Lisa Barnard (Senior Lecturer, The University of South Wales)

The Canary and the Hammer

Like the ‘canary’ taken into the mine, gold is the gauge by which we monitor our environment; the hammer the tool that smashes the structures to which it is embedded.”

Lisa Barnard was the first speaker at our symposium titled ‘Practices, Processes, and Materials: Re-configuring Practice as Research in a Post-digital Age’ held on Thursday 1st June 2017. She discussed her project, which she described as a depository, on the subject of gold and as a response to the financial crisis of 2008. The output of Barnard’s research is a scrolling website with audio, film and photography, a three-screen interactive cube, and a book. Barnard explained how gold is “a potent symbol of ultimate value, beauty, purity, greed and political power”; the depository is a personal journey which explores these stories. Her work is fragmented, to avoid the photographic norm of a series, and this is evident through each of the chapters of this project. In her talk, Barnard spoke about her journey through the depository, with each chapter containing several subjects which are documented through narration and photographs:

Disease of the Heart

  • An historic overview of the financial crisis during the reign of James I and the Charter to the Virginia Company of London in 1606 for the pursuit of gold and silver, and the relationship between Pocahontas and John Rolfe.
  • Space ownership and the mining of asteroids, specifically referring to 433 Eros, an S-type near-Earth asteroid discovered in 1898.
  • The Dolaucothi Gold Mines (Carmarthenshire, Wales) are the only known Roman gold mines in Britain. Jewellery made from pure Welsh gold is very rare; the jewellery of the royal family has been made from pure Welsh gold since 1923.

Sweat of the Sun

  • The history of gold in South America, Francisco Pizarro, a Spanish conquistador, who looted Peru for its previous metals, and the gold mining that exists in Peru today.
  • Internal maps and tunnels of the mountains of central Peru and portraits of the Peruvian gold mining workers; men are employed to mine the gold and women, known as the Pallaqueras, are employed to sort the minerals.
  • The process of gold extraction at a mine in central Peru, and the Carbon in Leach (CIL) method. This method uses cyanide and has poisoned many lakes in the surrounding area.
  • During the talk, Barnard referred to the philosopher Martin Heidegger when discussing the idea of the tool, ‘the hammer’, how it is an extension of the body and what happens if it breaks.

The Ghost of the Gold

  • Barnard discussed invisible gold, gold and capitalism, gold reserves and the actor Jimmy Garner.
  • The Federal Reserve Bank of New York is the largest gold repository in the world. Some of the gold belongs to many foreign governments who are trying to repatriate their deposits.
  • The Bank of England vaults hold a fifth of the world’s gold. The Bank of England abandoned the gold standard in 1931, and the US followed suit in 1971.
  • Today, people are investing in gold and silver, and are even burying it in their gardens.
  • Lisa discussed ISIS propaganda and the obsession with gold currency. They claimed to have created a currency called gold dinars, but there is no evidence of this.

Excrement of the Gods

  • Nasa uses an enormous amount of gold for technology, e.g. spectrographs, the Hubble space telescope (to be replaced by the James Webb Space Telescope), in circuits as a conductor, and to plate polyester film to reflect infrared light.
  • Barnard also discussed the gold rush and gold mining in the US.

The Fox & the Rooster

  • Electronic waste (e-waste) is becoming a fast-growing problem, and the US is the largest producer of e-waste in the world. Instead of being recycled, the e-waste of the US is exported and dumped in Asia and Africa. In efforts to decrease the pollution, the Chinese government have relocated and scattered a lot of the waste to South China. Hong Kong is one of the major ports that sees e-waste being transported to China; it is often illegally smuggled and labelled as plastics. The gold is illegally extracted in China and sold back to the jewellery industry in Hong Kong.
  • Birmingham is the home of the jewellery industry in the UK. Barnard explained how a refinery near Birmingham uses similar methods to what she witnessed in China.

Lycurgus & Ambrosia

  • Gold nanoparticles have been used by artists for centuries for how it reacts with visible light to create vivid colours.
  • Gold nanoparticles are used in medicine, e.g. cancer treatments and malaria drugs. Barnard photographed parts of the process at an organisation in Cardiff.
  • At York University, there is research into using plants to produce gold catalysts.


To explore Barnard’s depository, click here.