Tin is a friend, says Primo Levi in his Periodical Table. Because it melts at low temperature, almost like organic materials, that is ‘almost like us’. Moreover tin can scream (the weeping or crying of tin) and it can succumb to ‘tin pest’ (when it transforms into brittle grey matter). Perhaps it is also because of this ‘closeness to us’ that we find tin in Hans Christian Andersons “The Brave Tin Soldier” and in Frank Baums “tin man” in The Wizard of Oz; the tin soldier is hopelessly in love with a paper ballerina, and the tin man longs for a heart, so that he can really be human. In this compilation I follow tin, starting with its cry and transformation into grey tin, and also the tin soldiers, toys and robots play an important role. Tin is often found in alloys, with copper to form bronze, or pewter. Or with lead, in soldering, which is a main application of tin.
But I first move to tin mining that is mainly situated in Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, as well as Australia are main producers of Tin). Tin is also found in Bolivia, Nigeria and also in Cornwall (UK) tin mining has been big. Tin mining, as most mining sites, does not leave the environment untainted. The Bangka Islands in Indonesia, for instance, pay a huge price for tin mining. The islands produces currently 1/3 of the world supply of tin, much used in soldering for smartphones by companies like Apple and Samsung. Mining companies leave the land often barren, stagnant lakes of polluted water make the water undrinkable. And tin is also increasingly mined in the sea surrounding the islands, which has devastating effects on the corals and sea turtle population.
Besides it’s (hidden) use in our smartphones and other electronic devices that need to be connected, and the use of tin in fluoride tooth pastes (Crest, Oral B and Sensodyne, for instance, use tin in their products), perhaps the most common use of tin is in the canning of food (and beverages) that use a tin code. Since the invention of the tin can in the 19th century, and its industrialization in the 20th century, the tin can has become part of every house hold. Tin cans are typically tied at the back of a car of a ‘just married’ couple, when they depart on their honey moon.
Tin is also used as a cheap way of roofing. When one searches for tin roofs, however, the main source of reference are hours and hours of sound tracks of ‘rain on a tin roof’ – which has a calming, meditating and relaxing effect. And of course I had to refer to A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Tin is also used for musical instruments. The tin whistle, famously sounding in the title song of James cameron’s The Titanic title song “My heart can’t go on” did not end up in this compilation. The tin drum, however, does return both in the sound track and in an excerpt from Volker Schlondorff’s The Tin Drum (1979). And of course there is the music (or noise) made by tin plates, used as cymbals.
I was struck by the fact that tin often connotes to madness, the noise of the tin instruments signifying a traumatic experience, or in any case a confrontation with madness. In Suddenly Last Summer (Manciewicz) and A Streetcar Named Desire (Kazan) there are references to tin in relation to losing one’s mind. In the latter film, moreover, the Mexican tin flowers are associated with death (even though more colorful variations in Mexican folk art are used for many other occasions). In his more contemporary The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Eyes are not Two Brothers tin plates also feature prominently in relation to ‘loss of the self’. The other obvious reference to madness, is related to the cultural history of tin foil as a protector against electromagnetic radiation and other intrusions. While tin foil in your wallet apparently (and arguably) protects against contactless card fraud, the tin foil head is associated with paranoid conspiracy ideas. In popular culture there are many references to this aspect of tin: The X-Files, Signs, and Better Call Saul are television shows that refer to this phenomenon. In Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul, Saul’s electromagnetic sensitive brother, wraps himself in tin foil and withdraws from social life. Also on internet the references to tin hats are numerous, which I included in the film.
Finally, tin as an alchemical metal is connected to Jupiter. Jupiter, the largest planet of our solar system, is generally endowed with optimistic spirit (to counter the dark mood of its neighboring Saturn). It is recognized in esoteric traditions as the planet of the higher (more sensitive) mind. It also represents goodness and generosity. This video is part of a series of the alchemical metals in the series #metallurgy… metals…minds. Up next is Mercury, which will be followed by lead (I have been working backwards in this series).