Chris Natt wants you to pick up his cupcake-sized landmines and give them a good shake.
When you do, a few things happen. Trigger them properly, and you’ll hear a blast, feel the instrument rattle violently in your palm, and watch as a monitor lights up showing the explosive impact. But unlike the farmers or humanitarian workers who still comb the bomb-riddled fields of countries like Laos or Mozambique, you’ll get to keep your hands.
Natt, an industrial designer based in the U.K., developed his plastic mines in order to test a new line of demining hand tools. With the help of landmine expert Andy Smith, Natt reverse-engineered his fake mines to simulate the sensitivities of real ones. He’s also using them to expose the general population to the tragic and grisly realities of modern warfare.
“If you look at the typical [landmine victim] charity adverts, it’s the same story, it’s the same tune,” Natt says. “I wanted to hit somebody hard with a lot of information and a lot of insight very quickly.”
The story of post-conflict minefields is more complex than mines simply killing people long after the war has ended. It begins with the people left to extract the explosives, who are often farmers and volunteers looking to make land profitable again. They employ DIY hand tools and low-grade metal detectors.
“If you’re using a tool that’s been improvised, it’s never intended for demining in the first place,” Natt says. Say, for instance, you’re using a metal detector that lights up every time it stumbles upon a bullet casing. Spend several hours this way, and you’re bound to become more relaxed about prodding the ground. Then, when a disturbed landmine explodes, it’ll take off a foot or a hand, often permanently disabling the very people who need to make a living off the land. In this way, landmines also contribute to an ongoing cycle of poverty.
Natt’s cheap tools are intended to be used by these groups, and they incorporate a host of fixes that can save limbs, including long handles to keep deminers away from the blast radius and soft metal that will warp upon impact instead of shattering into deadly pieces.
Natt is still looking for funding for his line of demining tools, but cheap instruments intended for impoverished post-conflict zones don’t exactly attract a lot of venture capital interest, he says. That’s why he also wants to bring his fake mines to as many Western audiences as he can. Natt’s already hosted two gallery exhibits displaying the fake mines in the U.K., but now he’s looking for a place to showcase them more permanently.
“The best thing I can do with this project is educate people and get them interested in this field,” he says.