The Crystal World Open Laboratory
CTM at the Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien
30 January through 5 February, 2012
CTM.12 (Transmediale) opened with the usual hullaballo on a sub-zero Friday in January. The ever popular festival scored a hit with two simultaneous exhibitions, Spectral and Ghosts off The Shelf at the Kunstraum Kreuzberg, as well as satellite art events across the city.
Running concurrently, as part of the festival at the Kunstraum, Martin Howse, Jonathan Kemp, Ryan Jordan and Ralf Baecker presented, The Crystal World Open Laboratory, with Baecker showing his installation, Irrational Computing.
Of the various projects at the Kunstraum, The Crystal World and Irrational Computing felt the most urgent. A large conference table and a blackboard with the project’s itinerary dominated the first space, as well as the only clue that this was not some backroom area, a quote from Ballard on the wall.
“The absolute silence of the vegetation along the banks and the deep prismatic glow almost convinced him that the entire earth had been transformed and that any progress through this crystal world had become pointless.”
An ongoing investigation into various properties and possibilities of the crystal, The Lab consisted of a number of rooms matter-of-factly fitted out with scientific equipment. The team behind the project had issued an open call for participants who would undertake the recovery of rare and precious metals (at their own risk) from a variety of electronic junk.
In a further room Baecker’s irrational computers were more illustrative than functional but the beautifully lit, intricate glass and electronic models that chirruped away to each other in a darkened room managed to be spectacular and yet dodge the potential bullets of Star Trek utopianism and nerd-porn.
The team behind The Crystal World Open Laboratory were keen to present their enquiries within a socio-political context that made it clear that across the world these recoveries are being undertaken for economic motives and often at great risk.
The question of the of Rare Earth metals in Electronics was addressed in the U.S by the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2011, which sought to “prohibit the exportation of some electronics whose improper disposal may create environmental, health, or national security risks” as well as create “a research program at the Department of Energy, to help assess the recycling and recovery of Rare Earth metals from electronics.”
On the 5th of February the team made a public presentation of their “explorations in earth computing, mineral precipitation, high heat synthetic geology and inductive crystallography, DIY semi-conductor fabrication, water crystal cryptography, anthropocenic fossilizations, kirlian photography (and) hi-voltage fulgurite construction.”
The audience maintained a respectful distance as sulfuric acid and high voltages were deployed in their demonstrations. In an introductory speech we were informed that IBM had identified no less than 105 elements from the periodic table that were present in the average laptop and yet little specific research existed regarding their recovery.
The insights provided by The Crystal World Open Laboratory were reminiscent of Thomas Thwaites, Toaster Project (2009-2011), in which the designer built a toaster from scratch, beginning by mining the raw materials. Projects such as these serve to deconstruct our increasingly complicated relationship with technology, which we so often take for granted.
With the issue of the recycling of electronic waste moving up the political and economic agenda it seems timely that a “home-brew” and “open source” perspective is brought to bear, and that perhaps an alchemy for the 21st century might emerge from these forms of independent research.