Conceived as a spa resort, the exhibition Lithium highlights the beneficial and destructive aspects of the eternal human search for energy. Researchers, designers and artists have been invited to reflect on the role of the chemical element lithium in powering today’s economy. How many times can we recharge our batteries without addressing the causes of depletion, in both human bodies and the planet?

Lithium

Lithium powers laptops and electric cars. It treats physical and mental disorders. Since its discovery in 1817, this metal has been a vital resource for energising the planet, playing a fundamental role in maintaining our current capitalist economy. Yet, at the same time, lithium has aggravated the burn-out of ecosystems and human bodies.

Staged as a mineral spa, the exhibition Lithium invites visitors to experience the states of exhaustion and revitalisation to which bodies are subjected in today’s economy. This is why visitors are encouraged to recharge themselves through a series of lithium treatments.

Energy

Our continued search for energy cures can, nevertheless, exacerbate the problem. After all, how many times can our batteries be recharged? This exhibition, therefore, exposes the destructive effects of lithium technologies and industries that lead to ecological devastation, the dispossession of Indigenous peoples, and forms of social control through mass medication. In doing so, Lithium aims to spark a debate on larger questions of burn-out and productivity in relation to the human body and the planet.

Upon visiting the exhibition Lithium, guests are taken on a journey through a range of treatments, steam baths and therapies, where they will experience states of exhaustion, revitalisation and restoration.

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‘Calculated Combustion’. Maarten Meij.

This Extraordinary Rock’. David Habets, Cameron Hu and Stefan Schäfer.

Film by Alice Wong. Image source: Sony Energytec, 1991

Ozark Lithia springs, USA, 1908. Courtesy of Garland County Historical Society, Arkansas, USA

Lucas Cranach the Elder, ‘Der Jungbrunnen’ (‘The Fountain of Youth’), 1546.

The exhibition travels through 10 differing zones

  1. The Reception — A step into the history of lithium from its discovery in 1817, its use for medicinal purposes and its ability in the present day to power laptops and electric cars. The reception uncovers lithium’s role in the economy and our lifestyles.
  2. Consultation Room — This room is an exploration of the healing power of the mineral. It questions the idea of including lithium in our diets through supplements and lithium-enriched products, despite its effects on our minds and bodies still being unknown.
  3. Mineral Spring — It is here that we learn about the small quantities of lithium that end up in our drinking water. A fact that has been linked to suicide rates - the higher the concentration in the water the lower the rates.
  4. Drinking Hall — the hall welcomes you to refresh yourself with a glass of sparkling lithia Water, a drink with a salty taste. From its introduction in the 1910s in the soda drink 7UP when it was marketed as a hangover cure and mood-lifter during the Great Depression
  5. Outdoor Pool — Exploring the luxurious bathing and 19th century spas that offered guests intellectual entertainment. The Outdoor pool welcomes visitors to day-time lectures and nigh-time performances.
  6. Steam Baths (36-60ºC) — Steam baths powered by lithium-ion batteries. The same batteries that power phones and provide an alternative to use of fossil fuels that warm our planet. The baths question this notion and are a space to wonder how many batteries our future can afford?
  7. Heat Treatment (180.5ºC) — Inspired by the reactive and volatile qualities of lithium. The heat treatment shines a light on the mineral’s unstable characteristics from overheating in products to its use in thermonuclear bombs.
  8. Salt Room (2-22ºC) — Here visitors are welcomed to the site of one of the sources of lithium, the Salar de Atacama in Chile. Within the room visitors can rest on platforms and listen to the voice of the rich microbial environment that lives and gives life. Exploring lithium’s ancient home and the people it shares this ground with.
  9. Cold TherapyLithium was created from the Big Bang and existed 13.8 billion years before being discovered. A large amount of lithium is still in circulation from this moment in outer space. It is believed, however, that there should be much larger amounts of lithium in the universe than it is currently observable. A so-called cosmological lithium problem still drives scientists to search for the element using powerful telescopes. 
  10. Exit — A last chance to question our ongoing dependance on lithium and other new energy sources. Asking if we should keep searching to keep consuming or rethink our energy habits entirely. The exit is a point from which to go beyond the current imbalance between human relentlessness and the wider world that support it.

With contributions from David Habets, Cameron Hu, Stefan Schäfer, Juan Arturo García, Nicolás Jaar, Maarten Meij, Godofredo Enes Pereira, Lithium Triangle Studio (Mingxin Li, Antonio Del Giudici, Yvette Waweru, Melis Goksan), Mingxin Li with Anabel Garcia-Kurland, Alice Wong and others. The exhibition features interviews with Alonso Barros, Cristina Dorador and Rolando Humire. The spatial design of the exhibition is by Katrin Bombe and the graphic identity of the project was developed by Austin Redman.

Lithium, Het Nieuwe Instituut 2020. Photo: Johannes Schwartz.

Lithium, Het Nieuwe Instituut 2020. Photo: Johannes Schwartz.

Lithium, Het Nieuwe Instituut 2020. Photo: Johannes Schwartz.

Lithium, Het Nieuwe Instituut 2020. Photo: Johannes Schwartz.

Lithium, Het Nieuwe Instituut 2020. Photo: Johannes Schwartz.

Lithium, Het Nieuwe Instituut 2020. Photo: Johannes Schwartz.

Lithium, Het Nieuwe Instituut 2020. Photo: Johannes Schwartz.

Lithium, Het Nieuwe Instituut 2020. Photo: Johannes Schwartz.

Lithium, Het Nieuwe Instituut 2020. Photo: Johannes Schwartz.

Lithium, Het Nieuwe Instituut 2020. Photo: Johannes Schwartz.

Lithium, Het Nieuwe Instituut 2020. Photo: Johannes Schwartz.