The research of the mysteries that commodities hide, the frontier between subject and object, and the distribution of agency between them, holds an important position in current art theory and practice.
Many artistic projects have explored the way cinematic means would show that which is made (in)visible in industrial production processes.
Gravesend (2007) is a seventeen-minute-long 35 mm film by Steve McQueen. It captures the production process of the coltan-made components present in every cell phone. The film takes ellipsis to the extreme. Images of the coltan extraction process in the Congo are mixed with those of its robotic processing. In between are close-shots of the Congo River and long shots of the River Thames in London.
The same year, Iñaki Garmendia produced S. T. Orbea (Orduña), a single-channel forty-two-minute-long video that pans along the details of a green Orbea bicycle. The video is an extreme exploration of the form of a product where movement holds all narrative value and details become extremely important.
Monument of Sugar is a silent sixty-seven-minute-long 16 mm film by Lonnie van Brummelen and Siebren de Haan, also from 2007. In an attempt to understand the logic behind the commercial exchange of sugar between Europe and Africa, they travelled to Nigeria to buy cheap sugar, a European surplus they intended to export back to the Netherlands. To avoid commercial regulations, they built cube-shaped sculptures of sugar. Both the film and the sugar blocks compose the project’s final outcome. In the film, long text captions provide elaborate explanations that allow an understanding of the images that goes beyond the images themselves.