Gold Rush (2016 - 18)

Keywords: domestic mining, e-waste, jewellery

[…] Originally, the word gold rush was used about the period characterised by a feverish influx of people to areas were veins of gold had been found. The driving force was the dream of making the big find that would make one rich overnight. Today we also use the word gold rush in a more metaphorical way about new, lucrative markets that many people want to invest in. These have often come into being as a result of technical innovations. A quick google search reveals that it can range from oil extraction to wind power and modern electronics.


In their work on the Gold Rush series, the jewellery artists Beatrice Brovia and Nicolas Cheng have taken electronic apparatus as their point of departure. Not mainly because the producers of such apparatus have occasionally caused gold rush conditions on the stock market, but because mobile phones, computers, cables and contacts – and many other forms of electronics – actually contain gold and other precious metals. There are, for example, roughly 50mg of gold in an ordinary mobile phone. Gold is heavily in demand in industry solely because of the properties this metal possesses. Gold strongly resists corrosion and most other chemical reactions, and it is unsurpassed when it comes to resisting heat.


If one takes the vast overconsumption of telephones and other electronics that exists today, this means large amounts of precious metal are gradually piling up on the scrapheap. If one wants to go hunting for gold nowadays, one ought to set off for the landfills in search of this type of refuse. Occasionally Brovia and Cheng have been using industrial waste in the form of pulverised computer screens and CPU boards as well as gold and silver, and they have brought in expertise and refuse from big scale companies dealing with e-waste processing. One major consumer of gold is in fact the space industry. Gold-plated mylar used to shield satellites and spaceships is also part of the refuse collected by them. However a lot of their e-waste material comes from friends and acquaintances. ‘Domestic Mining’ is what they call their method, and it represents an attitude towards resources that extends far beyond their own project.

The position consumption has in large parts of the world today constitutes a threat to the environment and, in the long term, to our own survival. By using domestic mining, Cheng and Brovia draw attention to these problems because their materials refer to typical consumption commodities and to the amount of waste this results in. At the same time, their choice of materials shows that this household waste can be transformed into a resource. The Gold Rush project, for example, can be seen as a possible scenario for the future: to an increasing extent we can expect to see domestic mining being used to find materials for art and design projects.


In the choice of e-waste as raw material there lie both an ethical and a political perspective. Many jewellery artists have steered clear of working with gold because until now it has been difficult to know where the gold came from and under what environmental and working conditions it has been mined. Brovia and Cheng share this view, and with the Gold Rush project they present us with a use of gold and other precious metals based on re-using resources. At the same time this represents a transformation from goods with a short life-span to treasures of lasting value. Even though art itself is a commodity, the new status as art gives the pieces an aura of something elevated and valuable. The material transformation is visible in the jewellery by exposing parts that has been previously invisible. From having been concealed in contrivances and been motivated by a technical function, their conversion means that the electronics is brought out into the open. Used as pendants or brooches these parts can be seen as purely decorative patterns. But they are also something more: With their clear references to the original use, these pieces of jewellery also invite us to enter into a dialogue about our use of electronics and the refuse that results from it.


It is also obvious that Gold Rush invites a discussion of what functions jewellery can have in present-day society. For what is a piece of jewellery actually? Inextricably bound up as many people are today with mobiles, loudspeakers and other forms of electronics that they either have hanging on them or carry around with them, it can be difficult to draw distinct lines between accessories and apparatus, decorative object and utility object. As with jewellery, these have become objects that signal something about who we are, our tastes and values, style and status. By linking together electronics and jewellery, Brovia and Cheng also invite such subjects to be taken up for discussion. […]

Excerpt from Gold Rush exhibition catalogue, introduction text by Jorunn Veiteberg.