Basking in a World of Waste

Visitors to the National Museum of Scotland this week will get a unique opportunity to meet ‘Betty’, a basking shark created from discarded keyboards, devised and built by Edinburgh-based artist Johnathan Elders for an installation titled Devouring Technology. Elders work is part of the Edinburgh Science Festival and will be on show at the museum until Sunday, 21 April.

Johnathan Elders ,  Devouring Technology . (Image courtesy the National Museum of Scotland, by Chris Scott).

Johnathan Elders, Devouring Technology. (Image courtesy the National Museum of Scotland, by Chris Scott).

Basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) are native to Scottish waters and though colossal in size are harmless creatures that feed on plankton sifted out of the water. As the second-largest living shark, they are constant consumers that intake their food through their characteristic large gaping mouth. The largest accurately measured specimen is believed to have been trapped in a herring net in Canada, in 1851. Its total length was 12.27 m, and it weighed an estimated 18 tonnes.

The installation at the National Museum of Scotland aims to highlight the issue of e-waste. Modern society ‘devours’ technology on a scale not dissimilar to the vast amounts of plankton ingested by basking sharks, but with our appetite for consuming the latest tech kit and devices, we produce a huge amount of ‘waste’ products as a result. Elders’ installation invites visitors to consider how we can “turn the tide on our hunger for tech in a more sustainable direction.” As the artist adds, “I wanted to try and capture the scale of the electronic waste problem and highlight some of the issues created when we ship off our eWaste to countries where its processing is not so well regulated.”

Johnathan Elders ,  Devouring Technology . (Image courtesy the National Museum of Scotland, by Chris Scott).

Johnathan Elders, Devouring Technology. (Image courtesy the National Museum of Scotland, by Chris Scott).

“The basking shark is the embodiment of the scale and nature of our electronic waste problem,” Elders explains. “A colossal creature made up of a tiny part of the vast ocean of e-waste that we produce. Swimming along, mouth wide open, endlessly consuming without any consideration. This is how I feel about our own attitude to the electronic goods, always hungry for the newest technology, but not stopping to consider the impact of our throwaway culture.”

Johnathan Elders ,  Devouring Technology . (Image courtesy the National Museum of Scotland, by Chris Scott).

Johnathan Elders, Devouring Technology. (Image courtesy the National Museum of Scotland, by Chris Scott).

The installation was created from donations of unwanted electronics from CCL North, HomeSpring and Hacklab. Johnathan Elders is best-known for The Laser Garden, a technology influenced art project that explores the idea of evolution through technology, using a combination of lasers and smoke to create ethereal, wearable art. The Edinburgh Science Festival was founded in 1989, and is an educational charity that aims to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to discover the world around them. Each year it delivers the UK’s largest Science Festival with almost 270 events for families and adults over the course of two weeks. To browse the programme, visit www.sciencefestival.co.uk.