Image credits: Boris Zharkov

Rare Earthenware

Rare Earthenware is the product of a journey by Unknown Fields to trace the origins of the materials inside our technological devices. In collaboration with Toby Smith, the duo traveled on board a container ship to Southern China, in search of the so-called rare-earth elements – the 17 most sought-after minerals in the world – which are used in hard drives, color displays, batteries, and more. This video documents their journey, which took them from deep pit mines to industrial blast furnaces, to factory assembly lines in Guangdong province, to the banks of a toxic lake in Inner Mongolia, where the refining process takes place.

Unknown Fields used the toxic mud from the lake to craft three ceramic vessels, which are inspired by Ming dynasty porcelain. The size of each vase corresponds to the amount of waste created in the production of three items of technology that use rare earth minerals – a smartphone, a featherweight laptop, and the cell of a smart car battery.Film © Unknown Fields / Toby Smith