penelope cain artist

Think Like a Mountain (II)

Think Like a Mountain (II): mountain dreaming

Part of ongoing work considering molecularly-linked landscapes, the Anthropocene, and notions of circulation.

curated into CRISTAIS DO TEMPO/ TIME CRYSTALS, curated by Alexandre Milagres and Tadeus Mucelli, MMGerdau Museum of Mines and Metal, Brazil.     For background click HERE

The broader line of inquiry takes as a starting point the first official Australian colonial currency: Lachlan Macquarie’s holey dollar of 1812, to biomap at a molecular level the silver in these coins, through a linked series of landscapes, from Spanish colonial silver mines, a remote glacier in Peru and a scientific research centre in Copenhagen.

The silver in the coins was mined from Spanish colonial mines in Peru and Mexico. The majority probably came from the largest silver mine in the world,  Potosí  (Bolivia). As the silver was extracted (it was found as silver- lead- zinc crystal, called galena) lead dust was released.

Below still from Saturns Breath. Quelccaya icecap. Link to video HERE

Lead from mining silver at Potosi contaminated the landscape, and has been detected, wind-born, in ice core samples from the Quelccaya ice cap, the largest tropical ice-mass in the world. Lead dust, falling with snow, was compressed across the years and centuries.

 Ice cores extracted from the glacial ice, compressed frozen water and atmospheric impurities,  are a vertical time capsule and map of human activities, able to trace through mineral contamination in layers of ice, the activities of the Spanish colonial empire.

Think Like a Mountain II (The sound of wind through the crystaline forest) video/ interactive 2020

First iteration of a 3D, propositional imagining:  the Cerro Rico mountain (Bolivia), site of Potosí silver mine,  as it may have appeared just before silver was discovered in the 1500s.

Amongst a grove of now-rare queñua trees (polylepis tarapacana) is a grouping of flags depicting a galena crystal, the silver/zinc/lead form of mineral load mined at Potosí. The mountain dreaming of its future.

Click for link to video: HERE

Above: video still. The 3D landscape of this work was made with by Dr Andrew Yip

Queñua trees (polylepis tarapacana) are hardy, long-lived trees, adapted for the high altitude, dry and harsh climate of the Altiplano. Once believed to be widespread in the early Holocene, as landscapes became warmer, drier and humans more abundant, the polylepsis groves became smaller and hyperfragmented. It is imagined that as silver was discovered and mined, the remaining polylepsis trees were burned for charcoal to fire silver smelting. The Cerro Rico mountain has no tree cover now.

The term, ‘thinking like a mountain’ was coined by mid-century American ecologist, Aldo Leopold, to describe the interconnectivity of the environment and its ecosystems.  Aldo Leopold,  A Sand County Almanac.[1] 1949

RIGHT: video still, Saturn’s Breath

Flags bearing an image of an oversized galena crystal were raised over the Quelccaya ice cap by men from the region, in an act of recognition of the molecular level territorialisation. These flags also act as standards to identify the emergent anthropogenic landscape- lead over ice, extraction over precipitation.

Above: The Last Ice , video, 2020.  Link to video HERE

Left: Breath Like a Mountain, interactive 2020

Link to work: HERE