The mobility of carbon

A collaborative performance following the mobility of carbon from coal and forest to fire and power.

This paper explores a proposal by renowned environmental philosopher Val Plumwood in her article Shadow Places and the politics of dwelling [1]. The article’s invitation to reflect on ‘belonging’ and ‘dematerialisation’ is taken up through the study of place shaped by fire, trauma and historical shadows. The collaboration brings together research from within the fields of ecology and contemporary art, in an interdisciplinary performance, which blends spoken word and projected images.

The mobility of carbon – from coal and forests, to fire and power – is traced through the 2014 fire disaster of Hazelwood Mine. Excavating beneath the usual first person narratives of trauma and survival – and the institutional interests in resilience and community engagement – this work not only exposes the underlying structures of colonial history and industrial legacy but also the political agency of matter.

Here mobility does not only originate in the body of the individual as performer, but rather lies within the material transformation of carbon through the elemental force of fire. The vital impact of carbon’s material metamorphosis exerts its influence on people, necessitating their performance of critical actions, speech and movements. Departing from a site-specific context of peri-urban Victoria, the author dialogically interrogates Plumwood’s analysis of environmental mal-adaption and false consciousness of place, to invite critical reflection of both regional and global relevance. Focusing on the mobility of carbon and the performativity of ‘carbon cultures’, the orator’s dialogue will expose the increasing ecological impact of human beings’ commodified relationships to nature and place, but also makes a critical contribution to debates concerning anthropocentristic definitions of performance and mobilities.


[1] Val Plumwood, “Shadow Places and the Politics of Dwelling,” no. 44, March 2008.

  • Hartmut Veit, 'Diffraction' (close-up detail of coaldust on floor), 2014

  • Hartmut Veit, 'Untitled (sweeping footprints in pop-up shop_156), 2014

  • Hartmut Veit, 'Untitled (sweeping up coal in pop-up shop_178), 2014