Unknown Fields, ‘Rare Earthenware’, 2015, Nam June Paik Art Center
Unknown Fields, ‘Rare Earthenware’, 2015, Nam June Paik Art Center

Unknown Fields is a nomadic design research studio which ventures out on expeditions to retraces the origin of rare earth elements which are widely used in many high-end consumer electronics. The video documents their voyage from container ships and ports, wholesalers and factories, back to the banks of a lake in Inner Mongolia. Ceramicist Kevin Callaghan crafted three vases from the mud from this radioactive tailings lake. Each vase, inspired by Ming Dynasty porcelain, is sized in relation to the exact amount of toxic waste produced from the manufacture of three items—a smartphone, a featherweight laptop, and the cell of a smart-car battery. They are both the result of global materialism and a serious menace to us for their high level of radiation and toxicity.