Riverfront Arts Centre, Newport.
Centrespace Gallery, Bristol.
Barnabas Arts House, Newport.
Art in the Attic, The Factory, Porth, Rhonnda.
May 2018, Maindee Library + with Rufus Mufasa & Unity
November 2018 to Llanover Arts Centre, Cardiff.

View the lost connections exhibition at the riverfront


Lost Connections by Marion Cheung

Lost Connections

Lost Connections transports us from the familiarity of our addiction to social media feeds, the cold blue light of digital screens that constantly distract us – to the largest e-waste dump in the world, in Agbogbloshie, Ghana – a place that I researched through the work of documentary photographers Andrew McConnell and Kevin McElvaney.

A few years ago, it was predicted that in 2017 that there will be more than 10 billion mobile-internet connected devices worldwide, with very short life spans as companies are producing them in such a way that they are not easily repairable - it's cheaper to throw it away and buy a new one rather than get it repaired. Our electronic goods are very sophisticated, containing tiny components that are impossible to recycle economically.

A news story highlighted the hidden world of the largest e-waste dump in Africa- Agbogbloshie, Ghana, which used to be a wetland full of wildlife. It took just 15 years for it to become an environmental disaster where 'rivers have turned black and green...turgid chemicals seeping into the ground...' 

Communities live there with young people and children scavenging through digital detritus - seeking out the little bits of gold and copper from electronic goods to make a living. Plastics from computer monitors are burnt as a quick and easy fix, so that the valuable metals can be retrieved and sold. People carrying out this work without taking heed to the health risks.

It's complicated. From the outside, it looks like rich countries dumping on poor -flouting international laws that should be preventing unrecyclable e-waste from coming into the country. Illegal e-waste dumping has become a lucrative business as safe recycling practices are expensive. Sometimes shipping containers bring the promise of out of date computers that could be used within the community, but instead they are unrecyclable and are damaged.

Lost Connections is an emotional response to the story - raising questions about e-waste; our relationship to digital technology and each other. We don't stop to think what happens to our gadgets when they are no longer wanted as we are too pre-occupied with our blue screens.

To create this series and involve young people, I worked with Year 10 students from Bassaleg High School. I led a series of workshops - students worked incredibly hard to make the representations of e-waste. In collaboration with sound artist Steven George Jones (BOSCH), audio samples were collected from digital games; mashed up with paintbrush strokes and stanley knives that chipped away at stencils applied to canvas. QR codes were generated for each painting so that visitors could listen to the recordings. Visitors wandered around the exhibition looking at the paintings and their phones.

Whilst making Lost Connections, artist John Selway (1938-2017) had a studio space next door to me at Upmarket Galleries. It was a privilege to have shared ideas with him about painting. He often visited to see how my work was progressing. Sadly John died last year following a long battle with cancer. I have fond memories of an unexpected mentor.

Artists Carrie Reichardt and atmstreetart.com were visiting Newport when Lost Connections opened at the Riverfront. They saw it and invited me to exhibit with Human Nature at the Centrespace Gallery, Bristol. The exhibition was featured in the Guardian 'The Art of Changing the World'

With thanks to staff and pupils of Bassaleg High School, Nicola Yeoman - LLanwern High School, The Project Space, Upmarket Galleries, NCC, Wastesavers, Rhys and Gawaine Webber, James Carreon and Martin Browning.