Arabel Lebrusan | Madrid, Spain

My name is Arabel Lebrusan, and I’m a visual artist working in sculpture. Focusing on transforming materials into physical metaphors – such as mercury used in small-scale gold mining into a child’s tinny hand – I seek to amplify the voices of the people and the land falling through the cracks of the system.

I'm a current research fellow at the Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics at the University of Brighton, where I’m investigating extractive industries – like copper mining – ecofeminism and ecological grief. With the project title Toxic Waves, I’m exploring the question of whether artmaking, through thinking while moving, touching or drawing, can instinctively activate our empathy.

Toxic Waves

Toxic Waves I is an online participatory drawing performance that took place in September 2021 at Brighton CCA. Participants were invited to draw waves on large pieces of paper in their own homes, using just pencils and the movement of their bodies. To create a hypnotic rhythm while drawing during those 10 minutes, I used the sound of a musical metronome with 272 beats. These beats represented the 272 lost lives, including the one of mother and her unborn child, at a copper mine disaster in Brumadinho, Brazil, in January 2019.

These waves evoke the movement of the earth when the dam’s mine collapsed, creating a huge wave of 12 million cubic metres of tailings that went downhill travelling at 120 km/h in the pristine natural area of Minas Gerais. It took everything with it: the forest, the mine’s loading station, its administrative area and the cafeteria where many workers were having their lunch. 272 lives in total were lost.

The performance is part of my research project investigating extractive industries like mining and ecofeminism. In it, I’m using drawing and sculpture to explore the question of whether art-making, through thinking while drawing, modelling or moving, can activate our empathy about events happening miles away from us. Can it urge us to act?

One of the most surprising outcomes from the performance was the idea of collective grieving. The space it created allowed for participants not only to grasp the scale of the disaster and experience it deeply within their bodies, but also to grieve, together, online.

Something that started from my own personal need to digest the injustices of this brutal world we live in, to process humanity’s tragic histories of abuse, exploitation and inequality, found its place in academia at the University of Brighton. Research like this, that includes other ways of thinking – like art processes, embodied thinking or grieving – helps expand the toolbox for how we address justice, and ultimately shift cultural consciousness.