Mobile phones transformed into new artwork

5th March 2012

A project that called for members of the public to recycle their mobile phones so their complex components could be turned into stunning jewellery has unveiled its first pieces in an installation now on public display at Sheffield's Millennium Gallery.

What's In My Stuff, a collaborative project between Sheffield Hallam University artists and scientists as part of the Engineering for Life programme shows the artistic and creative potential hidden within smart phones and unseen by consumers, despite more than 1.6bn being produced worldwide in the past year. The project raises awareness about the chemical elements that make up the objects we own and use and asks 'Why do we discard things that are so rare and precious?' The project explores issues around sustainability, recycling and growing concerns about the scarcity and ethical sourcing of the minerals and materials that we take for granted, but are vital for the technology we use every day. Artist Maria Hanson, a reader in metalwork and jewellery, has created two necklaces from phones which were collected as part of a field labheld at Sheffield Hallam last year. Maria has designed a further 25 rings inspired by the different elements that make up smart phones. It includes a ring fashioned from a banana chip to represent potassium and a home-grown garlic bulb to represent sulphur - both found in mobile phones. A third piece shows that the 56 tonnes of gold used in the mobile phones produced in a year, when represented as a 1mm thick gold wire, stretches from Sheffield to Cairo in Egypt. Maria said that the project, funded by the University's Engineering for Life programme, had been one of the most inspiring she'd worked on in her 20-year career. She said: Mobile phones are made up of around 40 components but the likelihood is that they won't have even been touched by a human hand until the launch of What's In My Stuff. The necklaces have been almost entirely created by pieces from inside a mobile phone, while the rings represent the individual chemical elements used in their manufacture. These materials often have wonderful characteristics and examining them this way has forced me to look at how I recycle my old technology. There are huge opportunities to create artwork from things that often lie dormant in a drawer. Dr Hywel Jones, one of two Sheffield Hallam scientists involved in the project explains that around 90 million phones are thought to be lying unused in drawers in the UK - a figure that is rising by around 4m a year. He said: When we upgrade our smart phones we are reluctant to throw them away or recycle them and the world is collectively wasting an opportunity to really look at what is in their technology and how it can be re-used. The project has also looked at how these elements are sourced - some are expensive to mine and others are not in limitless supply so we need to discover how we can meet the soaring demand for new technologies. We know so little about what is actually in our stuff. There are no ingredients printed on the packaging and this project enables us to form a bond with our technology that focuses on its physicality rather than its functionality. Dr Jones has already presented the findings from What's In My Stuff to the Royal Society of Chemistry, the British embassy in Berlin and is due to speak to the French Embassy in a debate on critical metals. What's On My Stuff is on display at the Millennium Gallery until March 29. There will also be a free illustrated talk as part of National Science and Engineering Week by Dr Karen Vernon-Parry, one of the project leaders, in the Peak Lecture Theatre at Sheffield Hallam on Saturday 10 March, starting at 6pm. To reserve a place, contact Judith Higginson on 0114 2254870 or email science-week@shu.ac.uk. The exhibition will later form part of the Engineering For Life conference and exhibition that takes place from June 9 to 14 celebrating cross-disciplinary research led by the University over the past four years.

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