THE ABSOLUTE RESTORATION OF ALL THINGS, 2016-2022
In the middle of the vast Sonoran desert in the northwest of Mexico, a sculpture sits within the deep pit of a decommissioned gold mine. Made on-site with soil from the pit, the sculpture is shaped as a perfect cube. Beside it sits a silver plaque that reads:
Between 2010 and 2013, the Penmont Mining company illegally extracted 236,709 ounces of gold, according to its own reports. To do this, they blew up and moved 10,833,527 tons of stone.
The decision of the Unitary Agrarian Court of the 28th District, issued on December 8th, 2014, obliges Penmont to return the extracted gold, which would take the shape of a 70 x 70 x 70 centimeter cube and would have a value of 436 million dollars.
— Ejido El Bajío
The contrast in scales between the small volume of the sculpture in relation to the massive open pit clearly showcases the environmental damage caused by the mining industry. This sculpture and its accompanying plaque function as an anti-monument to the site’s dispossession. They are part of the exhibition The Absolute Restoration of All Things by artist Miguel Fernández de Castro and anthropologist Natalia Mendoza at Storefront for Art and Architecture.
For the last five years, Fernández de Castro and Mendoza—who are based in the Sonoran Desert—have been researching the 2014 court case that shut down Penmont’s mining operations. The lawsuit was brought to court by the “ejidatarios” (communal land holders) of the mining site, who claimed that their territory was illegally occupied and exploited, causing an irrevocable environmental impact on their land. In addition to the return of the extracted gold, the court ruled that Penmont Mining is “obliged to fully restore the ecosystem that prevailed in this place, with its hills, mountains, waters, air, flora, and fauna that existed before.” Not only has Penmont Mining not complied with the court ruling, but the ejidatarios continue to suffer from arbitrary imprisonment, harassment, and forced disappearance in a context of intertwined state and criminal violence.
The Absolute Restoration of All Things departs from the impossibility of this historic legal verdict to explore the issue of land rights and the limits of the legal language that protects it.
The exhibition at Storefront presents newly commissioned works by Fernández de Castro and Mendoza that unpack the court case, including a film, diagrams, a photo mural, and objects from the mine. The formwork used to create the rammed earth sculpture inside the open pit is also included, allowing the viewer to grasp the scale and connect the two sites. Together, these works present a panoramic picture of the expansive devastation caused by the mining industry, alongside the unattainable legal verdict that aims to restore this particular part of the Sonoran Desert.