2 March 2022

“A ‘sunny’ day in Room 4 at Delfina Foundation. Having come from Quito (a city at an altitude of 2,850m) in early January, London’s temperature has been far milder than I expected. My room is dotted with the research materials I brought with me, including books, old advertisements and paraphernalia relating to rubber – a substance whose exploitation has been the focus of my recent work.”

“Three shapes of matter. Resting on my nightstand here is a fragment of raw obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass formed around the Mullumica river in northern Ecuador, a major archaeological source of this material, and which was used by early human settlements in the area. Beside it are two other artefacts: a replica of an obsidian mirror and a small egg shaped stone, all originating from the same source. These are a daily reminder of the so-called “original extractivism” narratives.”

“On June 15, 1876, more than 70,000 seeds of Pará Rubber Tree (Hevea brasiliensis) arrived at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London. Declared at that time as “academic specimens”, this displacement of seeds constitutes one of the earliest instances of large-scale biopiracy in history. After visiting Kew for the first time shortly after my residency began, I revisited my collection of rare books, graphic novels, rubber samples, catalogues, and the old propaganda produced to promote the extraction of natural rubber. There is something extremely ironic and perverse in these graphic materials that always fascinates me. For example, the back cover of an amazing 14 page 1940s brochure which I found reads: ‘Natural Rubber: Nature and Science Serving Mankind.’”

“Vulcanised map. A vulcanised (hardened) natural rubber bar holds up an old map designed by the Natural Rubber Bureau, which shows the rubber producing areas and shipments around the world in 1958. This research was conducted by the US Department of Commerce, which made promotional material that disseminated the idea of expansion and progress of “successful” businesses after the introduction of synthetic rubber.”

Adrián Balseca (Ecuador) is an artist-in-residence during Delfina Foundation’s winter 2022 season. His residency is supported by EACHEVE and Artus Ecuador.

Photos artist’s own.