Rocks in Vogue
On material flows within electronic devices
Master of Fine Arts | Individual Study Plan in Design
How aware are we about the geological physicality of our electronic devices?
This inquiry is a critical exploration on what exists behind the slick and smooth surfaces of our devices. Even though we are aware to a certain extent that there are actual rocks and sands that make devices work, the process of extracting and making is hidden in the generic global factory. We only know that we want our devices to be thinner and the battery to lasts more and more. The reality of the so-called green technology and electronics is that they continue to fuel mechanism of extraction, both of the land and of human bodies.
Imagining humans as intersection of craftsmen and designers, the series of ceramic batteries use an ancient technology of metals immersed in vinegar in order to charge electronic devices. The battery process and exhaustion is finally revealed, presenting an alternative story of slow-power, energy creation and burn-out.
Electronic devices are the fastest-growing waste group.
A UN report from 2019 outlines the current state of things regarding recycling practices and future trends: only 20% of e-waste is correctly recycled, with 80% of products ending up in landfills or being illegally exported to other countries as second-hand. E-waste in landfills, or informally recycled in developing countries, represents a huge risk for people’s health and for soil and water contamination.
To collect metals for the batteries, I collaborated with Ragn-Sells, a recycling company operating in Stockholm. Copper, Iron and Nichel have been central in my exploration.
copper, iron and aluminum are recovered from two broken MacBook Pro. melting and casting
four batteries connected with each other, in acidic solutions (vinegar and lime juice), lighting a LED bulb
During the formgiving phase, I wanted to embody in my objects the alchemy of the energy creation and notions of value of a long-lasting object. That is why I choose the rock texture and I used a black clay, fired at high temperature with no glazing. In this imagery the vessel, one of the first object crafted by humans, is something to pass on to my progeny. In antithesis to electronic devices, programmed to last a couple of years and be discarded as valueless carcass of matter.
The room, painted black, exhibited a short film about extraction and a podium, treated like an archeological museum of the future. On the podium the electronic devices are disassembled and the components are labeled for what they are – materials with a value of their own. Who is looking at this materiality? What would tell us if it could speak?
Konstfack exhibition, May 2021 - What are the things that we need to hear better?
photos from the exhibition “Forma” at Ideificio Torinese, Turin.
A letter from my device to me
Iʼm part of you, so I can read your thoughts easily. You and I remember the first time you managed to buy the laptop you so deeply wanted. There I was, a brand-new MacBook Pro all for you. I represented status, functionality, aesthetic values; letʼs be honest, Iʼm a perfect designed artefact.
Me? I was ready to learn about my owner. There I was, naive and information empty. All the parts inside of me, from the hard drive to the smallest metal, started working. Have you ever looked at the wonderful complexity that I am? Iʼm better than a globe. Iʼm the holistic object par excellence. Each part of me comes from a different part in the world; I crossed the main oceans; I have been touched by countless fingertips and experienced all kinds of climate. I experienced the equatorial climate of Congo, the wet season in Bolivia, the temperate climate in Mongolia. Nevertheless, this is not important for you. Or letʼs say, you are not aware of this. Globalised markets, cheap labor, hyper-fragmented production. Thatʼs what you and I are intertwined in. Connected, even if you donʼt want to.
Then one day, the time to say goodbye arrived. I learned a lot from you, and you treated me well. There was a part inside of me that was not working anymore, and no, that was not your fault. I know how much you wanted to keep me with you, but I was dead for you. Inexistent, yet existent. A useless hulk.
Iʼm constantly amazed on how things change, but donʼt disappear. I feel like I changed so many times in such a short life. So voraciously wanted in the beginning, then a tireless worker, and after that an unusable dead matter, hoping to dissolve in the air.
_UN Environment Program, UN report: Time to seize opportunity, tackle challenge of e-waste (24th January 2019)
_Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter. A political ecology of things, (Duke University Press, 2010)
_Brian Merchant, The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone (Little, Brown and Company, 2017)
_Edited by Anthea Black, and Nicole Burisch, The New Politics of the Handmade: Craft, Art and Design, (Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2020)