Ignacio Acosta is a Chilean-born, London-based artist and researcher working with photography and film, in places made vulnerable through the exploitation of ecologies by colonial intervention and intensive capitalisation. He works with interconnected research projects that involve extensive fieldwork, investigative analysis, audio-visual documentation and critical writing on sites and materials of symbolic significance. Acosta focuses upon resistance to extractivist industrial impact on valuable natural environments and, through technologies of seeing, he develops work towards the generation of meaningful visual narratives. His work as an artist is situated within the urgent need for artistic approaches to address critically the depleted landscapes created by mining.
Over the last ten years, he has devoted to the understanding of sites and landscapes that, although often neglected, are of global significance: places of environmental degradation in South America and northern Europe. He works in and with documentary photography, using new ‘seeing machines’, such as drones and video cameras, alongside the art practice of shooting analogue film. He creates visually complex and aesthetically compelling finished pieces. Yet it is the research practice that underpins his artistic work. Through thorough, investigative and ethical practices, his individual research contributes to vibrant collaborations with other artists and photographers, historians and geographers, political activists and Indigenous Peoples. Collaboration is a particularly important, indeed essential, part of his investigation and the representation of sites in which he works. His research is distributed through exhibitions, public events, publications and online platforms. It can be used as source for education, activism and visual culture.
Recent exhibitions include: Archaeology of Sacrifice, Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen, Germany (2020); Human Nature, Västerbottens Museum, Sweden (2020); Tales from the Crust, Arts Catalyst, London, England (2019); Drones y Tambores, Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, Santiago, Chile (2019); Litte ja Goabddá, Ájtte Museum, Jokkmokk, Sweden (2019); Tierra, CDAN / Centro de Arte y Naturaleza, Huesca, Spain (2019); Game of Drones, Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen, Germany (2019); Drone Vision, Hasselblad Centre, Göteborg, Sweden (2018); Mapping Domeyko, Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art, Poland (2018); Copper Geographies, National Waterfront Museum, Swansea, England (2017); Traffiking the Earth, MAC, Museo Arte Contemporáneo, Chile (2017). Acosta is part of Traces of Nitrate (www.tracesofnitrate.org), a research project based at the University of Brighton developed in collaboration with Art and Design Historian Louise Purbrick and photographer Xavier Ribas. His publication Copper Geographies (2018) that stems from his practice-based Ph.D and has been published by Editorial RM. He has received Awards from the Arts Council England (2019); Hasselblad Foundation / Valand Academy, Sweden (2018); Research and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), United Kingdom (2012), and ZF Art Foundation Friedrichshafen, Germany (2020).
FIELDWORK Q&A – July 2015
How is fieldwork part of your practice?
The notion of fieldwork is deeply rooted to who I am and where I come from. I grew up in the Chile, a strip of land where the Andes Cordillera crashes with the Pacific Ocean. Chile is part of the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’, here the Pacific plates dive below the continent, it is heated, melted and chemically differentiated. On its way up to the crust of the earth, liquid magma comes into contact with water, producing a zone of high temperature, prone to volcanoes and earthquakes. This geological phenomena makes minerals come closer to the crust of the earth, reason why Chile holds large mineral deposits, amongst them, the world’s largest reserves of copper. As such, geological forces are constantly re-shaping the extraordinarily diverse landscape, which ranges from the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth, all the way through to the cold forests and icebergs of the south, near Antarctica.
My most vivid memories of childhood are connected to field-explorations through the extreme landscapes of Chile. My parents moved to Punta Arenas, in the Strait of Magellan. Luckily, they have always been very keen explorers, and we used to go on long road-trips though the open spaces of Patagonia, a place that has filled the imagination of many artists and writers, such as Bruce Chatwin, as the ‘farthest place on earth’. Then, as a teenager we moved to the other end, the costal city of Iquique, in the northern territories of the Atacama Desert, another sparsely populated region, most famous for its rich mineral deposits, and place of a series of political and environmental disputes over the last centuries. At the time, I begun to travel through the vast landscape of the Atacama and soon my explorations extended to Argentina, Perú and Bolivia. Initially, I started to use photography as a way of recording my expeditions and secondly as means of understanding the territory.
Today, the landscape Chile is a major source of work, which I explore through fieldwork. The notion of travel and discovering continues to be a fundamental part of my practice. The difference between those early exploration days and today is that I strongly engage with the biographies of place, their social, spatial and historical contexts. Additionally, I am interested in looking for connection between the remote geographies of Latin America with Britain and other European countries.
How would you describe your fieldwork activity?
Firstly, the sites where my fieldwork is conducted are chosen carefully for their historical and geographical significance. I am interested in sites and location that have been impacted by capitalist ventures; such as extraction and manufacture processes or banking and trade activities.
Secondly, I explore the politics of landscape through thorough archival research and literature review. I engage with the biographies of place, their historical, social and spatial context. These bodies of knowledge help me to understand the geo-political forces that shape the landscape.
Thirdly, there is my journey to the sites of the fieldwork. Most of the time, this involves different modes of transport, such as planes, trains, cars and walking. Although my journey remains hidden to the viewer, it is a crucial part of the work.
Finally, I contact local people, such as activists and historians who help me to connect my research with local knowledge. Listening to others memories of place is very important. These exchanges and dialogues with locals are very important and shape the way of perceiving a place and therefore, the way it is represented.
While in conducing fieldwork, walking around the site in order to understand spatial configuration is crucial. My work responds to each site and working intuitively is very important, for which, I try to arrive without pre-conceived ideas of how to make the photographs. Some sites require extensive walking while others need a more detailed examination. I use analogue large format cameras and medium format cameras. The use of a tripod allows me to slow down and carefully consider every the aspect of the frame. The post-production of the images as well as the thinking, editing and distribution of them is a key part of the work.
How are you currently sharing your fieldwork?
Through conference talks, residencies, radical walking tours, exhibitions and publications. The main space for sharing and discussing fieldwork is through the research project I am part of: Traces of Nitrate: Mining, History and Photography between Britain and Chile, an AHRC funded project based at the University of Brighton, which was initiated by the photographer Xavier Ribas alongside the Art and Design historian Louise Purbrick and myself. I am also part of ‘PH: Photography Research Network’, a collective of scholars working with photography who meet once at month at The Photographers’ Gallery to discuss work in progress. I recently presented my work-in-progress ‘Intuitive Projects’ in UNDERWAY, a monthly event that brings together artist and curators for a series of informal discussions, performances and screenings, initiated by my dear friend, the artist Corinne Silva at the Archive and Research Centre (PARC), LCC. I am very exited about TSOEG as a new really interesting platform to exchange ideas with other artists and curators working on landscape through fieldwork.
Archaeology of Sacrifice
Sulphuric Acid Route