Previous Talks

05. September 2017 - Times of waste: How to deal with the leftovers?

18 Sep, 2017

This LASERZurich will feature 4 renowned curators, artists and scientists that will cross pollinate their own research by presenting and discussing this exciting and controversial topic.

Heinz Böni (Swiss Federal Institute for Material Science and Technology (Empa) will talk with Members of The Research Team for Times of Waste (Flavia Caviezel, Mirjam Bürgin, Dr. Yvonne Volkart from the Academy of Art and Design, University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Northwestern Switzerland).

The discussion will be moderated by Prof. Dr. Jill Scott.


"Waste" is material that is perceived differently depending on the context. Is it a promising resource or an unavoidable leftover? What becomes waste cannot be disposed of without any traces. The research project Times of Waste follows the routes of waste materiality. In the field of e-waste, our interdisciplinary research team examines examples from the transformation processes of a smartphone and its components. As a typical product of our times a smartphone leaves many kinds of waste, the greatest comes not after it use but rather before its use: in the actual mining processes of the raw materials like Neodymium, and with people who work under deplorable conditions. Our artistic-scientific research practices led us to landfills, shredders, repair shops, testing facilities, research laboratories and to various waste materials and to the people who were willing to share their knowledge. An object-biography was created of from these smartphone maps and those various transport routes and recycling movements. In our presentation we focus on our current exhibition at the Museum der Kulturen Basel entitled Times of Waste – The Leftover. Here the object biography of the smartphone is set up as an assemblage of different fragments, playing together in an associative way: a fragmentary composition archive of remnants and parts, through images, narratives and sounds, to focus on the matter and waste that a smartphone leaves behind. This theme fractures off in all directions, developing eons of time and spatial dimensions that sometime just abruptly ends. This geological and material afterlife – of different granulates, slags or metals – bear witness to the fact that while people are looking for raw materials they eradicate not only the earth's crust, but also fill it with new waste materials. Where is the leftover going to? And what can be done? Times of Waste is work in progress that urgently points to progress, and is a form of progressing thinking. We need to think about progress of another kind, in which ecological, social and mental activities have equal place. This trajectory requires different modes of collaboration: within our team as well as together with our project partners. Empa is one of them. Laserzurich, allows to us to talk about the challenges of transdisciplinary work for all persons involved and how works-in progress are also important formats to consider.

The Times of Waste interdisciplinary research team consists of a core team of six specialists ranging from visual anthropology, environmental studies, art theory, art & design practices to music and programming: Flavia Caviezel (lead), Mirjam Bürgin, Anselm Caminada, Adrian Demleitner, Marion Mertens, Yvonne Volkart. (see CVs below) Most of the team members have been collaborating already in the predecessor project RhyCycling. Aesthetics of Sustainability in the Basel Border Area (2010-2013); Times of Waste runs from 2015-2018. Both projects are situated at the Institute of Experimental Design and Media Cultures HGK FHNW.

Heinz Böni will talk about The backyard of the ICT Society: Recycling of e-Waste in developing countries. Recycling of Electrical and Electronic Waste (e-Waste) has emerged in parallel with the increasing consumption and penetration of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) devices into modern societies. Typical of e-Waste is the combination of its intrinsic value due to the high content of basic and precious metals with health and environmental hazards caused by the occurrence of toxic substances. In developing countries, the absence of a legal framework and the presence of a self-organized informal sector have moved these wastes into the community of the poor who try to make a living out of it. Inadequate recycling practices which endanger the health of those engaged in such activities and which pollute the environment in combination with the involvement of child labour have made such recycling practices highly unsustainable. The environmental and social aspects associated with the improper recycling of e-Waste and the sustainable reintegration of secondary resources demand strong efforts from industry, government, and civil society. The Swiss funded recycling program “Sustainable Recycling Industries (SRI)” has tried to encounter the challenges setting the ground for integrating formal and informal recycling activities. Heinz Böni will address the main challenges of such a program and highlight some achievements.

Heinz Böni

Heinz Böni was born in 1959 in St. Gallen/Switzerland and obtained a master degree in Rural Engineering in 1983 from ETH Zürich. After completing postgraduate studies in water supply and wastewater management he followed an intrinsic motivation to work in development cooperation, where he developed first hand experiences with engaging himself with UNICEF in Kathmandu/Nepal. He also worked for a decade in Switzerland for a private engineering company in the area of waste management. In 2001 he was assigned by the Swiss Federal Institute for Material Science and Technology (Empa) to lead several projects in technological cooperation with developing countries in the areas of Cleaner Production and e-waste management.

The Times of Waste Team

Flavia Caviezel

is a researcher and vidéaste based in Zurich/Switzerland with a background in visual anthropology, film studies and constitutional law. She has worked for many years in research and teaching, at ZHdK Zurich University of the Arts and other universities, currently as PI and lecturer at the Institute of Experimental Design and Media Cultures, Academy of Art and Design, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland. Characteristic for her work are transdisciplinary collaborations at the interface of artistic-scientific practices which could lead to public presentations (e.g. exhibition, audiowalk, workshop, panel), as in her current SNSF project Times of Waste or the predecessor project RhyCycling –Aesthetics of Sustainability in the Basel Border Area. She presents at international conferences (as ISEA, 4S/EASST, AAA) and publishes in (online) journals and readers. Her artistic activity includes documentary-essayistic video work and installations for international festivals and exhibitions which led to residence and research stays in Australia, China, Laos, Mali, the USA and various countries of Central and Southern Europe. Research topics and areas of interest are political ecology, border issues, hybrid agencies, research methodology and (interactive) presentation formats.

Dr. Yvonne Volkart

is lecturer in art theory and cultural media studies at the Academy of Art and Design, FHNW Basel, and at the Master of Arts in Art Education, Zurich University of the Arts. She is researcher of the project “Times of Waste” (2015-18) at the Academy of Art and Design Basel, the follow-up of “RhyCycling. Aesthetics of Sustainability in the Basel Border Area” (2010-2013). From fall 2017-2020, Volkart will lead “Ecodata – Ecomedia –Ecoaesthetics. The Role and Significance of Technologies and Technoscientific Methods in the Arts for the Perception and Awareness of the Ecological“ in Basel. (funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation SNF). From 2003-06, she was project leader of the research project “Cyborg Bodies”, “Mediaartnet” (ZHdK/ZKM Karlsruhe). From 2009-11 she was curator at Shedhalle Zurich. Living in Zurich, she regularly writes for Springerin. Her texts and projects include “Art and Ecology in the Technosphere”, in: M. Maeder (ed.): Kunst Wissenschaft Natur, Bielefeld 2017), “Ecologies of Existence. Art and Media beyond the Anthropocene” (conference with Christoph Brunner, Leuphana University Lüneburg), “Subverting Disambiguities” (with A. Hoffmann), Nürnberg 2012, “Ecomedia. Ecological Strategies in Today’s Art” (with Sabine Himmelsbach), Ostfildern 2007, “Fluide Subjekte” (“Fluid Subjects. Adaptation and Defiance in Media Art“”), Bielefeld 2006

Mirjam Bürgin

is an artistic researcher at the Institute of Experimental Design and Media Cultures within the project 'Times of Waste' and also has been part of the core team of the predecessor project „RhyCycling – Fluid Borderland“. She studied in London at the Slade School of Fine Art/ MA Fine Arts and at Goldsmith College as wel as at the Zurich University of the Arts. Her artistic practice ranges from installations, scenography, video and audio to experimental radio formats and performances. Her multidisciplinary projects often deal with the notion of Identity and transcultural processes. Within collaborative exhibitions-, theatre -and musical projects in Switzerland and abroad, she develops aesthetical conditions in order to make space in its social, culture and political dimension negotiable. Several extended work stays have taken her to Africa. She worked at the Shedhalle in Zürich (scenography and head of production, 2014-17) and has taught in different contexts and institutions (Zurich University of the Arts and the F+F School of Art and Media Design Zürich).