project image
Julia Pello

first performed on November 10, 2016
Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, Chicago, IL
performed once in 2016


Mark Booth, Elena Ailes

Chicago, IL / Philadelphia, PA /


“SMOKEPENNY LYRICHORD HEAVENBRED”* is a mixed-reality performance that excavates the sites, histories, and languages of mining in a poetics of generative telegraphy, geophysical extraction, and the multilingual hauntings of forgotten laborers. Performed at the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry as a culminating instantiation of our 2016 research project undertaken with Caroline Bergvall, The Data That We Breathe, “SMOKEPENNY” proposed a critical archaeology of contemporary network culture in response to the extraordinary material, political, and environmental legacies that made cloud computing possible. Hoisting virtual landscapes and augmented reality textscapes datamined from boom, strike, and bust in the Upper Midwest’s Copper Country, the performance explored the extraction, processing, and harnessing of copper as a conductor for sprawling networks of exploitation and control, as well as illumination.

We collected SHUDDERINGS and testimonies from the defunct Quincy Mine on Michigan’s Keewenaw Peninsula; recordings from a mine stope, as well as from the Steam Hoist and Shaft and Rock Houses, were remixed by Mark Booth to bring out the resonant frequencies of these spaces at the heart of the industrial revolution. The libretto sampled from, and re-encoded, mass-scale, pre-code Depression-era fantasies of precious metals ending up in the pockets of the people, unmasking the pennies implicit in each cloud. Immersed in a lush 3D point-cloud derived from Lidar scans of the mine, two performers, I (input) and O (output), activated a custom augmented reality system by manipulating iPads suspended from the ceiling and installed in hand-crafted wooden frames. As I and O moved through the virtual mine, they encrypted and decrypted language from original and archival sources while composing through a database of 30,000 telegraph codes used by the mining industry in the 19th and early 20th century.

From the data-void, a gap in the (point) cloud at the center of the system, emerged a raining LAMENT that

sounds the material substrate of modern network culture, spotlighting labor struggles composing the transnational circuitry of copper—

conductive motherlode of electricity and communications technologies—

making the data that we breathe apprehensible via encrypted message mined and struck from the historical record

by way of pneumatic drill—

as code, blast and particulate aftermath

of a cabled earth’s wireless imagination

*Telegraph codes extracted from The New General & Mining Telegraph Code (1891):

SHUDDERING: Copper wire

LAMENT: The mine has been opened up well

SMOKEPENNY: During last year

LYRICHORD: By constant penetration

HEAVENBRED: Encroaching on the reserve