Locarno review: The Currency – Sensing #1 Agbogbloshie (2023)

Locarno Film Festival
Pardi di Domani International Competition

©xizhuang, VG Bildkunst, 2023

There is an eerie silence, as the opening minutes of The Currency – Sensing #1 Agbogbloshie unfold with a herd of cows on a dumpster wasteland lethargically staring into the void, the white fog creeping up from beyond almost swallowing them. A dirty puddle, which likely once was an invigorating river, bubbles in the background. It seems as if someone had forgotten to turn up the volume.

But this impression slowly but surely makes space for a tonal shift not only in style but literally in acoustics. There is a crescendo of noises, sounds, music, of singing, culminating in the genesis of an atonal, experimental symphony, which falls like a hefty soundscape over the setting.

A man in traditional garb and headphones is navigating this grey-in-grey dump, passing the cows, the flocks of birds circling over the scene, and the humans picking through the e-waste. There are cell phone cases, gaming consoles, remote controls, and music players plastering the ground before his feet, with the occasional rebellious patch of green grass pushing past the array of plastic. He is Elom 20ce, a musician and filmmaker based in Togo. The place of his inquiry is one of the world’s largest e-waste recycling sites in Agbogbloshie, Accra/Ghana.

Elom 20ce, whose art explores questions of the past, the present and the future, first met fellow directors Musquiqui Chihying of Taiwan and Gregor Kasper of Germany in 2019 during a research trip. Over the next year, the three started their long-term multimedia artistic research project THE CURRENCY, which aims to “explore the possibilities of currencies to question capitalist logics, exploitation as well as power structures in order to re-explore the relationships between humans and their interactions with the non-human world.” The Currency – Sensing #1 Agbogbloshie, which premiered at the Locarno Film Festival 2023, is one of many planned outputs. It aims at tracing global cycles of raw materials and electronic devices.

Rather than just rolling with the run-of-the-mill visual shocker material of a garbage wasteland piling up as far as the eye can see, the directors opt for a visual and acoustic installation and the aforesaid performance by Elom 20ce, as he picks through the trash, traces half-built walls, or overlooks the scene from a nearby elevation. The plastic and electronic waste, the cupboards, wooden planks, helmets, bags and even window frames are not just an object to visually behold. They become a body of resonance, a voice, an acoustic cue. There might be black smoke rising through the picture, and run-down houses taking shape at the periphery of the dumpster. But they are not what transcends the screen.

Elom 20ce, Chihying and Kasper may have created a visual documentary observation. But their short film is also an experimental musical score, fuelled by the electromagnetic waves of electronic waste. Capturing these waves with a device called “Soma Ether”, and by repeating the sounds with his own voice as well as adding experimental, often atonal scores played by trumpet, guitar, bass and piano, Elom 20ce makes his barren surrounding come to life. It is not the humans collecting the trash, an empty currency filled with one last life cycle at the nearby market. It is not the cows and the birds. It is the e-waste that takes centre stage, lifting the veil on a type of physical presence usually obscured.

This soundscape transcends what would have otherwise been an often-seen series of gloomy shots. A stigma on this planet, a fingerprint of human devastation left behind like at a scene of crime. There is something spiritual, as Elom 20ce hums along to the melodies created by the devices. Yet, they do not seem like praise, the often repeated tune to which society as a whole laurates technological advancement. It rather seems disjointed. A man in search of meaning, but lost in a temple of futuristic doom.

©xizhuang, VG Bildkunst, 2023

Countries: Germany / Taiwan / Togo
Year: 2023
Runtime: 17′
Written and directed by: Elom 20CE, Musquiqui Chihying, Gregor Kasper
Music & performance by: ELOM 20Ce
Produced by: Gregor Kasper
Co-produced by: Patrick Atakpa Ayele Yawou
Camera: Gregor Kasper
Additional camera: Musquiqui Chihying, Patrick Atakpa Ayele Yawou
Editing: Gregor Kasper
Colour grading: Sergi Sanchez Rodriguez
Sound design: Sum-Sum Shen, Ilya Selikhov
Mixing: Ilya Selikhov
Musicians: David Agbolo, Koudjo Avouvi, Elom 20CE, Gabebo Olufade, Denis Tagbo