Modern Mining


A creative solution to the global problem of electronic waste could begin at home, in that special drawer where yards of mystery cables and chargers, antiquated phones and broken electrical items go to die, says sculptor and winner of the DARE Art Prize 2022-23 Katie Surridge.

For her year-long DARE commission, Katie is working with scientists at the University of Leeds on ways to give new life to the valuable elements – including gold, silver, copper, platinum, aluminium and cobalt – that are trapped in discarded electronic devices.

On Wednesday 5 October she will be installing e-waste amnesty boxes in locations across West Yorkshire and London and asking members of the public to donate their disused electrical items, in particular any containing copper wire, along with the stories behind them. She then plans to break down the objects and, through a biological process using microbes, extract a metal-rich liquid which will be used in the production of new sculptures.

Part of the pioneering DARE partnership between the University of Leeds and Opera North, and in association with the National Science and Media Museum and The Tetley, Leeds, the £15,000 DARE Art Prize challenges artists and scientists to collaborate on new approaches to the creative process. Katie’s commission addresses the mounting problem of e-waste, which grew to 57.4 million metric tonnes in 2021, with annual wastage growing by an average of two mt per year.

Katie’s practice combines her metalworking skills – acquired over three years at the National School of Blacksmithing, studies with masters of the art in Japan, and archaeologists and metallurgists in Ireland – with public engagement.

“Bioleaching, or biomining, is a process that uses microorganisms such as bacteria to extract valuable metals”, explains Katie. “I plan to learn more about this method to ‘mine’ metals from the devices that are submitted by the public. A metal-rich solution is produced as a result of the bacteria’s actions, and I hope to be able to transfer these metals to my artwork through electroplating.

“I have an aversion to modern technology and my work is often inspired by folklore, stories and skills from the past. My last major body of work involved making my own iron from ore, but my DARE project has transported me from the Iron Age back to the present, and the problems faced by society today.

“The distant past is always a big influence on me, though, and one of the sculptures that I’m planning to make with the recovered metal is inspired by a 1200 BC ‘oxhide’ copper ingot that I discovered in the British Museum. I was drawn to the combination of beauty and utility in its form, which resembles an ox’s skin stretched out to dry, and which also made it easy to carry by hand, to load onto pack animals or to stack in a ship’s hold in the Bronze Age Mediterranean”.

There will be further opportunities for the public to get involved during Katie’s residency at The Tetley, Leeds, between Friday 2 and Friday 16 December 2022. The gallery will host dismantling workshops, where visitors will be able to break up their own items at sculptural workstations that Katie has designed and fabricated: “I’m interested in community action, and people coming together to learn new skills”, she says.

Katie is also collaborating with Dr Girish Kale in the University of Leeds’ School of Chemical and Process Engineering, on producing home electroplating kits for gallery visitors to take away with them. Each set will feature a miniature oxhide ingot hand-cast by Katie from e-waste, and instructions on how to make an electrolyte ‘bath’ from vinegar and salt.

Katie’s brightly-decorated e-waste donation boxes will be installed on Wednesday 5 October at Opera North’s central Leeds headquarters, at the University of Leeds, at The Tetley, Leeds, and at Goldsmiths College, London, where Katie teaches. Donors are asked to drop in their items – cables, chargers, wires, leads, other small appliances like phones, digital cameras, or anything with a motor or a circuit board, and fill out the stories behind the item, how it was used or why it was discarded, in the ‘visitor’s book’.

In the meantime, having been selected as one of this year’s Bloomberg New Contemporaries, Katie is also preparing work for the prestigious annual exhibition, which opened at Ferens Art Gallery and Humber Street Gallery, Hull last week, and tours to South London Gallery in December.

You can follow Katie’s progress via her blog, and drop in on her residency at The Tetley, Leeds from Friday 2 – Friday 16 December 2022. She’ll be based in the Artists’ Studio on the Gallery floor, and using Space3 for dismantling sessions and electroplating workshops. For more information, visit

The full Opera House press release can be viewed here

E Waste amnesty boxes

I have designed and made eight electrical waste or e waste amnesty boxes for locations around London and Leeds.

These boxes have a visitors book attached to them and so people can record thoughts or feelings about e waste or the item they are donating. There are also stickers to place on items that may be fully functional so that these can be reused by a charity I am working with.

The idea is that during my residency at the Tetley I will start to sort and dismantle all of these items.

Please see the map in image gallery above for locations of where you can donate items.


I am interested in the process of electroplating as this allows a small amount of precious metals to go a long way.

‘Electroplating, also known as electrochemical deposition or electrodeposition, is a process for producing a metal coating on a solid substrate through the reduction of cations of that metal by means of a direct electric current. The part to be coated acts as the cathode (negative electrode) of an electrolytic cell; the electrolyte is a solution of a salt of the metal to be coated; and the anode (positive electrode) is usually either a block of that metal, or of some inert conductive material. The current is provided by an external power supply.’

As part of this research project I will be extracting metal from electronic waste, casting it in to anodes and then trying to electroplate my own art work . These images show some initial tests.

Using some of the funding from the Dare art prize I travelled to India and spent two and a half weeks researching the issue of E waste here. The following images show some of the people I met here and some of the adventures I went on.

Part of my project here was connecting with E Waste workers and buying them new safety shoes.
My mum had my first shoes electroplated in copper. This seemed to be a bit of a fad when I was born and an interesting way of immortalising a moment.

The old shoes from the e waste workers were gifted to me and I will be learning how to electroplate non metallic objects with e waste metals with the help of professors from Leeds University, and transform these shoes into art works.

Goddess Lakshmi

I traveled to India to look at the issue of E Waste first hand. I started in Mumbai working with people who dismantle electrical waste by hand. This area was situated to the east of the airport and was a huge site where everyone was involved with stripping and smashing things to get the metals inside out.

I purchased some copper off one of the E Waste dismantling vendors and then travelled across India to Odisha, and then on to Dhenkanal. About 50 km from here, up in the hills, are a cast of people who are historically famous for their metal casting.

They cast brass ( a mixture of copper and zinc) traditionally in clay and ant hill mound moulds, using the lost wax technique. I was able to spend some time here and cast brass with them. I made an offering to the crucible of molten metal which was the copper sourced in Mumbai.

The resulting work, Goddess Lakshmi, is an interesting blend of ancient technique meets contemporary metal waste, recycled in to something new. Im interested in the origins and stories behind E waste resources and if this impacts the way we see objects.

Ox hide ingots

Ox hide ingots are heavy (20-30 kg) metal slabs, usually of copper but sometimes of tin, produced and widely distributed during the Mediterranean Late Bronze Age . Their shape resembles the hide of an ox with a protruding handle in each of the ingot’s four corners to allow people to move these heavy items before being re cast in to objects.

Early thought was that each ingot was equivalent to the value of one ox. The ingots’ producers probably designed these protrusions to make the ingots also easily transportable overland on the backs of pack animals, A truly incredible design.

In this piece I cast copper extracted from electrical waste in to my own miniature ox hide ingots.

These will be used in art works and I am also hoping that they will become the anodes for another electroplating piece I am working on where by I design makers kits for people to take home and do DIY electroplating.