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The Imaginary Device That Reimagines Europe's Bioeconomy

In 'Europium,' the latest entry in his Rare Earth Sculpture Project, artist Iain Ball gets pataphysical.
Image courtesy of the artist

Iain Ball is an artist working at the swirling vortices where technology and organic life meet. In Europium, his latest installment of ENERGY: PANGEA, his Rare Earth Sculpture Project, Ball dreams of an absurdist imaginary device that could trigger a European bioeconomic meltdown. Is the project serious critique? A joke? In the best of artistic traditions, probably both.

"Imagine a hypwave convergence device founded in Manhattan, which actually orchestrates separate bodies that only partially interact with the subsequent binge of geopolitical substrate, no?" writes Ball, describing the fantastical dimensions of his geometric sculpture made of laser cut aluminum, polystyrene, bubble wrap, tape, nylon cord, and other materials. "Imagine what a bioeconomy for Europe might actually look like if it were dependent on zero growth potential, virulent criticism from the RT news network (Putin's megaphone) and denied access to China's Europium flows?"


Europium, by the way, actually exists. It's a hard, silvery and phospherescent rare earth metal mined together with other rare earth metals. It's found at the Bayon Obo Mining District in China, and is a superconductor at low enough temperatures. It also has applications in lasers, fluorescent lamps, and television sets, but is also used for its phosphorescent qualities as an anti-counterfeiting element in Euro banknotes. Which makes Ball's Europium sculpture not so absurdist after all, but actually rather geopolitical, since natural resource trade is global and politically strategic.

Fully deciphering Ball's project description would involve a trip down the rabbit hole of international politics, currency, rare earth mining, and steady state (zero growth) economies vs. continuous growth model economies. That's just for starters. How RT fits into Ball's schema, and what the hypewave convergence device actually does are anyone's guess. Perhaps just fodder to get us thinking laterally; and, with the RT bit, maybe give us a little laugh.

But, the hypwave convergence device almost has a Alfred Jarry, pataphysical (joke science) feel to it: that our scientific and technological achievements should be mirrored by absurdist sciences and inventions. Central to pataphysics—if one can be so bold as to define it—is that it might actually explain more about our world than the serious sciences. That is, for every problem we attempt to solve, we create at least one new or sets of other problems; so, why not just believe in imaginary solutions if only to liberate our minds in a psychedelic way, and enjoy the ride?

The mindfuck continues when Ball elaborates on Europium. “Somehow if this were all lubricated by socially and environmentally conscious teenagers (a double flip) it might make sense,” he muses. “Is this something we can envision collectively? Could we strive for an entire storm system or weather pattern? What about an expansion of climate consciousness in general or how about questions like 'what is the probability of Europium divisions emanating from Bayan Obo and fusing with consumer debris which restrict flows atypically and increase biodiversity at the same time?'”

What would be the result, he asks. Hell if I know. Europium is Ball's world, and we're just its temporary residents on the ride of mental liberation. But, Ball wonders whether the result would be a “coal chamber collateral damage machine running on free flow” or a “killswitch engage emancipation pattern recognition algo which actually works.” Does it matter? Because, really, the thoughts are what counts. Thoughts of biodiversity, science, technology, economics, rare earth materials, and natural resource extraction, all part of the same system on complete overdrive. All of it, as Grant Morrison said at Disinfocon, part of nature.

Technology and science, whether real or imagined, as the salves for wounds created by other technology and science. Or, at least that's what I think Ball is up to in envisioning Europe's future with a “potential bioeconomic meltdown or something else, something stranger.” On a long enough timeline, everything is rare and finite here on Earth.