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The Mineral Image: Contemporary Art and Digital Technology

SILLARS, LAURA,ANNE (2022) The Mineral Image: Contemporary Art and Digital Technology. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 24 November 2024.


Minerals are fundamental components of digital technology, but the conceptual ramifications of this have not been explored in depth. Digital technology is mythological. It is perceived as being immaterial, ahistorical, clean and existing outside of geography. But the opposite is true. The mythology of the digital extends to the images that surface on screens. For artists working in the early twenty-first century, material pre-histories of digital technology have become important sources through which to rethink digital mythologies. The focus of this project was to investigate the crystal as an object of the natural history of digital technology.

The Liquid Crystal Display exhibition (2018–19) centred this research. The exhibition gathered a corpus of crystal-tech artworks, enabling first-hand object analysis. Through the artworks, the exhibition linked the mineral as a highly visible and symbolic cultural object with digital technology. Critical responses to the project revealed the reception of digital technology as mineral, digital images as gems, and digital devices as crystalline. A retrospective review of the exhibition formed the basis of an auto-ethnographic research process.

Further case studies examined the crystal as a symbol of digital technology in the work of contemporary artists. Selected projects included Jonathan Kemp, Martin Howse and Ryan Jordan’s The Crystal World Project and Thomas Hirschhorn’s Crystals of Resistance; Suzanne Treister’s alchemical and crystalline diagrams in Rare Earth Elements and HEXEN 2.0; and Trevor Paglen’s ethnographical work uncovering the diamond as a symbol of the US military industrial complex. The crystal emerged here as a vibrant signifier of diffractive, (new) materialist philosophy informed by an ecological, post-human imagination. Crystals connect digital technology to pre-Enlightenment, pre-science, non-modern, non-Western, archaic and spiritual histories. This thesis concluded by recognising the need for an expanded, non-Western perspective on the crystal to foreground decolonising approaches to digital technology.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Minerals, crystal, digital, rare earth elements, contemporary art, image, images, critical, technology, non-Western, diamond, algorithm, Donna Haraway, Jussi Parikka, artists
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Education, School of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:23 Nov 2022 10:40

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