Follow the Copper

Follow the Copper # Metallurgy, Media, Minds from Patricia Pisters on Vimeo.

Contrary to gold, copper is not a metal with fetishistic surplus value. It was much harder to find any fiction films that centered around copper. Copper does not seem to drive us as crazy as gold, nor as cool and futuristic as silver. One of the rare feature films with an important role for copper is Clio Barnard's remarkable drama The Selfish Giant (2013), about a young working class boy in Bradford, England, getting involved in copper theft. And yet copper is a metal that is actually extremely important for us in our daily life. Therefore most of the clips in this compilation are from non-fiction sources. In the western world each person on average is connected to 175 kilogram of copper (in terms of wires, cables, plumbing pipes and electronic devices). We need copper to get fresh tap water, to receive electricity, to communicate across the oceans, to travel by boat, by train and increasingly also by plane (in alloys with aluminum). We need copper to use our cell phones and computers. In fact we need copper to live, our bodies contain copper (female bodies having on average more copper than male bodies, whose bodies contain on average more iron). Also green plants, certain nuts and fruits and sea creatures contain copper. So copper is everywhere. 

In this compilation I start with the Hellenic Copper Mines in Cyprus. Cyprus, or Kupros in Greek, is considered to be the first place where copper was found in the fourth millennium BC, where weapons and tools were made our of pure copper. Later in an alloy with tin, bronze became more popular for weapons and tools. Bronze is stronger that pure copper.

Because of its anti-corrosion qualities, copper has since the seventeenth century been used in aquatic cultures. Ships still contain a copper plating that protects boats from the effects of salty water.  Because of its high conductivity copper is important for electricity, railways and trams. But copper ensures also our transatlantic communication via enormous cables through the ocean. Copper is also connected to Lady Liberty, who has a thin copper skin, holding her torch towards the City of New York, by and large illuminated thanks to copper.

Besides statues and buildings, copper is of course also connected to music. Tower bells, and especially brass instruments (often made of an alloy with zinc). The beautiful warm music of Miles Davis, and more recently (in the Netherlands) Kyteman; we would not hear it without copper.

Lena Horne was one of the very few (the only) black actresses in classical Hollywood. Her skin was referred to as ‘copper skin’. Copper is also used in beauty products (not sure if the ‘Lena lashes’ in Britanny’s make-up vlog refers to Lena Horne but the ‘glowy bronze summer make-up’ certainly refers to her copper skin). Copper is also known for its anti-microbial properties, and hence its medicinal qualities are still being (re)discovered.  

Copper is used in increasingly small electronic chips, and cannot be disconnected from our contemporary media world. However, as with all other mining processes, copper prices are also heavily objects of speculations, often at the expense of local people. The copper belt is no exception. And the logic by which for long the Earth has been seen as an endless resource is now transposed extraplanetary into a future where astro-mining is no longer science fiction. In the Atalaya Rio Tinto Copper Mining area in Spain, conditions seem to be similar as on Mars, and hence research into Deep Space mining is conducted here. We might need new ways to connect to NatureCulture. I end the copper trail extra-orbital, not so much by following planetary mining industries but by referring to Venus, the planet that in  alchemy is associated with copper.