It has been estimated by the UN Environment Programme that developed countries produce around 50 million tons of digital waste every year. Only about 25% of that is effectively recycled. The rest of this waste typically gets shipped out to developing countries, under the guise of “reducing the digital divide”.
The conditions in these wastelands are the topic of Pieter Hugo’s latest solo exhibition at Brodie Stevenson’s new gallery space in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Permanent Error, which will be on show from 4 November to 15 December 2010, is a collection of photographs of the people and landscape of an expansive dump of obsolete technology in Ghana.
The area that Hugo photographed is on the outskirts of a slum known as Agbogbloshie. Called “Sodom and Gomorrah” by the local inhabitants as a way of highlighting the intense inhumanity of the place, these people survive by burning the electronic devices to extract copper and other metals used in the manufacturing process. The rest of the waste is left to contaminate the rivers and lagoons.
With Permanent Error Hugo challenges notions of time and progress by presenting the other side of technological advancement. There is also a tension that exists in Hugo’s work: Partly fast-forwarding to an apocalyptic end of the world while also recalling a pastoral existence with strolling cows.