 70% of the world's exploitable reserves of lithium are located in the “lithium triangle” made by the salt flats of Uyuni in Bolivia, Atacama in Chile and Hombre Muerto in Argentina. Salt flats can be described as dried lakebeds with underground reservoirs that contain high concentrations of dissolved salts, such as lithium, potassium, and sodium. The Salar de Atacama in Chile, containing 27% of the world's lithium reserve base, is the world's largest and purest active source of lithium. As of 2008 it provided almost 30% of the world's lithium carbonate supply. There are two main companies extracting in the salt-flat: Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile S.A, and Rockwood Holdings. Together they have set hundreds of evaporation ponds, recovery plants, processing infrastructures, kilometers of access roads and connections to highways, water storage tanks, admin areas, canteens, parking lots, etc. In doing so, they continue the long history of extraction in the Atacama, starting with the colonial quest for gold, later superseded by the extraction of nitrates, which in turn gave way to the extraction of copper, for which Chile is to this day the leading global exporter.

Following closely to its precedents, the extraction of lithium has destabilized the socio-environmental systems within which it is embedded. The process of extraction and the development of associated infrastructures, has affected watercourses, aquifers, soil, flora and fauna. Moreover, salt-flats are at the centre of complex social ecologies. As oases in the desert they are essential for indigenous peoples, as their marshes, water and pasture are needed for agro-pastoral activities. The disruptive nature of lithium extraction is particularly evident in the areas surrounding the Salar de Atacama in Chile or around the Salar de Hombre Muerto in Argentina where several cases of water over-consumption and contamination have been reported. In recent years, local indigenous organizations have started to mobilize against lithium extraction, such as the Board of the Communities of the Guayatayoc y Salinas Grandes Basin in Argentina or the Consejo de Pueblos Atacamenõs in Chile. At stake is both water - a rare and precious commodity in desert areas - but more importantly a dispute over models of development.

It is within this very context that the MA in Environmental Architecture sets out to intervene. This event marks the launch of a four-year research project on the environmental consequences of lithium extraction. The research will be developed by the students of the MA Environmental Architecture, in collaboration with local research partners including advocacy teams and indigenous organizations. At stake is the opportunity for unexpected alliances between research and practice, towards the imagination of new environmental futures.

Date: October 19, 2017.

The launch will take place in Kensington Darwin Building, Courtyard Gallery 1, from 16:00 to 20:00.

Schedule:

16:00 – 16:30

Introduction by Dr. Godofredo Pereira, course leader for the MA Environmental Architecture, RCA.

16:30 – 17:45

Dr. Luciana Martins, Birkbeck “Collecting Biocultural Artefacts in the Amazon: Past, Present & Future Encounters”.

Xavier Ribas, Brighton University “Traces of Nitrate”.

18:00 – 19:30

Keynote lecture by Dr. Alonso Barros “Reclaiming Futures: the Atacama Desert, Water Justice and Lithium in the Energy Transition”.

Response by Dr. Sarah Teasley, RCA.


BIOS

Alonso Barrros, Director, Atacama Desert Foundation. Lawyer (PUCCh) and PhD (University of Cambridge) with two decades of work in advocacy and anthropology involving resource projects affecting indigenous peoples and their territories. Since early 2013, Alonso Barros works mostly as a litigation lawyer, mediator and arbiter on behalf of Atacameño, Aymara, Diaguita and Quechua peoples and communities involved with the extractive industry in Chile's Atacama desert. This has translated into a longue durée historical ethnography of desert and highland peoples, mining cycles and property regimes (bonanzas and busts). His published work focuses on law in society in Latin America, the Mixe of Oaxaca (Mexico) and Atacameño, Aymara, Diaguita and Quechua communities and peoples across the Argentinean, Bolivian and Chilean highlands. Alonso is interested in the cyclical (de- and re) territorialization of 'vertical'​ regimes of truth and domains of objects as expressed in property relations and commodity fetishism. Alonso Barros was the Principal investigator (2006-2009) of a CONICYT funded research on "Discrimination, identity and inequality in periods of crisis: juridical and political ethnohistory of San Pedro de Atacama and Chiu-Chiu (XIX - XXI C.)",​ and Co-director (2011-2012) of the London School of Economics'​ MSc in Law Anthropology and Society.

Luciana Martins is a Reader in Latin American Visual Cultures at Birkbeck, University of London. She worked as an architect in Brazil before doing a Masters and PhD is Geography at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Her work is concerned with the role of visual and material cultures in the making of knowledge about tropical regions. Her publications include O Rio de Janeiro dos Viajantes: O Olhar Britânico, 1800-1850 (2001), Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire (co-edited with F. Driver, 2005) and Photography and Documentary Film in the Making of Modern Brazil (2013). She is currently working on a research project on the visual archive of expeditionary fieldwork supported by the Leverhulme Trust and a collaborative research programme with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew on Richard Spruce’s nineteenth-century biocultural collections from the Amazon.

Xavier Ribas is a photographer, lecturer at the University of Brighton, and associate lecturer at the Universitat Politècnica de València. He studied Social Anthropology at the University of Barcelona and Documentary Photography at the Newport School of Art and Design. His photographic work investigates contested sites and histories, and geographies of abandonment. His recent works take the form of large photographic grids, often including text, archive materials and moving image as multiple, composite forms of examining temporary settlements, sites of corporate development and exclusion, border territories, and geographies of extraction.

Ribas has been involved in many international exhibitions including the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS), the Stedelijk Museum, the Bluecoat Liverpool, Belfast Exposed, Aperture Gallery, George Eastman House, Le Bal, Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Centro Huarte de Arte Contemporáneo and the Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo (CA2M). He has received awards, commissions and fellowships from the Arts and Humanities Research Council - AHRC (2012-2016), the International Photography Research Network - IPRN (2006), Fundación Telefónica (2005), and Commande Publique du Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, Centre National des Arts Plastiques (2006), among others. Ribas has also collaborated on research, exhibition and publication projects with the Universidad de Salamanca (1998, 2000, 2009), Universitat Politècnica de València (2008), Université de Toulouse II-Le Mirail (2007-2008), Universiteit Leiden (2006), UNIACC Santiago (2010), and Universidad de Navarra (2009, 2014-2015).

Dr Sarah Teasley is Head of Programme (RCA) for the V&A/RCA programme in History of Design and Reader in Design History and Theory. Her research takes an artefact-led approach to historical case studies from community-based design and manufacturing in modern and contemporary Japan to consider broader questions around design, technology and society, historically and today. She is particularly concerned with the impact of culture on interactions between different stakeholders at times of historical change, and how stakeholders' values and behaviours influence mid- and long-term trajectories. Other research interests include policy-making as a design process and how communities experience policy as a designed artefact, and in the impact of policy, mediation and local conditions on the adoption of new processes, materials and technologies. An attention to artefacts and our relations with them underlies her research, as part of her practice as a design historian.

Sarah’s teaching and research supervision address the history of design, industry and technology in modern and contemporary East Asia, Europe and North America, with particular emphasis in three areas: social and economic histories of design industries, cross-pollination between design history and history of technology and STS approaches to historical research, and design history's engagement with contemporary political, economic and social issues. Full-length publications include Global Design History (Routledge, 2011) and 20th Century Design History (Petit Grand Publishing, 2005). Sarah publishes and lectures actively in East Asia, Europe and North America. In 2012 she was the recipient of an Arts and Humanities Research Council Early Career Fellowship for a monograph on regional economic development, geopolitics and the furniture industry in Japan, 1890–1960.

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Royal College of Art

Kensington Gore

London

SW7 2EU

United Kingdom

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