Conjure like the land

Conjure like the land

Phyto accumulate

Anthropologist Anna Tsing writes in ‘The Mushroom at the End of the World’ about the possibility of life at the edges of late Capitalism, about the success of mushroom growth in disrupted and post-extracted spaces, and simultaneously, the humans and economies that exist in these spaces and modes.

‘We are contaminated by our encounters…’ writes Tsing.

I hope that this will be a story of contamination across a series of intersecting planes.

Im currently working with a botanist in Atacama, Chile, and an overlooked plant that normally grows in salt marshes, to consider extractive landscapes, land-healings and small non-human acts of propositional magic.

Working together with SACO, an independent arts organisation in Antofagasta, towards an upcoming show, as part of the Bienale of Antafogasta, Sept 2021.


Saltwort or glasswort, (Sarcocornia neei) known in Chile as hierba del salitre/ Verdolaguilla, grows around the world in salty, briny waters; interstitially between the sea and the land. It can also survive in water poisoned by metals, absorbing and accumulating the metal and locking it away in its roots. This humble plant can grow where not much else can survive.

Metabolic image of heavy metal hyperaccumulation

The Chilean botanist and others have been testing saltwort for its ability to grow in copper mine tailings, where nothing else grows. Chile mines 1/3 of the world’s copper from the Atacama desert and surrounds, the mines use water and leave heavily contaminated ground and dried out tailings dams.

Mine tailings, Attacama region, Chile
Everyone carries a history of contamination; purity is not an option…. The evolution of our “selves” is already polluted by histories of encounter.‘ Tsing explains.

Hyper Accumulate will invite people to bring soil from land they value, land that has poisoned by mining, and we will work with Saltwort plants to restitute or heal the small donation of soil. Understanding that much as a teddy bear hospital is not the real thing, this is not a site to repair the copper contaminated expanses across the geological Atacama region. This is a small act- a performative site to model action, potentially build larger actions and to initiate a reconsideration of the role of plants in the one world, one water, one air that we live.

Above: Chanaral, Chile, where disused mine tailings washing downstream have created a ‘new’ beach 1 km wide of copper poinsoned sand
Saltwort growing in the post-industrial reclaimed lands of Sydney Olympic Park


This research flows from an onging inquiry, a molecular level mapping of the lead dust outcome from mining silver for Australia’s first colonial coin. Propositionally past-casting a view of the site of Potosí silver mine (the largest silver mine in history), on the Cerro Rico mountain, Bolivia, as it may have appeared just before silver was discovered in the 1500s.

Amongst a grove of now-rare Andean queñua trees (polylepis tarapaca

na) is a grouping of flags depicting a galena crystal, the silver/zinc/lead form of mineral load that was mined at Potosí. The trees dream of their future.

Link to research and video: The Sound of Wind Through the Crystaline Forest 2020, commissioned for CRISTAIS DO TEMPO/ TIME CRYSTALS, curated by Alexandre Milagres, MMGerdau Museum of Mines and Metal, Brazil.