Rare earth metals are the fundamental materials that enable the featherweight, slim, and seamless aesthetics of our contemporary technologies. As our personal electronics tend toward the invisible, they conjure in their shadows an undeniably visible gray mountain, a one-kilometer deep pit, and a ten-kilometer radioactive tailings lake, a counterweight to the apparent immateriality of computing, communications, and electric energy.

Unknown Fields has used the toxic mud from this radioactive tailings lake in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, to craft a set of three ceramic vessels.

Each vase is sized in relation to the amount of waste created in the production of three items of technology—a smartphone, a featherweight laptop, and the cell of a smart-car battery. With a slightly shimmering burnish from the reaction of the mineral content during firing, the vessels are the material shadow of a valuable technological object.

The toxic waste dug from...

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