Copper Lyres and Pennies from Heaven: The Material Rain of the 'Cloud'

A talk at UC Santa Barbara

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

3:30 pm

Sankey Room

What material ecologies are we tapping into when we commit the apparently ethereal acts of streaming a how-to video or uploading broadcasts of banal and precious moments to the cloud? If we could strip away the walls sheltering us and the casings of our devices, we would behold an immense and filigreed copper lyre, Aeolian, that calls to be sounded. This talk will present stills and verse reports from a book and performance work—a Pennies from Heaven turned upside down—charting the global circuits of exploitation, production, distribution, salvage, and chemical aftermath that constitute the matrix of the copper industry, from Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula (site of the first US mining boom), to the Andes, to Long Island, to Southern Arizona’s Copper Corridor and the e-waste dumps of Accra. This work yokes the environmental humanities to radical labor history by invoking key moments of production in the multilingual publishing communities formed around copper mining in the nineteen teens. Viewed against the reputedly universal (multinational) language of telegraph code books—deployed to control natural resource extraction, workers, and the market while encrypting and economizing messages sent to the peripheral zones of capitalist bonanzas—decades of tortuous translation efforts constitute a forgotten grappling with the cultural plurality of the working populace and with the vast geographical extent of the “cloud’s” footprint.