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Niamh Schmidtke

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Niamh Schmidtke  0:11  

Hello, you're listening to Future Artefacts FM radio show hosted by Niamh Schmidtke. And Nina Davies.


Nina Davies  0:19  

Earlier this year, several radio frequencies were discovered airing a collection of broadcasts. At first they sounded like regular news stories and interviews. They felt familiar, but also not quite belonging to our present. Slowly, the listeners came to believe that what they were listening to, did indeed belong to their world, just not their time. They were looking into the future through the mundane edges of radio recordings and public service announcements. While this material is still being meticulously studied by researchers in various universities and museums, your hosts have managed to gain access to this collection to air a selection of these broadcasts for you, our listeners.


Niamh Schmidtke  1:00  

For full disclosure, we will not be sharing this collection with you, as this introduction is based on a fictional event. In this monthly broadcast, Future Artefacts FM, we will present speculative fiction pieces by artists and writers, followed by conversation with hosts Niamh Schmidtke and Nina Davies. The programme will focus on fictional works intended for broadcast, such as radio plays or fictional interviews, to carve out a better understanding of the now by exploring various interpretations of the future.


Artist Introduction

Nina Davies  1:37  

Welcome back to Future Artefacts FM, as per usual, I'm your host, Nina Davies. And today, we're going to kind of be mixing things up, and we've got a co host, Ariane Koek, who Niamh will introduce in a second and Niamh is the guest artist today. So we're kind of mixing things up 


Niamh Schmidtke  1:59  

Today we're, we're flipping the script a bit. And instead of having a guest artist, we're having a guest co presenter. So to give a bit of information about Ariane before we start kind of sharing why we're doing this today. Ariane is she works in art and science, and has been working as a curator and as a cultural producer for many years. Most notably, she founded the Arts at CERN residency and ran it for the first five years of the programme. Welcome to the Future Artefacts FM Ariane.


Ariane Koek  2:32  

Thank you, thank you delighted to be here, and very excited to be part of the flipping version of Future Artefacts.


Niamh Schmidtke  2:40  

The reason why we're doing the way we're changing it today is that right now we're actually recording in Berlin,


Nina Davies  2:47  

Yes I was just about to say that!


Niamh Schmidtke  2:48  

Which is really serendipitous, so like, I'm currently I'm on residency with the Technical University of Berlin, on the Earth Water Aky residency, which is curated by Ariane, which is why she's here today. And then also, Nina is currently performing her work at Transmediale, as well as screening some films as part of the film screening programme. And so there was this wonderful moment where we're all in Berlin, and the lovely Technical University of Berlin has allowed us to use their recording studio.


Nina Davies  3:20  

Which is probably why it sounds so good. So yeah, I think I might just introduce Niamh even though, if you listen to the show regularly, you already are familiar with Niamh and her practice, but in case you're tuning in for the first time, Niamh Schmidtke is an artist based in London with Irish Swedish heritage. Their work playfully sits between installation sculpture and writing, exploring the political implications of being green. They completed their MFA at Goldsmiths, London, with a first class honours in 2021 and hold a fine art honours BA from Limerick School of Art and Design. Their work has been exhibited and collected internationally, including a solo exhibition at Limerick City Gallery, a presentation of academic research and sculpture at a third DARE conference, is it is it DARE or D.A.R.E 


Niamh Schmidtke  4:14  

I've been calling a Dare.. 


Nina Davies  4:15  

Okay. Which was in Ghent, which is in Belgium, showed at London grads now at Saatchi Gallery, and belonging at Vincent Bourne gallery in Limerick in 2020. They were a recipient of the European investment banks artists Development Fund award and in 2022, they were shortlisted for the Gilchrist Fisher award. They are currently an artist in residence at TU Berlin as part of the Earth Water Sky residency, which Niamh was just talking about, culminating in workshops across the university, an exhibition of works in science gallery, Berlin and a larger year long commission for 2024. And obviously, this episode of Future Artefacts


Niamh Schmidtke  5:00  

Commission, commission pending? 


Nina Davies  5:02  

Oh, okay, 


Niamh Schmidtke  5:03  

I should note, but Okay, right now in the research phase, and so there's a larger commissioning process that can come out of this, but it sort of depends on how this process goes. Or at least that's, that's my impression of how it works.


Ariane Koek  5:21  

Yeah, no, it does work that way. So the Earth Water Sky residency is all about two months of full research, and you don't have any expectation to produce something because I really believe in the freedom of research, and just being free and open. And at the end of it, you have the opportunity to bid for a commission and a large production grant to exhibit work, if you feel you've got something to say. But I'm sure that Niamh will have something to say, because she's already making things. But the making which you're doing Niamh is so much part of you as an artist, and your process, which is really interesting. I was saying to you the other day, how come you're making already, you're in week three, you're researching, and you're making already. And I'd love you to describe that because it's such, you do it in different modalities, not only in the audio, which we will hear.


Niamh Schmidtke  6:26  

Yeah, I guess I kind of I generally think through making. So I think we were talking before about diagramming as a means of drawing. So I should say right now, I'll give like a tiny bit of context, and then we can, we'll let you guys listen to the work and then we'll go into like the meat of the conversation. But currently, I'm learning a lot about mineralogy through a scientist, Dr. Johannes Giebel, at the Technical University of Berlin. And a lot of the information, while really fascinating, is also very dense. And so in order for me to kind of work through that information in a legible manner, I ended up making work such as what you're going to hear, but also diagramming. My studio right now is just like a bunch of different rolls of paper up on the wall and drawing like crystal structures and drawing open pit mines, and drawing how minerals connect with one another in this piece is the title of it is called 'The diamond's less sexy sister', and that I'll explain what that means maybe after the piece, but I'll leave you with the image of diamonds having a sister or diamonds being the sexy, or the hot sister, I mean that in an ungendered way, i the way you might call a you know, a friend, a sister is not that this mineral that I'm going to be talking about is female, but more so there's a relationship between the two of them. Yeah, maybe I'll leave it at that for now.


Nina Davies  7:55  

That's perfect. Um, I think I think that's probably good, unless there's anything else that you wanted to say about. Ariane, if there's anything else you wanted to say about the the residency and the other programme of artists.


Ariane Koek  8:07  

So yeah, so Niamh was here investigating minerals, which is the earth part of the Earth Water Sky residency, and there have been two more before that there was water, which was done with Emma Critchley investigating the glaciers, the melting glaciers around the world working with Dr. Carlo Barbante, who is part of the ice Memory Project. And then after that, there was wind, which was part of the sky elements of Earth Water Sky  with Haseeb Ahmed, who is exhibiting his piece of 'The Sand Reckoner' in Brussels this year, which is going to be a kind of film sculptural installation work, which tracks the dust from the sirocco wind, all the way from Egypt down to Venice. And now we have Niamh doing Earth and deep time, minerals. And people keep on asking why isn't there fire as well? Because there's obviously three elements and I've chosen, but as I've explained, the residency began in Venice. So you think of the Venice Skyline you think of us water sky, you think of those essential elements to ecology and being in our place in the world. But maybe we enter, maybe we kind of create fire but then fire as Niamh was saying, a while back, just an hour ago, is an element of Earth! 


Nina Davies  9:42  

It's funny because you've Niamh, I should probably be saving this for the conversation, but I'm gonna say Anyways, now I've started but your work has previously been also about both water and wind. So it's kind of nice that you're like using this residency to, to explore another sort of element.


Niamh Schmidtke  10:03  

Yeah, completely. And even, it's kind of funny because I feel like those elements have come up in the initial research too, because one of the things have kind of been talking about with Johannes, the scientists and working with is deep sea mining. So water comes into the picture or certain minerals, having water within them and cracking without water, or water as a tool to cool down minerals, and then sky as well. Because a large part of mineral extraction is around renewable energy, such as wind turbines being a really big one, because their lifespan is not that long. So even within this research,


Nina Davies  10:43  

it's all interconnected. 


Niamh Schmidtke  10:44  

Yeah, I guess that's that's ecology research. Yeah. It never it's never one step. It's always like five steps that kind of come into this massive web together. And then you'd have tried to find how, where, where each strand links? Yeah, 


Nina Davies  10:59  

It feels like we could start talking about the work here. But before we get carried away, we're going to take a quick pause so you can listen to 'The diamond's less sexy sister', and we'll see you on the other side. Enjoy the work

The diamond's less sexy sister work


I don't know how it works. isn't like giving each other a hug? Yeah. Like so many hands. Two little carbon. Carbon elements forming together? Yeah, two little carbon atoms holding hands


Hey, so this feels a bit weird, like something between the but dial and a cold call. But I wondered what would happen if we started talking


Um, to, to investigate? A single mineral can take you a whole life.


What do you think of when I say graphite? Or maybe if I started thinking about what it might be like to talk with you? Or what might happen if we started having conversations?


Well, I mean, you kind of abducted it from its home land and taken away from its mates and it's just on your pencil. Like I don't know, where graphite like to be situated, usually. But like, I think if someone took me and took me into pencil, I'd be pretty pissed.


You become a means through which I can live and thrive and exist in this like, multicultural dynamic. And yet, you're not spoken about?


Keeper of the minerals. And yeah, the question was why I'm so fascinated by that minerals. I mean, minerals are everywhere.


And I wanted to start thinking about what it'd be like if I tried to talk to something that maybe you couldn't talk back? Or maybe you can, if you can say, hi, that would be great. But maybe this is our introduction. I've been thinking about you, but I haven't really done much to talk to you. I don't know maybe the practice of listening also comes from calling. If I call out to you, will you call back?


Yeah, what what means deep time, deep time is actually philisophical approach. And science we would rather say geological times, or times measured with a geological scale. So it means the time between the formation of Earth and now the earth was formed about 4.5 a bit more, but let's stick on 4.5 billion years


graphite is used is pencils, lubricants, crucibles, foundry facings polishes, ARC lamps, batteries, brushes for electric motors, core is of nuclear warheads. I wanted to ask you about, when you're talking about how rocks touch one another, or how minerals touch one another. And this kind of molecular


Oh, like how they interact on like a molecular level?


Yeah, like how they touch atom to atom. Yeah, because


then they're, you know, you get like non-organic elements and organic elements. So they must fuse from different ways and have different bonds depending on whether they're kind of metal or alkaline or

so for something like graphite where it's made out of carbon,

I rather thinking that it's very old. And now it is very interesting for me to investigate it. And this is feeling to be curious about that. Did it form? What were the origin of that mineral? What were the processes that led to the formation of that mineral? By thinking or by the definition of that thinking? I never thought about, oh, this mineral was 2 billion years, below earth or below the ground. And now I dig it out. And will destroy it. And I mean, I'm not destroying it. I'm making new insight.


cut cut. Does this work? raspy eye in the sky? Is it two critical to call me dead,


reminiscent. Attached to this my skin. Oily and crystal survived mineral magic. My curator would gawk I don't like this science trivial. But I can also communicate without speach.


I imagine you're old, much older than me. You've been with me for a long time. But I guess that's the blink of an eye our count of years doesn't line up together. It's less dynamic. You've moved in centuries, you do not die. But I'm here. I'm listening. Calling, listening calling. I call out call if I call out if I call out, would you call back?


Nina Davies  16:45  

Welcome back, I hope you enjoyed the episode. So Niamh I think maybe to start off with, we were just talking about the residency with kind of doing this co-research project. And I was wondering whether maybe we could just start off with a quick introduction to what that process has been like.


Niamh Schmidtke  17:26  

So the kind of structure of the Earth Water Sky residency is it's a research collaboration, or I consider at least my section to be research collaboration between artist and a scientist. And so, in TU Berlin, I'm working with Dr. Johannes Giebel, who, he's a Mineralogist slash geoscientist. But for my research, most significantly, he is the curator or as he describes 'the keeper of the minerals', of the mineralogical collection in TU Berlin, which is the third largest within a university in Germany. And it's also actually the foundation of TU Berlin in a kind of way, because that university was set up during when Britain was part of Prussia, and they wanted to explore the mineral wealth of the region. And so part of that was they had a mineralogist from Saxony, come up to Berlin to start exploring the region. 


Nina Davies  18:28  

Sorry where is Saxony?


Niamh Schmidtke  18:29  

Saxony is kind of south, farther south, it's like closer to Bavaria, I think I'm not great on German geography. I just it was it's a different, it's a different part of Germany basically. And through, he said, is like, okay, I can do this, but it's gonna take me 1000s of years, you know, but if I had students, we could do it much faster. And so they start this, they start this training place for people to learn about minerals and geology and how to explore where they are. So I've been working with the-, this mineralogical collection that started in the 17, late 1700s. And with Johannes was trying to kind of pick his brain about learning about minerals because I think we were talking a bit before, I've been looking at different elements of ecology and about kind of the green-ness, I say in inverted commas of renewable energy. And large part of that comes down to what goes into a wind turbine to make it harness electricity. 


Nina Davies  19:34  



Niamh Schmidtke  19:35  

I think that processes a little bit mystified or a lot mystified, and so with Johannes is he has this really large depth of knowledge about minerals both in what they look, how to categorise them, how to look at them, investigate them, but then also what are they used for? What for instance, I think there's a lot of knowledge around how unethical cobalt mining in the Congo is, but, um, there's maybe knowledge about cobalt goes into making lithium ion batteries, which means that your batteries and your phone and so on are rechargeable and efficient. But then for example, this piece about graphite, it's like what's graphite used for, like a pencil. But it's also used for so much more, and so part of this research is figuring out those kinds of connections and like where learning or like maybe talking more about those connections is helpful for the research. And then Johannes will give me a large description about this is how certain minerals come to closer to the Earth's surface. So this is the depth of where something is mined, or this is a mining structure. And then I'll ask him about ethical mining and what does that look like? What could it look like? Is it possible? How are minerals processed? And kind of trying to learn from each other? Mainly, I mean, I'm asking a lot of like, I would consider almost like dumb questions. But it's also that never, there's not many spaces where you can learn about these things in this way.


Ariane Koek  21:09  

So you just let the cat out of the bag, actually, because you've just named the, the less sexy sister of the diamond. Oh, yeah. So graphite why, why? Why are you investigating graphite within that piece? What intrigued you to do that? The piece we've just heard, the audio. That's I mean, that's you get the clue, don't you with the sound of the pencil at the end, you're not quite sure what that 'e-e-e-eee' is. And then you start realising what it is.


Niamh Schmidtke  21:44  

Maybe to circle back. One of the things with this residency that's really nice having research time, is I have loads of parts of my practice that I don't often get to do, because they take time to do and they rarely become part of the final process. One of those is photography. And so one of the days in the collections I brought my camera and Johannes and I were going around and kind of photographing some of the pieces, including this really beautiful chunk of graphite, I'd say it's about the size of like your forearm. And it's got a really nice texture on it. And you're looking at this piece of graphite, and it's this kind of gorgeous rock, but then I'm back in the studio, and I'm like, but I'm also using this material to make this drawing. And then I'm starting to look into like other uses of graphite. And it's well, it's also actually, it's a critical mineral for making contemporary technology. And then the places that it's mined in are often under threat. And so all of a sudden, this material, and it's also quite abundant, I should say, when you find it, you find it in more abundance. So there's this weird thing of it being a mineral that the, let's just say the distance between what the mineral looks like and how it's used is quite close. And so when you say graphite, there is instantly an image like there's a bit in the, in the piece where I'm asking someone, what do you think of when I say graphite,  and they instantly say pencils. And I think that image is like really, really clear. And then calling it the diamond's less sexy sister is graphite is made up of two carbon atoms. Diamonds are also made up of two carbon atoms. But the structure, the crystal structure, each mineral is defined by the atomic structure of it, and then the crystal structure of it. And diamonds have a crystal structure that's formed closer to the Earth's core. And they have this process where they rise up to the surface. And if they don't rise up to the surface fast enough, they're going to turn into graphite. But also likewise, any two carbon atoms which form closer to the surface of the Earth, which is a larger span, just because earth radiates out. Is also going to be graphite, but everyone thinks that diamonds are the beautiful thing that you want to have. And there's all this marketing around them. But there isn't for graphite, you buy a stick or graphite in an art shop for what 50 cent. So it's the less less sexy sister in a way.


Nina Davies  24:10  

But then what can be used with it, then can become quite sexy. I don't know what I'm saying?


Niamh Schmidtke  24:18  

Yeah, it's like the technology it's used towards it's like quite necessary. Like one of the research clips I was looking at was about Chernobyl. It's used as heat containment in nuclear reactors. And so when when the Chernobyl disaster happened, they used graphite as a means of stopping of cooling down the reactors and slowing the explosion and slowing the the rate. I mean, it was like graphite to what was it, graphite to slow down the heat and then lead to seal the contamination. But it's quite it has these kind of quite significant material properties.


Nina Davies  25:04  

When you started this residency, did you know that you were going to be looking at graphite? What was the decision of deciding to? I mean, obviously, you've explained why you find it interesting. But I guess the, as you were talking about ethical mining, or what or what ethical mining might be, I guess you're kind of speculating on what ethical mining might be. I was wondering where that kind of link between the graphite, and some of these questions and themes came together?


Niamh Schmidtke  25:35  

Yeah, I think graphite was a place to start. Because I guess in the back of my mind, I'm not trying to limit the research. But the the overall residency project is called Pulling blood from a stone, which is a phrase often used to describe someone who is difficult to talk to. That scenario, someone comes back from their holidays, and you're like, oh, how was your trip? It looked really great. And they go, yeah, it was good. And that's, that's all they respond with. It's all the information you're gonna get. And then you're slowly like prying information out of them. Not in an aggressive way. It's not forceful, but it's more so that trying to like have a conversation with something. So thinking about that process of trying to start the conversation with the stone or with the rock. But then also pulling blood is kind of almost giving this sense of beingness or autonomy to these materials as well, not abstracting them as things that are taken from the ground to be used in like primarily a lot of technology. And I think with graphite, as I was doing the research with Johannes. I was trying to think about the place to start because I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed, because 


Nina Davies  26:46  

So many rocks?


Niamh Schmidtke  26:48  

Well, yeah. So many


Ariane Koek  26:50  

200,000 actually in the collection. There are 200,000. 


Niamh Schmidtke  26:55  

So many rocks, so many minerals, so many uses. You know, there's a there's a clip in the in the piece, it's like minerals are all around us. It's like it's really true. So where do you start? And part of the process of research has been trying to figure out, how do I narrow things down? Is there a way to, and I guess, in lieu of making that, let's say very conceptual decision, I was kind of like, I have a photo of this graphite, I'm intrigued by it. I'm sort of instinctually going towards it. I'll start here. The idea being that over time, I'll hopefully generate more conversations with different rocks and different minerals and work towards a more expansive conversation. But for right now, it's like that's, 


Nina Davies  27:47  

you got to start somewhere. 


Niamh Schmidtke  27:48  

Yeah. And as I said before, graphite has this like, really close link with how it looks and how it's used. And I think that helps make the piece a bit more graspable as I figure out other tools and making that help visualise things more. That makes sense. Like if I chose a mineral with a really abstract name, I feel like the piece would be quite confusing. Right now, I haven't quite gotten to the point where I figured out what's a way in which to contextualise this research.


Ariane Koek  28:18  

And also it's a mineral we're all in touch with literally, we're in touch with in terms of, you know, the pencil, as you were saying, but also that subject of touch comes up in your, your audio piece, sketch memo, whatever it is. And I think that's really beautiful. Because if you think of rocks, their experience is about touch, proximity, solidity, beingness, that kind of real steady beingness. So you raise that question about touch about rocks, minerals touching, and maybe that's their ultimate form of expression. And I wondered if you'd like to, yeah, amplify that a bit more.


Niamh Schmidtke  29:06  

Yeah, I think a lot of the a lot of the recording of the piece was almost kind of serendipitous, in a way. I had someone visiting me and we were talking about, they're not an artist. And so I was trying to sort of process some of the ideas that I had been learning about. And so you can hear clips of maybe like, Well, what do you think of graphite? And that's literally us going on walks and me holding up my phone recording them. And they have a small background in science. And so I was asking, was kind of talking about, we'd had a conversation about touch and molecular kind of touching and I think I thought about it but it hadn't quite sunk in yet. And then I think I was talking about minerals again with them and they were talking about, thinking about touching. And earlier that week, I'd kind of been trying to think about this idea of like, what if rocks could hug? Or as like this feeling of touching, that's not. It's not necessarily human, like a lot of animals like touch and hug and cuddle and... And then thinking about like, well, what if it's like if they're holding hands? You know, and I think that I think those types of feelings, you can very quickly hold that in your mind. And you know, you can like hold your own hand. You can hold someone else's hand, what does it mean, when you hold hands with someone? Can you let go? Can you not and all this, and I guess, in thinking about touch in terms of minerals, it's like, yeah, is their form of communication through who they touch or what they touch. Like, one thing I learned about from Johannes is, rocks are made up of minerals. So rocks have multiple minerals within them, you can also find larger deposits of minerals within rocks. And so because of whatever elements are contained within the material that makes the rocks, they'll generate certain minerals, and that'll generate it as being a certain kind of rock. So then I started thinking, Okay, so there's groups of minerals in these rocks. Is it like they're having a party? You know?


Nina Davies  31:20  

For some reason, that's such a Niamh thing to say!


Niamh Schmidtke  31:23  

Yeah, it's kind of like, I guess, I'm, I'm almost trying to break down, like, I mean, it's a very humanising thing, which I'm not sure how comfortable I feel with at the moment, but it's like, my initial way of reaching into the subject is like, almost like giving, like social conditions to these minerals as a way to grasp into something that's not just them being othered. 


Nina Davies  31:51  

But you could be like, are they is you could take out the word party and sort of be like are they being social? Social, like, yeah. Is it some sort of like, what's because the connection is, is it a good way of being social? Yeah.


Ariane Koek  32:07  

Yeah, or are they? But they are, or they're always in touch, which they are, they're always in touch. And humans aren't actually, humans aren't, you know, three of us sitting together, we've got distance between us. Rocks, don't, rocks, and minerals, don't they're touching, and they're totally together? Yeah. So which is really a 


Niamh Schmidtke  32:27  

Fused in time. 


Ariane Koek  32:28  

Yeah. Fused in time and space. It's a very different dimension, isn't it?


Niamh Schmidtke  32:34  

Yeah. Yeah. And I guess I think part of, part of the research or this idea of like having conversations with minerals is sort of finding a way to consider difference in a way that's not othering. Because, I mean, there's, there's some very stark facts about human mineral use, that's maybe won't share it, because they're quite depressing. But like, I guess, chief among them is, right now, there's a lot of conversation about energy transition, in terms of, you know, driving in electric cars, or using solar panels, or having wind turbine energy, you know, not using fossil fuels. And there's a direction that that's going in, that's, let's say partially positive. But there's an under writing of that, for instance, calling renewable energy, clean energy without knowledge of what goes behind making that energy possible. And I think part of making that energy possible is extraction of, of minerals as extraction of rocks of raw earth's resources, generally, from Global South, processed in Global North. And so I think part of opening up those conversations with minerals is also thinking about, like, where are minerals coming from? What are their roles? Or what roles have we assigned to them against their will? And maybe in like, starting to create these social structures or this kind of way of engaging with them of opening up the conversation a bit more to be like, okay, well, if I, if I held hands with the mineral in my phone, would I be more likely to care for it in a different way? Or like, if I generated a relationship with like, a rock face near me that was going to be mined? Would that mean I would protect it in a different way if they're trying to mine it? I think those types of relationships feel quite important at a time when there's a lot of environmental anxiety to kind of generate feelings of care and togetherness and like thinking about like, holding hands or having a hug or like there's a kind of a soothing thing to it because there is such a dark undertone message. It's like it's a very grim message at like the core of all the research, I think even for me doing that research, there's parts of it where I'm like, okay, well, like in 20 years time, I'm just gonna live in a tent and cook my food on a fire and this is gonna be how it is. And I, I don't I don't think that's that's really going to be the reality. But I think there is this kind of sense of how do I think about other forms of care and systems and structures of care within how I'm thinking about these minerals, in order to help when the time comes that this kind of, our reliance on energy can't be facilitated anymore, that we have this other system of generosity that we can fall back to, or even that we can bring to the forefront now before we need to go back to it. That'd be the preference.


Ariane Koek  35:56  

Yeah. So it's such a tricky balance that and you and I have been wrestling with that the the kind of stark horror, about the fact that there are only so many minerals left in the universe, which can power new technology, which we're dependent on. And it's a limited time, and they've taken billions of years to form. And millions of years, that's quite fast, some of come faster than that. But we're extracting them at great speed. And we power all our technology through it. And it's got a limit. But then draw it, how do you get the balance between that, as you said, empathy and care, but also awareness? So when I am holding mobile phone I'm holding at this precise moment? How connected am I really to all the minerals which have gone in here and the journey they've done through time and space? And so yeah, that's your ultimate challenge, isn't it? How to achieve that balance, which is so important, because people don't connect with how much minerals are literally, we, I don't think we can exist without them. In our technology today, we can't exist, because we're so advanced.


Nina Davies  37:24  

Yeah. So much of your work, including this one is about giving voice to these elements, in previous works have been the wind and, and the sea. And now rocks or graphite. But there's also something I think that's interesting about graphite, for example, it's an element that also gives a certain voice to us, you know, like in writing and communicating and talking about technology is that these elements play such a big role in communication for us, and I think there's something really interesting in that where it becomes a bit muddy or complicated. Who's actually, for me, from my, from my perspective, like, who's actually kind of who's talking here anyways, you know, like, are you actually are you actually giving voice to the minerals, but but are the minerals giving voice to us? Which, which way around is it? Yeah, and I think, I don't know, I thought that that was a interesting leap forward, or interesting direction that your work is taking. And it's still very much doing the same process of giving voice to these things. But I think it's bringing up some other questions.


Niamh Schmidtke  38:38  

Yeah, it's kind of like, how is how are the very minerals of this recording device? Or if you're listening through speaker?


Nina Davies  38:45  

Yeah, I mean, like, right, right now, like, what? recording this, these minerals are, are part of these networks, I guess.


Niamh Schmidtke  38:54  

Yeah. I think that's part of what I've been struggling with trying to almost find a direction to take towards I mean, I was talking about this with you yesterday. Ariane, about being at this point where everything is sort of this like weird, whirlwind. I feel like my head has grown like five times the size in the last three weeks, just because of all the information. 


Nina Davies  39:16  

Not ego. 


Niamh Schmidtke  39:16  

God no, if anything, my ego, my ego has shrunk, very aware of what I don't, what I don't know. But I think it's, we had first public talk as part of this residency on in January. And within it was talking, I think, Ariane, you asked me about different modalities and like, ways of making work and the piece I made with the European Investment Bank a few years ago, which is called 'Drafting communication, drafting climate, drafting futures'. And the piece you're talking about how I was talking about the wind before. In essence, the piece is, the wind, talking to an institution about building a wind farm, it's, I was exploring about green, green bonds and the structure of green bonds and how the environment is being financialized, and so on. And I was describing that as a way of my process and thinking through how to try and give voice to the environment, the wind in this case. And one of the questions from the audience after the talk in TU in January, he was saying, Oh, why wouldn't you have minerals speaking to a phone company, and what I was saying to him was, like, well, it repeats the same process, but it's like, if you can take this work, and you can reinterpret in that scenario, then the works already done its job. Like it started that conversation in your in your head. And I think that's, that's sort of maybe also what like this piece with graphite is trying to do it's like, I'm not gonna answer. I mean, the piece answers very few questions, it poses more questions. Yeah. You know, it's like, even there's this bit in the work where it's slightly threaded together through this person asking, if maybe the act of listening is calling out? How will I know if you answer, this bunch of audio afterwards you can't quite tell. Is that answering? Is that it? Not like what what's quite happening. But that would apply for any mineral? Really? Yeah, it's just starting off with something that feels very material already, that maybe that that answering is like through the act of recording your voice, or through the act of graphite on paper, or its starting to open up that space to think forward? Maybe.


Ariane Koek  41:45  

I mean, you've done a piece as well, I mean, you've done a different modality, almost a companion piece as part of the researcher as making, which is actually with the graphite on paper. And I wondered if you'd like to describe that and how that complements the audio and the kind of inter relationship. And as you're saying, this is all about research, it's all about making as part of the process of research, so that you don't get taken over by the facts and the enormity of it all, you have to let it out in some way.


Niamh Schmidtke  42:21  

Yeah, I think at the moment, in the studio I've been, I found liquid graphite, or it's like graphite powder. And I've just been layering that over and over onto sheets of paper to try and get this really dense material surface. But as with any surface, you can also draw or write on top of that. And so then layering that with more graphite, and almost like trying to think about if it was speaking to itself, there's like a bit towards the end of the piece where it goes like cut cut.


Nina Davies  42:56  

I love that ending, by the way,


Niamh Schmidtke  42:57  

I wasn't sure about the ending, but that that actually came from making these layers of like, almost kind of this liquid graphite onto paper, and then drawing across, and then drawing on top and thinking about the graphite layering on top of the graphite and speaking to itself, or communicating through itself, in a way. So it's like a tattoo on my skin. And I was thinking about, well, this literally feels like it's a tattoo because it's because of the density of the graphite on the paper. When you press him with the pencil, it also cuts through, again, those kinds of that process of using drawing as a way to free up writing as a way to think about it. But in this piece, this kind of also, it's also slightly different because most of the conversation and it is, has not been written at all. I think I first described the piece to both of you as being like somewhere between a radio essay and a voice note, and part of radio essays is they're partially scripted parts of voice notes is that they're not at all. And they have weird breaks. And they're kind of clunky, and the audio is not quite right. And even in this you can hear like clips of wind or background noise that's quite intentional to make it feel like oh, someone just sent me a voice note, but the voice note is actually from the graphite maybe


Ariane Koek  44:18  

Truely speculative radio then. 


Niamh Schmidtke  44:20  



Nina Davies  44:21  

Also, as you were talking about the layers of graphite, I was thinking about kinship with, I was thinking, oh, if you were to layer one, one bit of graphite overtop of the other, obviously, you know, does that bit of graphite, come from the same bit of graphite. And then suddenly, I was thinking, wait a minute. How does kinship exist within minerals? Yeah, because you were saying when you discover graphite you discover it in abundance. Does that mean that it's more is it more like a mycelium network where it's not a bunch of things? It's all kind of a singularity?


Niamh Schmidtke  44:57  

Yeah, I think it's from what I've, from what I understand so far, it's quite different in terms of, you can have one piece of graphite that formed a million years ago, another piece of graphite that formed 1000 years ago. And property wise, they can be pretty much the same. Yeah, but they're vastly different in age, or even, there's one really amazing piece in the collection that it used to be, um, amorite? I'm gonna mess up the names of the minerals right now. But it used to be one kind of mineral that had a really big crystal structure. And it kind of has these, like hexagonal shapes that sort of cut through it. And it went through this process of change. And in that process, another mineral completely took over the old mineral, but kept the shape. And so now it almost looks like the marshmallow version of the original mineral, because you have like minerals growing on top of minerals. But you can also have minerals going side by side. I guess some of those, like relationships I'm trying to think about in terms of, sharing


Nina Davies  46:03  

because they're individual but 


Niamh Schmidtke  46:06  

yeah, it's like, what is it like sharing resource or like transmission of resource, the resource in this case being like, the elements within them that form them? 


Nina Davies  46:17  

And I think maybe going back to Ariane, what you were saying about touch, what is touch between something that doesn't, that it's actual, elemental form of relationship is also completely different than the you know that they're not individual, necessarily, or at least rocks, or minerals relate to each other is completely different to how you and I relate to each other?


Niamh Schmidtke  46:38  

Yeah, it's kinda like, where is, I guess I'm thinking about something with humans and overcoming difference. But does that also make sense with minerals?


Ariane Koek  46:50  

Yeah, so in all our talk, we've left out the really important thing which unites everything to do with rocks and minerals, which is deep time. And that's also the focus of the residency as well. Yeah. How important are finding it? That whole concept of deep time because Johannes is very dismissive of it? And you get some? No, I don't like the term deep time. I like geological time. But we're all talking about deep time now. And the way us humans..


Nina Davies  47:26  

I'm gonna be ignorant here, what's the difference between geological time 


Niamh Schmidtke  47:30  

and deep time 


Nina Davies  47:31  

and deep time?


Niamh Schmidtke  47:32  

Maybe I can jump in on... Yeah. So I think deep time sort of refers to the depth at which things are and I think like this idea of going deeper in the ground, deeper in time, farther back in time, also as a kind of distance between the now and the past, the past being more like millennia to millions to billions of years in the past, whether as geological time is more so very specific strata of time. And I think from what I understand from Johannes, I think maybe part of his issue with deep time is that it only relies on depth, whether it's geological time relies on kind of categorization. I think the two work together quite well. I mean, I think I think categorising time gets quite tricky.


Nina Davies  48:30  

You can go down a rabbit hole, I think. 


Niamh Schmidtke  48:31  

Yeah. Yeah. Completely. Like there's this one. This is one piece in the collection. It's a meteorite that landed in Namibia. And, I mean, they have it in they got it in the collection from must have been the 60s or something. It has, they have had conversations about renumeration. I should say that's one of the things that we haven't talked about at all in this conversation is global South to global North mining practices. They have had conversations about renumeration. However this object is massive, like it weighs a few tonnes. But it's, it predates the planet. It's 4.6 ,4.5 to 4.6 billion years old. But this Yeah, so this this meteorite, it seems to, it seems to, if not be as old, slightly predict the planet at about 4.5 to 4.6 billion years. And, but that came from that was on the surface. If that makes sense. Or I think they might have excavated it. Yeah, but it wasn't deep in the ground, but its age is still old. And I think maybe that's where these like links between deep time and geological time, get a bit confused. But I think what deep time does really well in terms of a descriptor as it gives you. And what we've been kind of circling back on a lot is like it gives you this very material sense of, of time, or also this, like manipulation of it, because I, one of, it's not in this piece at all, because I haven't figured out how to really like work with time. Yet, apart from the fact that this has like a linear start and stop and beginning, a middle and an end. Even that's a little bit jumbled. But thinking deep time also doesn't necessarily mean linear time. Whether as geological time does. One of the things I'm trying to think about a little bit is how can you have nonlinear, deep time. So for example, rocks having memories, or, like, you know, us having relationships with rocks that kind of come and go, and so it's like, you don't need to travel back in time so far to go to like the birth of the rock, but you can make a flashback to it, or something like this.


Ariane Koek  51:04  

And rocks will have memories because all matter does have memories. As physics shows. Physics shows that any material has a memory of its past. So it's like sand in the sandcastle, for example, always the matter will always remember the beach it came from and the journey it went on. So that's kind of one of the beauties of physics. It shows that matter does have the memory of its construction within itself.


Nina Davies  51:34  

Well also I was thinking about fossilisation process as well that something that is meant to break down or thinking about John's episode, this 


Niamh Schmidtke  51:45  

Oh, the worms


Nina Davies  51:46  

The worms in this kind of compost and the process of fossilisation kind of is, counteracts that and can hold, like can preserve things, preserve memories of things that otherwise wouldn't have, I'm thinking about this picture of the fish that you showed. The rock fish, I don't know?


Niamh Schmidtke  52:06  

It wasa , there's like a, there's a, there's a stretch of like copper rich minerals across Germany and Poland, and the that rock surface used to be seafloor. And so there's, there's one piece in the collection, which is like a black, black rock, I'm afraid I don't know what type of rocket is. And in it, there's this perfect imprint of where the fish scales were, that have been retaken over by this copper rich mineral. So it kind of glistens in the way fishscale glistens. But even at that, it's like thinking about, oh, when Germany was on the sea floor, like, even that sense of time is quite weird. But then all of a sudden, you have this artefact of that time period. And that, to me feels like sort of also this like not quite linear relationship to deep time because obviously, this object has had to or this mineral and this rock has had to pass through so much time to get to the point where it's now, you know, in my hands, in this building, in this country at this time period. But also the fact that I've been able to kind of time jump, to see it. And then I can also, in my mind, time jump to like, there being a fish that died and fell to the sea floor. You know, that. To me, that's kind of part of what thinking around deep time means. And then, in this conversation we've been having about extraction and minerals used in technology. It's also around what gives us as humans the right to extract minerals that have been in the ground for billions to millions to 1000s of years, and then use them in a technology that's going to have a lifespan of what, Max 20, 30 years, like most people get rid of a phone after two years. And sort of part of this idea of like having these conversations or trying to like pull blood from a stone is like if there was that relationship with perhaps that's a deep time or with a kinship with minerals or considering like a kinship from mineral to mineral. What? How might that change our relationship, both to deep time and the uses and extractions and maybe planned obsolescence and technology? And yeah, sorry, I'm throwing out a bunch of terms at the end of the talk


Ariane Koek  54:37  

Yeah and that is so important. And it's exactly what also Jussi Parikka talks about in the geology of media, when he's talking about that kind of layering and our exploitation of deep time and our exploitation of minerals and basically engaging them in servitude. I mean, we're hitting sitting here, as you said, we're sitting here in servitude with minerals. Helping us to talk about this through microphones,


Nina Davies  55:11  

And communicate it with other people.


Ariane Koek  55:14  

And they haven't asked to do that they've been party, or privy to that bondage.


Niamh Schmidtke  55:22  

I think, like one. One other thing that has perhaps, I've not really, I've not addressed in the in the piece, but also not in this conversation, but which I am thinking about and trying to figure out what's a good way to express is also the mining conditions towards gathering these minerals, especially in countries like the Congo or South Africa, Namibia, and what does it, what does it mean, not only to exploit this like mineral or something that, you know, we can talk we can't talk to, but also these people who are forced into livelihoods where they have to risk their health and risk their well being towards gaining this mineral. They're humans, we can have conversations with them, but we're dehumanising them, and we're removing all their autonomy in the same way that we are with the minerals. I mean, and this is, I mean, this is like processes of Neo colonisation. It's it's not, it's very obvious to most people, I think, but part of this project and like giving voice to minerals is also thinking about maybe their relationships with the countries in which they're mined in or the people who are mining them is in this process of giving more autonomy to the minerals can we also bring more light to these people that are mining or like the processes of extraction? And is there a question about leaving minerals in the ground? If so, what does that look like? Or is there a question of ethical mining? What does that look like? But I think it's because these we were kind of talking earlier about how like, you know, systemic structures of neoliberalism and the desire for more and new technology in like Global North, what's the capacity to do that in the current ways in which we're operating on the planet? And what would be a way to shift that system in order to redistribute the wealth and the resources and give fair, fair do and respect to? I mean, especially these people who are gathering these very significant minerals in order to mean that, for instance, we can talk today, in this way.


Ariane Koek  57:52  

Yeah. And it just shows how everything is completely interconnected and entangled, but from just studying and looking at one mineral or many minerals, but everything, the whole of societies, the social structures we've created are all, go back to minerals! What form the earth of which we are sitting inhabiting, which is incredible, isn't it?


Nina Davies  58:23  

Yeah. I think that's a good note to end on actually?


Niamh Schmidtke  58:28  

I think that's the Mic drop!


Nina Davies  58:29  

Yeah, I think moment. Um great. I was about to say like, thanks for coming in today. But we've all just come. We've all just come to Berlin. Thanks for meeting, this is great!


Niamh Schmidtke  58:47  

Yeah, thanks. Thank you TU for letting us use your room. Yeah. Thanks to foundation... primat


Ariane Koek  58:57  

Yes. It's Fondation Didier et Martine Primat


Niamh Schmidtke  59:02  

For funding this project. Yes. The research project. And


Nina Davies  59:09  

Thanks to transmediale for fly me out for something completely unrelated so I could be here!


Niamh Schmidtke  59:14  

And thanks to Arts Council, England and Elephant Trust for making the last year programming possible. This is our first on our own one. 


Nina Davies  59:23  

Yeah, this was yeah, this one. 


Niamh Schmidtke  59:25  

So we're just shouting out all the wonderful people that make this possible


Nina Davies  59:29  

Possible in some way. Yeah. And also, thank you, Ariane for coming on the show. And being our first guest. presenter.


Ariane Koek  59:38  

Delighted. Thank you for inviting me. I'm honoured to be here, along with the minerals.


Nina Davies  59:43  

Yes, exactly. Thank you minerals for being part of the show. Great. Cool. Bye 


Niamh Schmidtke  59:49  



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