Working in the industrial site, CUF, an important part of the chemical and textile industry in Portugal from the 1800s to the early twentieth century, the residency offers an insight into a utopian vision of labour and progress and the legacy of this history in the toxic landscapes left behind. Barreiro, on the other side of the river Tejo from Lisbon, is full of the abandonned ruins of this history, while also maintaining a thriving manufacturing and chemical sector that still operates today, against the backdrop of an apocalyptic stretch of unusable land, where reds, purples, greens and pinks, the residue or caput mortem of this early industrial processes (such as evaporation pools for the production of sulphuric acid) remain. Pyrite was mined in the central belt of Portugal and spain and brought here to extract its precious minerals. The etymology of the work ‘pyrite’ comes from the Greek ‘pyrites lithos’, meaning a stone or mineral which strikes fire. It is hot here, forest fires break out in the south, materials are melting. It is used for its sulphur and iron oxides which are used to make fertilisers among many other things. At the turn of the century it was also used in the textile and copperas industry, and as a source of ignition for early firearms. More recently it is being used to make solar panels. It is in part highly toxic as it contains traces of arsenic, which means there are areas that are out of bounds to human habitation until decontaminated. Often called ‘fool’s gold’ for its gold like appearance or shine, it has, in fact, been found to contain small particles of actual gold, but these are very difficult to extract. It is, therefore, what is called a coupled substitution- equally desirable and toxic, useful and destructive. These photographic film stills, projections, object images and photographs, contain traces of caput mortuum (the residual dust from the chemical sublimation of pyrite and iron oxides) found at the industrial park here in Barreiro- dark red, purple earthy particles that coat the landscapes of the industrial site. I am looking to work with these traces of ecological and extractivist history at the site, while alluding to the journey across land and sea in a film I made during my four day trip to get here sustainably.
My work is concerned with auratic translations, interpretation and fiction in our encounters with the landscape. I use photographic installations, projections and print editions to explore notions of the politics of place, resistance and ruin. I am interested in the spaces between what we know and what we think we know about the world, and have investigated these ideas in a series of installations and prints over the last few years.View all of victoriaahrens's posts.