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Recycled Coil: a cyborg to engage the politics of electronic waste (REF 2021 Practice Research Submission)

Ploeger, Daniel (2020) Recycled Coil: a cyborg to engage the politics of electronic waste (REF 2021 Practice Research Submission). The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London. ISBN 978-1-8383968-5-5

Abstract

Recycled Coil is a performance-based artwork involving body modification and electronics. It engages critically with the cultural figure of the cyborg in the context of the problematics of technological obsolescence and electronic waste (e-waste).

This multi-component output, supported by contextual information, is the outcome of a two-part process: firstly, a research journey to Nigeria, during which e-waste originating from Europe was collected. Secondly, the conception and realization of an artwork with accompanying essay, based on one of the collected components, an electromagnetic coil from a television.

E-waste has emerged as a significant, environmentally hazardous by-product of digital culture. Yet, everyday representations of digital technology remain dominated by smooth surfaces, a sense of perpetual newness and suggestions of immateriality (for example, through concepts like ‘the cloud’). Thus, technology consumerism is often experienced as being disconnected from the materiality of waste, ecological damage and dwindling resources. This is also reflected in popular perceptions of the figure of the cyborg — a symbiosis of human and machinic body parts. Cyborgs are commonly imagined as enhanced human bodies, equipped with state-of-the-art technologies.

Recycled Coil challenges this techno-utopian vision by presenting a cyborg that foregrounds the afterlife of technological components. Thus, it constitutes what I call an ‘abject digital performance’ that raises awareness of the material implications of technological innovation. Instead of state-of-the-art, new components, e-waste was installed in my body: a body piercer sewed copper wire from a discarded television through my abdomen skin. Instead of enhancing my body’s capabilities, I added an apparently useless technological function: during a five-day exhibition period, a regularly pulsating electric current was run through the coil on my abdomen. This generated a very weak electromagnetic signal, which was merely made visible to audiences with a magnetometer and not used for any utilitarian purpose.

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