Steve McQueen

London UK 1969, lives and works in Amsterdam

Gravesend
2007
35 mm film transferred to high definition video
17 minutes and 58 seconds
2007.SMQ.01

The film Gravesend uses a documentary approach to focus on the mining of coltan, employed in the manufacture of cell phones, laptops and other high-tech apparatus. The film cuts between two sites: a technological, highly automated industrial plant in the West where the precious metal is processed for the final production of microelectronic parts, and the central Congo, where miners use simple shovels or their bare hands to extract, wash and collect the ore on leaves. In the Congo, the dirt and clumps of ore are barely distinguishable, while in the industrialized West, the metal is weighed in minute milligrams and cast in antiseptic surroundings. The realism of the film images is intercut with a black-and-white animation of the Congo River. Its sinuous shape conjures associations with networking and the flow of communications, underscored by a murmuring resembling thousands of voices in the cell phone network. In the meantime, coltan, traded at an extremely high price, represents one of the key financial factors in the armed conflict of the militia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where decades of civil war have cost several million human lives.