Source: Image still from President Hugo Chavéz addressing the Venezuelan National Assembly. Image: TeleSur, 2011.
This research will look at the importance of the underground as a frontier of current global politics. Focusing on Venezuela’s nationalisation of oil exploration, on Niger Delta’s oil conflicts or Chile’s exploration of copper in the Atacama desert, this research will investigate how the recent rush for unconventional resources is bringing-forth a new series of underground conflicts whose political, environmental and humanitarian dimensions are indiscernible.
The exploration sets out two main fields of enquiry. Documenting debates around new forms of survey and material classification this research will focus the growing importance of technical and scientific methods of visualisation and representation, and their mobilisation both within the development of specific territorial policies, but also for the increasing surveillance and militarisation of subsoil domains. Tracing a series of legal disputes over the underground, as well as epistemic debates around the nature of earth itself, this investigation argues that the underground is today the ultimate fetish of planetary capitalist exploration, informing a new global race for resources as well as new forms of geopolitical dispute.
At the same time having become a locus where local, national and transnational interests collide, conflicts on the underground bring to the fore a new epoch of debates on territory and sovereignty. Following form this, a second line of enquiry will investigate the exhumations of historical figures such as Simon Bolívar and Salvador Allende, to trace a parallel between the recent wave of progressive constitutionalism in South America and contemporary debates on resource extraction. Locating this research within the history of colonialism exploitation, these exhumations emerge as attempts of reframing contemporary political debates according to a mythical conception of the ground, thus forging the opportunity for new constitutional imaginations.
Finally, if more than the outer space, it is the underground that is today’s final frontier – a place where material distinctions between gold, oil and bones are all but stable – it then becomes necessary to recognise it as well as a site from where new political alliances might emerge.
Footage of Simón Bolívar’s exhumation, narrated by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Image: VTV, 2010.
Remains of Simon Bolivar’s skull, Museo Bolivariano, June 2012 Image: Godofredo Pereira
Sample of heavy oil from Orinoco in Venezuela (1) and sample of natural bitumen from Atabasca in Canada (2) Image: Godofredo Pereira