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[e-]Treasure Island:

e-scrap mining and new ore extraction at Naoshima


Teshima Art Museum exterior, Teshima. Author's own photograph, August 5, 2018.

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Teshima Art Museum interior,  Teshima. Author's own photograph, August 5, 2018

Orepocentric adventures

To wit, the current smartphone generation is simultaneously the future mineral deposits for the flexible mine.[1]

By drawing on environmental scientist Freyja L. Knapp’s concept of the flexible mine, we can take the smelter’s mode of extraction and its material resources produced, as a way to understand the extractive governance of the Benesse art site. The disarticulation from the geophysical, which allows greater flexibility in their location, and adaptability to the increasing environmental restrictions which traditional mining had to negotiate. Her definition of disarticulation has interesting implications for architecture because it places refinery buildings as the new fixities for the flexible mine which are sustained by the global and mobile collection points of materials. Thus, we can understand the convenient role of architecture as something which does not need to physically resemble a mine, thereby making extractive processes blend in with other modes of production. Yet, it houses a reclaiming of wealth which ensures it is pinned down in a spatial network of commodity production. Its dependence on previously mined materials to exist, is thus an extension of this form of extraction, as it affords them multiple more lives through recycling.

Octopus Mine

The figure of the octopus, its nimble arms sprawled across a Setouchi Triennale 2019 poster themed on Restoration of the Sea and its 12 islands with Naoshima at the centre; the starting point for conceiving Knapp’s flexible mine as an octopus mine gathers at the intersection of notions of flexibility and resourcefulness. This species, able to self-amputate, restore limbs and its severed limbs to even hunt independently; continues the conversation of the ore, raising questions of embodiment and consciousness in the movement of materials. These traits can also be found in symbolic representations of the Octopus (akkorokamui) in Shintoism as aquatic deities of regeneration and transformation.[2] The octopus, which ‘threatens boundaries’[3] and is chosen to front the island-hopping nature of Benesse’s Triennale, allows us to read how Knapp’s flexible mine might be embodied and act with spatial agency.

Alongside this visual is a schematic illustration produced by the Mitsubishi Corporation in which their method of copper smelting at Naoshima is depicted. Both images depict a conflated anthropomorphism to combine human and non-human elements in the capitalist-led reorganisation of space. Rather than illustrating ‘…conventional anthropomorphic depictions, in which non-human beings are simply used for their cute shapes to tell an allegory of the human world…’,[4] its allocation of human and non-human also reflects an economic hierarchy and the allocation of value. The volcanic rock is the most animated entity, embodying mechanical arms and gurgitating, as if endlessly, copper ores.

To consider the fact that the e-scrap mine increasingly moves away from such depictions of an outdoor, open-ore mine in the landscape, architecture insulates this metallurgical process of urban mining and the ‘infinite recyclability of metals.’[5] Not only taking nature into the laboratory, as Rachel Carson holds,[6] but by holding it hostage in the process of endless recycling. In turn, corporations that precipitated the environmental damage in the first place, sustain their power and agency, focusing on innovative futures as a tabula rasa, in an attempt to sidestep their controversial legacies.


In order to understand how modes of extraction might be visualised in the Benesse art site beyond the Mitsubishi industrial grounds, I will next look at the Benesse House Museum, Oval, and a few elements of the Teshima Art Museum which also belongs to the extended art site. Central to these buildings are the large, circular, architectural voids through which the landscape is framed, and a contemporary local aesthetics of eco-tourism is developed. If we look at these architectural forms as part of a contemporary extractive landscape, this shape of the hole is cued by geographer Gavin Bridge as ‘a space of ecological appropriation’ in which human-nature relationships are re-envisioned.[7] Moreover, he marks them as ‘wormholes’ and disjunct thresholds indicative of where resources are known to lie.[8] To him, the hole is also a space of materiality; a mediating portal between cycles of natural time and modern capitalism’s accelerated time in which it harnesses and transforms the concentrated energies latent in natural materials.

The concept of ‘planetary aesthetics’ is put forward by Peg Rawes, through the work of Spinoza,[9] as the role of geometry as a form of ratio, or rational design system in which relational reasoning may take place.[10] This planetary aesthetic has been credited in part to the first NASA satellite images of the Earth in the 1960s which greatly influenced visualisations of our planet in relation to the universe. It can further articulate the idea of circular geometries which help visualise a rationale of extractive design systems; channelling carbonic, solar, and mineral energies embodied in the natural landscape.

It is also called an Oval, from the Latin word for egg, ovus, a shape symmetrical across one axis and not the other. Unlike an ellipsis, the related or more ‘perfect’ geometric form which is symmetrical at both ends. Through inferring this organic form, the building alludes to geometric forms of an organic order and is imbued with something akin to the imperfect but highly sought world of ore. Furthermore, its self-containment suggests the openings as planetary spaces which appear to operate autonomously.

If we turn to look at the map of the Oval, the main circulation space reveals views are obstructed both into the void space from its surrounding rooms and to anywhere else but the sky from within it. Two staircase passages of entry into this space are also connected to an outer concentric orbit, with no openings onto the rest of the building. These qualities enhance the self-contained nature of the building, and more formally restrict the relationship to nature for inhabitants, as spectators. From its centre, the glazed walls of the rooms are oriented to the sea in a radial motion, as if directing the hole outward, a source of energy seeping through transparent materials. It appears to visualise the hole as a source of emerging energy derived from its connection to the natural landscape. Yet, the Oval is contained by the inner ring of opaque concrete, a blind spot to which the six spaces are tethered.


[1] Freyja L. Knapp, ‘The Birth of the Flexible Mine: Changing Geographies of Mining and the e-Waste Commodity Frontier,’ in Environment and Planning A 48, n. 10 (2016): 1890 <> [accessed August 15, 2021].

[2] ‘Akkorokamui,’ Yokai, 2021, <> [accessed August 15, 2021].

[3] Amia Srinivasan, ‘The Sucker, the Sucker!’ in London Review of Books 39, n. 17 (2017) p. 1.

[4] Shiho Satsuka, ‘Sensing Multispecies Entanglements: Koto as an “Ontology” of Living,’ in Social Analysis 62, no. 4 (2018) p. 79 <> [accessed August 15, 2021].

[5] Mazen Labban, ‘Deterritorializing Extraction: Bioaccumulation and the Planetary Mine,’ in Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 104, n. 3 (2014), p. 561 <> [accessed August 15, 2021].

[6] Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, (London: H. Hamilton, 1963), pp. 1-30.

[7] Gavin Bridge, ‘The Hole World: Scales and Spaces of Extraction,’ in New Geographies 02, Landscapes of Energy (2009), p. 45.

[8] Ibid. p. 45.

[9] Peg Rawes, ‘Planetary Aesthetics,’ In Landscape and Agency: Critical Essays, edited by Ed Wall and Tim Waterman, 1st edn (Oxford: Routledge, 2018), pp. 78-89.

[10] Peg Rawes, ‘Aesthetic Geometries of Life,’ Textual Practice 33, no. 5 (2019), pp. 787–802 <> [accessed August 15, 2021].

Copyright of images: © Alia Hamadeh

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