Progress in Action 2013
It was 1989 when a small scale, but nonetheless determined group of Bougainvillians—who became known as the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA)—came up against a large-scale copper mining venture on their island established by Rio Tinto and the PNG government. An uprising was ignited over disputed land use, and compensation claims for land damage that had been triggered by the transformative events of mining. It ended in a Civil war lasting over a decade.
The Bougainville Civil War was catalysed by the imposition of the Panguna Copper Mine on the indigenous inhabitants lived reality. As a result, conflict broke out between the indigenous landowners of Bougainville, some of whom formed the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) and Rio Tinto Copper, operating as (Bougainville Copper ltd), in collaboration with the Papua New Guinea (PNG) government and Army. In protest to the Panguna Mine, the BRA began to sabotage the mining venture by cutting power supply and blocking roads to the mine. This show of strength in turn prompted the PNG government to bring in its military forces, effectively cutting Bougainville’s citizens off from the mainland and denying them resources such as fuel, food and medicine. Imprisoned on their island, the BRA ingeniously began appropriating all available materials to protect their livelihoods from PNG’s insurgent army. With equipment taken from the mine, they fashioned provisional weapons and made locally sourced coconut bio-fuel, which in turn powered what were originally diesel-powered generators.
Progress in Action operates as a form of material storytelling. As a theme upon which to present the wider conflict, the work focuses on the BRA’s use of coconuts as an alternative source of fuel. I constructed a provisional coconut oil refinery producing coconut bio-fuel to power a modified diesel generator, which I then installed in a gallery space. The electricity produced by the generator supplies power to a projector, which in turn screens a film about the events. This film features imagery of the very material that is at the core of the project: the Bougainville crisis. It is a portrayal of energy in exchange; a series of actions and reactions, flows and interruptions guided by anthropogenic determinations.
My interest in this specific historical account is its unique situation, whereby a capitalist venture of industrial-scale mining is entangled with localised, alterative biofuel production. It is an example of the way material transformation might intersect with, and influence, social transformation. Given the complex fabric of the opposing forces, it is not onlyoppositional ideological drives that are shown. The work also offers explicit evidence of human-instigated transformations of matter; for example, images depicting the processes of copper extraction and refinement are seen in contrast to the refinement of coconuts. My investigation focuses on identifying the moments when the opposing forces of matter energy are both produced and expended.