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Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen H/AlCuTaAu

An object composed of multiple small bronze, grey, and white rock-like forms attached to each other. Even smaller rectangular metal bits are set in the cracks between them. Together, they form an irregularly shaped lump.

M+, Hong Kong, © Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen. Photo: M+, Hong Kong


What we’re seeing here—all of it, old computers and all—is an art installation. We’re going to focus in on the small, jagged looking rocky piece standing out from the installation, which is made from materials including gold, copper, and aluminium. The artists ‘mined’ these elements from the other devices, all salvaged from a bankrupt factory’s office. To get a different perspective on the piece, we talked to Hong Kong Geologist, Professor Chan Lung Sang, and asked him what he saw when faced with it.  


So, I look at the artwork from a very different angle: how much we use materials, how much we can recycle materials. When we look at something I like to see not just the final product, but think from the beginning, from the first second of production of that particular element, the mineral and how it evolved over various geologic time and going through geological processes until they were mined and then turn into a product is a very long process and history. And it's not something that we can easily duplicate in the factory. 

Now, when I look at those materials I don't think people realize that some of them like copper, you know, our known reserves about copper can only last for about thirty, forty years. And, just like some of the common metals, including for example tin and antimony etc., we have to count on finding new resources to sustain a continuous supply of those metals. 


As this piece of art proves, metal is found in pretty much every item or device you can think of these days. We wanted to know what the wider challenges for sustainability were when it came to metals in particular. 


We may, if we work hard enough, we may be able to achieve a sustainable energy development counting on renewable energy. We may be able to sustain food and fresh water supply, if we use them carefully. But for metallic resources, there's no way we can have a sustainable development, because our earth can never produce or replenish metallic resources faster than we use them. What we're doing is we are only borrowing from the future. You know, the more we use today, the less we are leaving for our grandchildren, great grandchildren, that's my idea, you know?


H/AlCuTaAu is an installation work created by Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen in 2014. The work consists of two parts: a man-made rock and a group of electronics. The rock is made of aluminium, copper, gold, tantalum, and crushed whetstone, measuring 6 centimetres high, 7 centimetres wide, and 12 centimetres deep. The assorted electronics include various components, apparatuses, and tools. The dimensions of the installation vary depending on how different parts of the work are set up in the display space.

The man-made rock is about the size of what can be held by cupped hands. It is a mass formed with metals and whetstone chunks of different sizes and shapes. Among them, the copper, aluminium, and white whetstone chunks are relatively larger, approximately 1 to 3 inches wide. The copper chunks look like unpolished stones, and the aluminium chunks appear to be welded clumps of small aluminium pieces. The whetstones have a coarse surface and some of the facets are made by clean cuts. The gaps between these metals and whetstone chunks are filled with small cubes of gold and tantalum which are gold, silver, or black in colour. Each cube is about the size of a pinkie fingernail.

The electronic components, apparatuses, and tools are sorted and laid out or stacked neatly. The items include: LCD computer monitors, power supply devices, motherboards and CPU, hard drives, a tangle of various cables and wires, copper coils, computer shells, floppy disk drives, DVD/ CD drives, wired keyboards, black mice with cables, video cards, RAM disks, Northbridge chips with heatsink, label-making machine, receipt machine, battery charger, electric drill without drill bit, Dremel tool for cutting and polishing, Tyrolit white grinding wheels, outer shells and batteries of dismantled mobile phones with physical buttons, and silver trophies.