Shining a light on e-waste: how DARE Art Prize winner Katie Surridge hopes to change our relationships with our electronic waste

Posted Case study, News

The DARE art prize, part of a pioneering partnership between the University of Leeds and Opera North, and in association with the National Science and Media Museum and The Tetley, challenges artists and scientists to collaborate on new approaches to the creative process.

The prize’s fourth winner is Katie Surridge – whose proposal was to address the problem of e-waste and the valuable resources including gold, silver, copper, platinum, aluminium and cobalt that is locked away in discarded electronic devices.

With 57.4 million metric tonnes of e-waste generated in 2021, creative approaches to embedding circularity in the lifecycle of these items is desperately needed to conserve the valuable remainder of these resources we have left, and reuse existing material embedded in our electronic devices.

Katie won the prize in June, and since then has been engaging with stakeholders around the city to capture their input into her research. We grabbed a chat with Katie amongst her busy schedule, to speak about how she intends to embed a focus on sustainability across her research.

Hi Katie! Congratulations on winning the prize. How has your practice evolved to have the focus it does today, and where do you think your interest in e-waste roots from?

I trained as a blacksmith for three years and it was here that I started working with different metals. Because of this I became fascinated by metal, and so I wanted to see if I could physically make the material that I worked with every day, from scratch. This led me to receive some funding for a project which was titled ‘rediscovering lost techniques for a sculptural use’. It explored iron age ways of smelting or making iron from ore I found. Transporting myself through time from the iron age to the present day, my DARE proposal looks at where we are now, with metals trapped in e-waste as a source of material for my new body of work called ‘modern mining’.

Since then, for many including myself, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a surge of interest in making do and getting by with materials we already have. This DIY moto and associated aesthetic is one I explore in my practice. I’m increasingly keen to be able to control the whole process of my making, from sourcing raw materials to manipulating them into final art works.

A large focus of my DARE project focuses on people, and the stories and connections they hold tied to e-waste items. A sense of humour and a genuine interest in connecting with people through absurd artistic interventions is key for me. By hosting events or forming unusual groups or societies, such as my awkward anglers magnet fishing club or the Peckham amateur tracking society, I open up platforms for people to meet and conversation to occur more freely between strangers. These accidental moments and chance encounters which make up my life are at the heart of my work. I’m a storyteller and these experiences often trigger in-depth research projects.

What do you think an ideal future for e-waste would look like?

I think that they should make devices less disposable. We pay hundreds of pounds for a new phone when really it only lasts a few years. If we learn to understand the amount of energy that goes in to making the devices we own, then we may treasure and value materials more.

I am also interested in the values behind projects such as Big Repair Project, which has been established as a public consultation to guide the ‘Right to Repair’ policy. Perhaps if we learnt more about how to fix things, or manufacturers made repair easier, we would waste less. When we repair the objects we own, we create a sense of attachment.

What specific themes surrounding e-waste are you hoping to explore throughout your project?

I’m really interested in learning about the range of metals that are found in our electronic devices, and to discover more about their individual properties. I feel like this could change the way I work and help me to understand how different metals behave, which could lead me to creating some exciting new pieces.

I’m also interested in researching where our e-waste ends up, and meeting some of the people who have to deal with it with the ‘waste’ at its end of life. I will be travelling to Mumbai to try and find out more about their stories.

“Perhaps if we learnt more about how to fix things, or manufacturers made repair easier, we would waste less. When we repair the objects we own, we create a sense of attachment.”

Do you think art has a role in playing the translator between audiences and difficult subjects such as sustainability and e-waste?

Definitely, yes. I think my job as an artist is to immerse myself in research around a new topic and then digest this in to a visual account of what I discover, in a way that stimulates the viewer to understand or consider the topic more.

What’s next for your project, and how can SAIL members get involved?

Soon, there will be donation boxes popping up around Leeds (sneak preview below!) so it would be fantastic if people could donate their old e-waste to those boxes. I am especially interested in using the copper and aluminium found in our devices as it is much more prevalent, so will allow me to recast it. Things like leads and chargers are a useful source of copper in the wire, and so I encourage people to donate these too.

I will also be holding e-waste dismantling sessions, which will act as a space to talk to others about e-waste and our individual connections with it. I’m really interested in recording the stories of the individuals who donate items to the project. This way all the metal extracted can become jointly accounted for, and the final work be a celebration of all the people who contributed.

At the end of the project, around a year from now, I hope that there will be an exhibition of all my work and ideas that SAIL members can come and visit. I hope to see some of you there!

In the meantime, you can keep up to date with Katie’s work via her social media channels:

Instagram: @katiesurridgeart

Twitter: @katiesurridge



From hosting enlightening workshops to rehoming unused resources, from equipping individuals with Carbon Literacy Training to partnering with local organisations for greener events, SAIL is taking the lead in West Yorkshire’s creative and cultural scene. But we’re not doing it alone. Our strength lies in our community, in the passionate and dedicated individuals and organisations committed to fostering a more sustainable future.

We’ve made a significant impact, but there’s still much to be done. We need you to join us on this journey. As a member of SAIL, you’ll not only gain access to our network and resources, but you’ll also play a vital role in driving the sustainability movement in our local creative and cultural industries.