Planetary Portals lecture/performance and film at Transmediale, Berlin
Planetary Portals
The Planetary Portals project examines the colonial afterlife of gold and diamond mining in South Africa by drawing attention to the social and environmental costs of extractive industries. Mchael Salu in collaboration with Kaythryn Yusoff (QMUL), Kerry Holden (QMUL) and Casper Laing Ebbensgaard (UEA), examine how colonial dreams of Empire have been and still are sustained through 'changes of states' – that is, turning clay into bricks, bricks into speculative real estate, real estate into capital, capital into a speculative mining, and diamonds and gold into racialised dreams of Empire.
From gleaming skyscrapers in the City of London and the Rhodes estate in London's East End to the gold and diamond mines in South Africa, the colonial legacy of the extractive industries create an uneven geography where the vertical city can be mirror massed in networks of shadow architectures that stretch through quarries, shafts and mines. We develop the portal as a speculative archival method for examining geo-social inequities that were necessary in sustaining spatial imaginaries and dreams of Empire through these shadow architectures of vertical expansion in the emergence and maintenance of extractive planetary futures.
The visual and narrative explorations for this project, examine the potential of virtual architectures, terrain and topographies, to bridge epochs of time to reflect on the legacies of extraction. From 19th century origins of the mines, to where these resources end up today, and the impact they have on society, bodies and lives. This artistic project—a muti-channel film work—brings to light the negative space of these histories.

Visualising the ghosts of extraction, telling stories of the invisible from then and now; such as miners, workers, or those displaced by today's gentrification in the largest cities of the world, these short narrative stories, come together as a film work created mostly with the game-engine software, Unity, straddling physical and virtual realities, given the virtual is reliant on many natural resources.
The first version of this film was made for our group lecture-performance at Transmediale in Berlin (Feb 2023).

It is slow work reflecting on time and labour in the before and after lives of colonialism. It speaks to multi-generational psychological and material decimation of extraction, and an attempt at allegorically visualising the isolation and desolation wreaked by racism, as well as climate decimation. This work of awkward spectres aims to peek at the haunted underside of those walled utopian gardens of perfect digital renders and GPUs reliant on rare metals.

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Written, directed, designed
and animated by Michael Salu

Diabolical Architectures of Colonialism (2023)

A lone spectre drags their injured body across a barren landscape decimated by numerous forms of extraction. What are they looking for?

This film explores time, labour, psychological, material and climate decimation in the afterlives of colonialism. Responding to data from the Cecil Rhodes archive during the Kimberley diamond rush (1871), South African gold rushes (1873-1886), and African expansion as a result of British, German, and Portuguese imperialism. A speculative invocation of awkward spectres peeks at the haunted underside of perfect digital utopias, as the capture of land and resources, still shapes today's economic disparities and fantasies of interplanetary colonisation. An unknown narrator offers poetic musings throughout the film, drawing our attention to the negative spaces of extraction typically ignored by official records. What is the consequence of an economic system that stands on these legacies of extraction?
Created with game engine software, this film self-referentially asks whether emotional resonance is possible in imagined virtual futures powered by energy-intensive GPUs often using rare metals. It focuses on the complications of the present moment when more energy is required for more innovation, to an end we are not yet sure of, where often invisible limping spectres across time and space, still communicate something important to us.

Director: Michael Salu
Writer: Michael Salu
Sound: design Kyprian Rainey
Producer: Michael Salu
Cinematography: Michael Salu
Set Design: Michael Salu
Animation: Michael Salu
Art Director: Michael Salu
Editor: Michael Salu
Colour Grading: Michael Salu
Narration: Michael Salu
Exhibitions, Events & Publications

Planetary Portals: "Dreaming in Continents" from East London to the Cape in the Colonial Praxis of Emergence and Extraction. Gropius Bau Journal

Screening and Lecture/Performance, Transmediale art & digital culture festival, Berlin January 2023.
Watch an early edit of the film below, created especially for Transmediale, February 2023

Planetary Portals in FOAM Magazine, August 2023

A Director's note

Selected Projects

Both complete works and experiments, thinking never breaks stride.
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