Michele Horrigan Back
Stigma Damages

Installation featuring archival material, photography, video, found artefacts
2011–ongoing

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For several years, I have explored the histories and material culture of the aluminium industry. I grew up in the shadow of such a world – mineral ore bauxite is imported from Guinea in Africa into Ireland’s largest industrial complex in my hometown of Askeaton, to be chemically refined and smelted to become aluminium, the world’s most versatile metal used in computer parts and engines, drink cans and airplanes.

The weight of aluminium makes up 8% of the earth’s crust; 80% of an airplane is aluminium; one tonne of aluminium will make over 60,000 Coca Cola, Pepsi or Budweiser cans. But what about the residues of this modern manufacturing miracle? What exists outside its streamlined process and what are the subjective experiences to be had in a long-term mediation of this extraction industry?

This artwork’s title, Stigma Damages, is intended as a pertinent way to describe an investigation around these concerns. Typically used as a legal term to describe possible loss or suspected contamination due to ecological circumstance, here it also acts as a framework to cognitively map the methods extractive industries adopt to justify environmentally transgressive processes.

I have found rubble in the ground of a demolished smelter in Falkirk, sourced stone inside the world’s first open bauxite quarry in Provence, and seen haute couture made from beads of aluminium, amongst other things. Postal stamps depicting Mickey Mouse working in an African mine compare to images of industrial complexes visited in the UK, France and the United States. The role of developing countries and globalisation, representation of women and the sometimes-bizarre attempts to create a smokescreen for the industry are key themes arising in this continuing research.

Sometimes during an exhibition, I will fill a display cabinet or vitrine full of leftover aluminium products used during the installation of artworks or sourced within a close radius to the gallery – all pointing to the ubiquitous nature of this metal in our daily lives.