Compulsive Desires

On the Entangled Realities of Lithium Extraction and the Limitless Quest for Energy


  • Marina Otero Verzier Columbia University



In this essay I analyse how energy dreams and epistemologies, constructed on cravings for productivity and profit, connect the spaces that epitomise the ‘Cartesian enclosure’ with the technologies and spaces of everyday life. I examine how destructive habits of extracting, procuring and consuming energy follow predictions that assume the inevitability of growth. Estimates that, even in the face of climate catastrophe, render the need for more energy inevitable and rely on finding new fixes rather than embracing other forms of living. Focusing on the case of lithium extraction in Atacama, I address the struggles sustained by indigenous communities for their lives, sovereignty and rights. Battles that emphasise how, in what has been described as ‘green colonialism’, the development of the ‘green energy futures’ too often is to the detriment of indigenous peoples.

Author Biography

Marina Otero Verzier, Columbia University

Dr. Marina Otero Verzier is an architect and researcher. She is Dean’s Visiting Assistant Professor at Columbia University’s GSAPP in in New York. In 2022 she received the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Wheelwright Prize for a project on the future of data storage. From 2020–23 she was the Head of the Social Design Masters at Design Academy Eindhoven, and from 2015–22, the Director of Research at Het Nieuwe Instituut, where she led initiatives focused on labour, extraction and mental health. Previously, Otero was Director of Global Network Programming at Studio-X, Columbia University. Otero was a co-curator at the Shanghai Art Biennial 2021, curator of the Dutch Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2018 and chief curator of the 2016 Oslo Architecture Triennale. She co-edited Automated Landscapes (2023), Lithium: States of Exhaustion (2021), More-than-Human (2020), Architecture of Appropriation (2019), Work, Body, Leisure (2018) and After Belonging (2016), among others.


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