Mále Uribe unveils salt mural made lithium-extraction waste

Architect Mále Uribe has unveiled the Salt Imaginaries exhibition of works created from discarded salt from lithium extraction in the Atacama Desert, Chile.

Located in Santiago, the exhibition aims to draw attention to the salt waste produced during lithium extraction in the Atacama Desert and reconsider the value of this material.

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The Salt Imaginaries exhibition opened in Chile at the end of August

“I came to Chile to look at all the discarded salts that are produced during lithium extraction at evaporation ponds in the Atacama Desert,” Uribe told Dezeen.

“Salt Imaginaries is part of a larger proposal to re-think the value of minerals found in the Atacama Desert, understanding them as carriers of natural and cultural value,” she continued.

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The featured work includes a wall of rock samples from the Atacama Desert and a sylvinite mural

At the centre of the exhibition is a 3.5-metre-long mural made entirely from discarded salt, which is a waste product created when the underground brine containing lithium is placed in evaporation pools to extract the mineral.

Produced in collaboration with the Advanced Technology Laboratory for Mining, the mural comprises over 800 triangular tiles.

Salt Imaginaries exhibition in Chile by Mále Uribe
The mural is made from 800 angular tiles arranged into a 3.5-metre panel

The mural was made with individual tiles with a triangular base in two inverted shapes, so they can be arranged in multiple ways to create different geometrical compositions,” said Uribe

The intention is to create a sense of order, of geometric alignments that contrasts with the unexpected shapes in which salt crystallises in the territory, and also contrasting with the chaotic perceptions usually attached to mining tailings and waste.

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Salt from the Atacama Desert was used to create the tiles

At the centre of the exhibition is a totem formed of nine cone-shaped modules which Uribe left submerged in Chilean lithium ponds to crystallise over a one-month period.

A geological panel on one wall displays 24 rock samples sourced from the lithium ponds of Salar de Atacama, Chile’s largest salt flat. Uribe selected the rocks while working with the communities and on expedition trips.

Totem pole made entirely from discarded salts with nine stacked modules
Nine stacked modules crystallised in the Lithium pools make up the central totem

Th earchitect hopes that her work will demonstrate the versatility of salt as a design material and highlight the value of discarded materials.

“I think we need to change the way we think about extracting natural resources, where we take what we need while ignoring all the matter and ecosystems involved in the process,” said Uribe.

“From a multidisciplinary approach that collaborates with art, science and design, the project aims to reuse Lithium discarded salts in ways that – besides creating new functional & economic value – can capture new symbolic and aesthetic dimensions,” she continued.

“Basically, waste and value are culturally constructed concepts, and art & design have the power to invert them, or at least re-imagine them. These materials and art pieces intend to connect us back to the incredible energy of minerals that have been shaping our planet way before humans appeared.”

Rock samples from Atacama Desert in Chile on yellow wall
Rock samples from a Chilean salt flat were mounted on a yellow wall

Uribe previously created a salt-focused installation at the Design Museum in London. Other projects exploring the potential of salt as a material include a glass-like cladding material made from salt crystals and salt-covered vegan furniture.

The photography is by Francisco Ibáñez.

Salt Imaginaries is on display at Galería Gallo in Chile until 14 October. See Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place around the world.

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