The Ends of the World

The Ends of the World addresses the socio-environmental destruction resulting from the extraction of brine for the production of lithium. Focusing on the microbial and symbiotic ecologies of the Atacama Desert in Chile, our contribution to the exhibition looks at salt lakes or salares as environments that both live and give life. More than an analysis of lithium, we aim to re-frame the ways by which resource extraction is to be understood and debated.

'The Ends of The World' is the title of a book by anthropologists Deborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, where the authors notice how the western fixation with the end of the world is predicated on ignoring all those – human and other than human - for whom the world has already ended due to colonialism and extractivism. The end of the world also marks a politics of exception, where the end supposedly justifies all means, a justification that has been crucial to the continuation of resource extraction at a global scale.

Within the race for the underground frontier, the Atacama desert is a unique planetary attractor. Due to its mineral riches it has been systematically destroyed by the multiple cycles of mining that ravaged the desert since the colonization, from silver and gold, to nitrates, copper and now lithium. With each mining boom come new forms of land appropriation, new forms of environmental destruction, new forms of violence over the peoples and beings of the desert.

Biologist Lynn Margulis argued that instead of competition, it is alliance and symbiosis that are at the heart of creative evolution. Environmental semiotics allows us to trace some of these shifting relations of coexistence. The pink colour that permeates the exhibition is one such semiotic register, moving from mineral to bacteria, from there to algae and ultimately to the feathers of flamingos. We could say that colour is a maker for material relations of coexistence.

Symbiosis, affinity, unnatural alliances are the topics of our intervention - a multi-screen installation emerging from the work being developed by the Lithium Triangle Studio at the MA Environmental Architecture, Royal College of Art, London, and its collaboration with Alonso Barros and the Atacama Desert Foundation in Chile.

Interviews with Alonso Barros, Cristina Dorador and Rolando Humire look at the pressure of extractivism over different ecologies of existence in the Atacama. Musician Nicolás Jaar contributes with a speculative soundscape recreating the elusive ‘voices’ of bacteria that can be heard at moments of drastic temperature shifts in Salar de Llamara. At the centre of our intervention is an animation where Mingxin Li explores the unique stromatolites - sedimentary rocks produced over 3.5 billion years by the accumulation of layer upon layer of cyanobacteria - as monumental environmental architectures.

Film Still, Interview with Rolando Humire

For us, The Ends of The World is a lens through which to see the many worlds that make up the world, locating the ‘green transition’ in relation to non-western ecologies of knowledge and of existence. What worlds are ending is firstly to ask what worlds exist.


Concept: Godofredo Enes Pereira / Lithium Triangle Studio
Soundscape: Nicolás Jaar
Animation: Mingxin Li with Anabel Garcia-Kurland
Texts: Godofredo Enes Pereira
Interviews: Lithium Triangle Studio / Mingxin Li, Antonio Del Giudici, Yvette Waweru, Melis Goksan.
Film editing: Andrew Copolov