You may have never heard of ruthenium before. That’s okay. It’s among the rarest elements on Earth. Scarcer than gold or platinum, it only makes up about 1/1,000,000,000th of our planet. Yet it’s a component in many hard drives. Inside your average PC, it’s lives in high-class company. Gold and platinum are in there, too.
It’s a point that Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen’s latest project, H / AlCuTaAu, brings beautifully to light. (For those of you who haven’t memorized the periodic table, that translates to hydrogen, aluminum, copper, tantalum, and gold.) The artistic duo acquired the machines, PCs, and fax machines from a bankrupt lamp factory, stripped that equipment of its precious metals, and melted the substance down into large craggy chunk of decorative ore.
The result is a sculpture that sends our machines back to their (semi) natural states. It’s sort of like recycling taken to its ultimate conclusion–precious metals returning to the Earth.
In the full art installation, H / AlCuTaAu places this ore next to the worthless electronics that have been stripped of their precious substances. Interestingly enough, these electronics resemble any pile of old computers that have been retired of duty. Yes, the careful extraction by Cohen and Balen has deemed the hardware useless, but the real kicker is that these electronics had grown obsolete all on their own. And while all that progress in silicon is ultimately valueless, those natural materials are just as precious as ever. In fact, ruthenium only grows rarer by the day.