Martín Fonck (München)

"Thermal Water Imaginations"

Aesthetical and Political Capacity of Water in El Tatio Geyser Field in the Atacama Desert

This presentation focuses on thermal water imagination in geothermal explorations in the Andes. Specifically, based on ethnographic and historical analysis of the geyser field site El Tatio in the Atacama Desert. This work is an invitation to follow imagination about – and with – the water's visual presence and its thermal characteristics, such as temperature and pressure. Although there has been a general lack of interest in the aerial or atmospheric phenomena in social science and humanities, probably because the visual predominance on solid elements and materials, this case shows the active role of water and their thermal flows in scientific and political imaginations. El Tatio geyser field had produced future imaginations and energy projects since the beginning of the XX century by Italian and German engineers and geologist. Geothermal energy futures and energy policies have been dreamed, negotiated and made by taking measures and installing exploratory infrastructures. On the other hand, these futures have been abandoned in different time periods. During the las decades under discourses of climate change and global interest for renewal energy sources the interest in geothermal has been reactivated in this place. Nevertheless, this has faced strong resistance to energy projects by local communities and environmental organization – among other reasons – because of visual and media impact of steam explosions and the effects on underground water ecologies and geysers. Also, these tensions are emplaced in a context of socio- environmental controversies regarding water dispossession by mining companies. This work focuses on the aesthetical and political capacity of water to contest and transform the energy future of this place.