Toxic Waves I. Harvesting empathy and coping with ecological grief through drawing

Year: 2021

Medium: Digital Performance

Dimensions: Variable

Location: CCA, Brighton, UK. Tuesday, 28 Sep 2021, 4.00 – 5.30pm (BST)



Toxic waves I is an online participatory drawing performance where participants are invited to draw to the beat of a metronome the shape of a wave with a repetitive line.

To the beat of a metronome with 272 different movements, the participant were invited to draw waves, using charcoal and the movement of their body. Whilst 5 participants joined Arabel in the gallery space, the rest joined remotely via Zoom. The collaborative performance lasted around ten minutes, with additional time allocated beforehand to set up and cover explanations, and afterwards to discuss the performance as a group.
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Can art making, through embodied thinking, activate our empathy at a deeper and more instinctive level than our rational understanding of events? Can this urge us to act? Investigating the exploitation and inequality deep-rooted in social tragedies, Toxic Waves seeks to engage with such disasters through the medium of art, exploring whether this medium has the power to close the distance between us and the events happening thousands of miles away from us.

On the 25th January 2019, the Córrego do Feijão iron ore mine in Minas Gerais, Brazil, played host to a disaster of devastating proportions. When a tailings dam belonging to Vale, the world’s largest iron ore producer, collapsed, tonnes of toxic mudflow advanced downstream, killing 270 people in the process. Prosecutors subsequently described a relationship of ‘pressure, collusion, rewards and conflict of interest between Value and the German company TÜV SÜD,’ alleging that Vale hid information about the dam’s instability to avoid harming the company’s reputation, and TÜV SÜD issued reports confirming that it was safe. Bringing the hard-hitting reality of this this site-specific tragedy to the table, Arabel is encouraging us to engage our bodies and minds with it through the medium of drawing.

This project was part of Arabel Lebrusan’s Research Fellowship at the Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics at the University of Brighton.

Notes from the Sessions

“When you’re watching something happening on TV you just see a snapshot and you think, Oh, that’s so fast. And then when you’re doing it, and you’re in this mode of remembering, and you’re physically active, it really slows down. And it really contrasts with that kind of consumption of media of something happening quickly.”

I feel angry actually. I feel quite angry and quite sad at the same time.”

“It was really profound.”

“I went through waves of feelings…”

“I’m intrigued how much this evening, online, we became a community and we somehow connected with this figure of 272 people. That’s beautiful. I think rituals have this quality of not just including us in something larger but becoming part of something.”

“Collective grieving”

“God knows who we are, when we feel angry or not angry or sad or desperate or whatever, you know, but being part of a wave that can carry on these emotions is very different to being sitting by oneself and having an emotion alone”

“…it made me think of tsunamis. So it wasn’t just the disaster there but the disasters all over the world that are happening continuously and how we become desensitized from it all.”

“This can relate to so many disasters. This wave is a wave that happens in so many places in the world. They’re not alone because sometimes people in these areas they feel that they’re totally alone. There is a sense of grieving together.

“It was just like a meditation session”