Tantalum Memorial

Tantalum Memorial

Harwood, Wright, Yokokoji (UK)

Honorary Mention Hybrid Art

“Tantalum Memorial” is a series of telephony-based memorials to the more than four million people who have perished in the complex wars that have gone on in the Congo since 1998, often referred to as the “Coltan Wars”. Coltan ore is mined for the metal tantalum, an essential component of mobile phones, which is now more valuable than gold and therefore coveted by dozens of international mining industry and warring militias.

The first thing that visitors see is a towering rack consisting of electromagnetic Strowger telephony switches. The switches are triggered by a computer, which is tracking calls from Telephone Trottoire, a “social telephony” network designed for use by the international Congolese diaspora. The audience can see the dialing progress of the calls on a nearby monitor and can hear the messages that are being passed around through headphones (spoken in Lingala). The movement and sound of the switches create a concrete presence in real time for this intangible network of conversations, weaving together the ambiguities of globalization, migration and our addiction to constant communication.

“Telephone Trottoire” was designed by the artists in collaboration with the London radio program “Nostalgie Ya Mboka”. The project builds on the traditional Congolese practice of “radio trottoire” or “pavement radio”, the passing around of news and gossip on street corners to avoid state censorship. 90 percent of Congolese people in the UK are refugees and their mistrust of official media has made them a particularly hard-to-reach community. Yet Trottoire has proved very popular—this version has already grown to 1,800 users and archived over 1,000 recordings.

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