Initiated by: Enough Room for Space (BE) & Picha (DRC)

2018 - 2024: Collective Research

On-Trade-Off worked on the contemporary dimensions of a question as old, as mythical, and as strategic as our relation to energy. Taking the recent run on lithium as a starting point, the project explored a broad range of questions surrounding raw materials for technological industries, financial speculation, and the history of electricity.

On-Trade-Off was sparked by the ‘discovery’ of a large lithium deposit in Manono, a mining area in the DRC. The mine is not only a place of historical extractivism but also plays a key role in the promise of green energy. As Manono is currently transformed into a site of speculation and future exploitation, On-Trade-Off simultaneously unfolded as a structure for counter-narratives and alternative forms of collaboration and artistic creation.

By setting up a transversal dynamics that abolishes centers and exoticism, we aimed to render obsolete the fallacious dichotomy between those who ‘hold the technological knowledge’ and those who should catch up’. Our process of art production placed the question of (free) tools, (fair) practices, and knowledge (that matter) at the core. We had the ambition to imagine and articulate critical, sensitive, and speculative works of art that echo the incredible and tormented times we are living in.

On-Trade-Off presented new artworks developed during residencies and research on-site in Belgium, DR Congo, China, and Australia. Our propositions – in media as varied as photography, film, painting, sculpture, and digital formats – debate how technological innovation depends on raw material extraction.

As On-Trade-Off brought together the extremities of the world-spanning value chains, from its exploitative mining economies to its seductive product surfaces, it simultaneously experiments with a large array of artistic languages enabled by those same raw materials and technologies. The tension between examining matter and myths underpinning high-tech innovation, and the use of those same technologies for our international collaboration becomes a fertile ground for the project. We worked on both physical exhibitions and a digital Online Platform. On-Trade-Off merged multiple sites of work, life, and exchange that – although geographically distant – are central to its existence.

While the South/North borders are highly obstructed, the shipping of metals and ores is assured. How can we think beyond the dividing force of exploitative technologies today and, as artists, create new spaces for imagination, stories, and connection across continents? As a collective, we can reveal the blind spots, by giving forms to mutations, and by exploring the imaginary potential of the very present moment.

“There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.” – Octavia Butler

See for more information: On-Trade-Off

Initiated by: Picha (Lubumbashi, DRC) and Enough Room for Space (Brussels, BE)

Involved 2018 – 2024: Alexis Destoop, Marjolijn Dijkman, Pélagie Gbaguidi, Femke Herregraven, Jean Katambayi Mukendi, Musasa, Alain Nsenga, Georges Senga, Pamela Tulizo, Maarten Vanden Eynde

Formerly involved: Sammy Baloji (2018-2019), Daddy Tshikaya (2018-2019), Oulimata Gueye (2020-2022), Lotte Arndt (2020-2022), Dorine Mokha (2020-2021†), Gulda El Magambo (2019-2022)

On-Trade-Off was developed and presented in various places, formats, and contexts, each presentation focusing on different parts of the storyline.

Presentations: Picha, Lubumbashi, DRC (2018 & 2019); ‘Coltan as Cotton’ 9th Biennale Contour, Mechelen, BE (2019); Gallerie Imane Farès, Paris, FR (2019); La Colonie, Paris, FR (2019); Enough Room for Space, BE (2019); Cargo in Context, Amsterdam, NL (2019); De Brakke Grond, Amsterdam, NL (2019); 6th Biennale de Lubumbashi, RDC (2019); Centre Culturel Jean Cocteau, FR (2019); Digital Earth Talks, Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai, UAE (2019); The Contemporary Art Days Summit Södertälje and Gnesta, SE (2019); The Parasite, KABK, The Hague, NL (2020); Intersections of Care, Wiels (online, 2020); EURO—VISION Assembly, Radar & Arts Catalyst, UK (Online, 2020); Phase Shift, Enough Room for Space, BE (2021); MIG, La Générale, Paris, FR (2021); Charging Myths, Z33, Hasselt, BE (2022); 7th Lubumbashi Biennale, DRC (2022); Framer Framed, Amsterdam, NL (2023); Pre-Biennale research exhibition, Manifesta 15, Barcelona, ES (2023); CIVA, Brussels, BE (2024)

Financial support: Digital Earth Fellowship (Hivos Fund); Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF); Kunsten & Erfgoed, BE; Thami Mnyele Foundation; De Brakke Grond, Mondriaan Fund.

Research images, On-Trade-Off, 2020
On-Trade-Off’s research vitrine with materials from the Resource Collectif, Charging Myths, installation view, Z33, Hasselt, Belgium, 2022 photo: Z33/Kristof Vrancken
LUNA Talk, On-Trade-Off, Coltan as Cotton, 9th Contour Biennale, Mechelen, BE (2019)
Installation view 'On-Trade-Off: Charging Myths' at Framer Framed, Amsterdam, 2023 photo: Maarten Nauw
Installation view 'On-Trade-Off: Charging Myths' at Framer Framed, Amsterdam, 2023 photo: Maarten Nauw