Spike Island presents Quantum Ghost, a major new commission by Bristol-based artist and Spike Island studio holder Libita Clayton.

Comprising an immersive sound installation, a series of large-scale photograms and a programme of live performances, Quantum Ghost maps a journey through archives and territories related to the artist’s heritage.

Digging deep into personal documents and oral histories, the exhibition unearths the subterranean histories and political undercurrents connecting the mining regions of Namibia and Cornwall. From mined ores and sedimentary rocks to precious metals and rare earths, it examines the raw materials at the core of capitalist extraction, revealing how the echoes of colonialism and diasporic migration reverberate through the deep-time of geology. It also reconstructs the paper trail left by the artist’s late father, a member of SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organisation, the political mass movement that fought for Namibia’s liberation from Apartheid South Africa) who went into exile in the 1980s and studied mining engineering in Cornwall.

The project began with Clayton’s residency at Gasworks in London during the summer of 2018, followed by research trips to Cornwall, Namibia and South Africa. During these trips she accessed various public archives, including the photographic records of the Camborne School of Mines in Cornwall, and the Archives of Anti-Colonial Resistance and Liberation Struggle (AACRLS), held within the National Archives of Namibia. Clayton collected field recordings in places that are intimately bound with her family history, such as the Cornish tin mines and iron-ore heaps in Penwith (not far from where she grew up), and the pink salt lakes and uranium mines near Walvis Bay, Namibia.

Samples of these field recordings form part of the multi-channel audio installation (2019, 21 minutes), which was conceived as an exercise in sonic archaeology. In this work, Clayton summons a polyphony of ancestral voices in the form of a lament, while also exploring the unheard sounds of a mineral landscape haunted by the ghosts of colonialism and extraction. The often-inaudible rhythms of geological phenomena (from slow-moving magma to mineral growth and the radioactive decay of uranium into lead) resonate with the violent flows of natural resources and human bodies across history. Made through a shared process of collecting and looping, collaging and re-assembling a sonic archive in-the-making, the work was developed in collaboration with artists and musicians Demelza Toy Toy, Jol Thomson and Hannah Catherine Jones, and features contributions from Perivi Katjavivi and Memory Biwa.