“After the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, this is the age of Rare Earth” – Boris Ondreička and Nadim Samman
This new work explores the so-called “rare earth” elements of the periodic table, a group of often overlooked metals, that unbeknownst to most of us, have empowered many aspects of the modern technological revolution, from precision-guided weapons, GPS-systems, electric cars, Lasers, X-ray machines and modern consumer electronics. For example, Neodymium is used in the magnets that make speakers vibrate to create sound, and Europium and Terbium, are phosphors that provide brilliant red and green colours on mobile phone screens.
The rare earth elements are a group of seventeen metallic elements that occur together in the periodic table. Rare earth elements are not as “rare” as their name implies but these metals are very difficult to mine because it is unusual to find them in concentrations high enough for economical extraction.During the past twenty years though, there has been an explosion in demand for rare earth metals as the market for mobile phones, computers, electronic cameras and tablets has grown.
When the natural minerals containing the rare earth metals have been mined, the metals themselves are extracted from them, for use in industry and technology, by acid baking with sulphuric acid. In this work here, I have used this same acid baking process to extract and to reclaim rare earth metals from an iPad, and to return them ,once more, to their more natural mineral form. The process obviously destroys the iPad, and thus an object of technological desire, but at a more fundamental level away from the relentless demands of consumerism, matter is neither created or destroyed, but simply transformed. The work thus echoes the Law of Conservation of Mass and illustrates Antoine Lavoisier’s famous dictum: “Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.”