WWhat if you reverse engineer the raw materials of everyday items like an iPhone, Starbucks cup, or bicycle? Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta from the Dutch art collective Studio drift tried to find out by stripping the elements and representing them proportionally in cubes and prisms.
Title Materialism, their exhibition at New York’s event space The Shed asks viewers to put aside culturally constructed ideas of various chemicals and view objects with a renewed sense of wonder.
Materialism is presented in another show, Fragile future, who is also enamored of the material world, finding a certain grace in huge concrete blocks.
Fragile Future’s five van-sized concrete blocks (“Drifters”) appear to float in the air, spinning and performing choreographic feats that begin in free form before tracing specific shapes around the viewer. It is set to music by Anohni, an artist long concerned with questions of human ecology.
Nauta describes the Materialism pieces as âdeconstructions of everyday objects that we find interestingâ. By inspiring us to remember that iPhones contain things like nickel that are environmentally destructive for mining – as well as traces of cobalt and tungsten, which have been linked to conflict mining – Studio Drift wants us to realize the connections between consumer goods and the companies that create them. In a less historic global sense, the phones themselves have changed a lot.
Compare the components of a iphone 4s with those which are now obsolete Nokia 3210, Nauta sees that the change has been enormous in just 20 years. The main component of the Nokia is the circuitry of a real phone, whereas with iPhones the biggest piece is specially developed glass.
âAt first the function was more important,â Nauta says of early phones. âThe screen was minimal. The connection was more important, but now it’s the visual connection. There are a lot of details: cobalt, mercury, nickel, which comes from certain mines. We’re digging into that for our next project, adding an augmented layer where you can actually dive into the object and learn more about the materials.
Apple complaints for phasing out mercury from its products in 2009, but in the materialism collapse of a Nokia – a company that once attempted to make a tablet called Mercury – a spongy, kelly green prism jumps out of most transparencies or grayscale.
Against this background, it looks strange, almost radioactive.
The scariest piece in the series could be the the Internet, a single dark gray block. It’s silicon, says Nauta. Using the age-old principle of E = MC2, he calculated the weight of all the electrons that cross the Internet on a specific date in 2020. The total? About 60 kg, compared to 25 grams not so long ago.
Many of these prisms are representations of materials, not the materials themselves. This owes less to toxicity than to the punctilious properties of certain materials at room temperature, or to their cost.
Nauta says the displayed ratios are more important. Take the Big Mac menu, for example.
âWe kept it recognizable,â he says. âWe could have gone to the molecular level, but with that we figured you can still point out the fries, sugar, salt, saturated fat, pickle, straw. It’s interesting, because people recognize it and get all the blocks correctly. So we have a logic in our minds that sees this burger and understands the block size that should be for the pickle, which I find fascinating.
Like the human body itself, the Starbucks Cup is mainly water. Nauta says when he pays $ 5 for a cup of tea he feels like someone has fucked him, but when he has coffee with milk he feels like it’s worth it . (âBut that’s the same amount of water you buy!â He says.)
When deconstructed, it poses all kinds of questions about the arbitrariness of the human economy, from the whims of the human palate to the fact that the global coffee industry appears to be far more concerned with issues of fair labor practices than tea. The more an item is processed, the more difficult it becomes for our mind to process.
Geopolitics appears in several pieces, namely the M16 and the AK-47. The AK-47, one of the best-known Soviet exports, has become a totem pole of right-wing American ideas about freedom – it’s kind of a cold war narrative in miniature.
This humble Kalashnikov, says Nauta, is a $ 500 tool with bullets made of steel. In contrast, the M16 is practically a luxury item.
“The AK is made of wood, but in the United States, it is this high quality polymer that is specially developed for the M16 that makes these guns tens of thousands of dollars, and the bullets are nickel,” says -he. “These different war machines, why do they work in a certain way?
Then there is the Bike, as much a symbol of the Netherlands as the tulip. Unlike the smartphone, this is something most people can take apart and repair in their garage. And yet, even analog technology can, reduced to its essence, renew a sense of wonder.
âWhen it rains here, or it’s -15C here, everyone is still on their bikes,â Nauta explains. âEveryone knows how to fix their tire or put a chain back on their bike. In Amsterdam, you spend three a year, and it becomes that mechanical part that is part of your life. Yet all of this stuff that you collect is impossible to deal with. We live in a very strange world.