Colombian designer Simón Ballen Botero collaborated with the gold mining town Marmato in Colombia, to explore the complex relationship between the local community and the local mining practices. “Suelo Orfebre” – which means “Golden Soil” in Spanish, explores the potential of constructing new social and economic values by transforming waste products of gold mining into glass objects. Through gold a detailed history of Colombia can be told from past to present. Lured to the Americas by tales of El Dorado, conquistadors exploited the gold mines of Colombia for centuries. To this day, gold is central to the identity of the local mining community in the Marmato region.
Ballen visited Marmato and found Jagua; the crushed ore that is left after gold is processed and extracted. In the past it was used by the nearby glass industry, however nowadays cheaper materials are brought from elsewhere, leaving everyday more than 100 tons of waste material that is discarded in the Cauca river. To reduce the environmental impact of mining, ‘Suelo Orfebre’ aims to rediscover the use of this otherwise valueless material. Ballen collaborated with different craftsmen and glass experts around the Netherlands, Belgium and Finland, experimenting with Jagua. Through this process, he realised the importance of leaving the traces visible of the mineral in the glass as an alternative to industrial homogeneity in glass-colouring. He returned to his country of origin and with the help of the community and glass blower Pieter van Dyck, he built a glass oven on the site of the mines using local and easily accessible resources and produced a series of glass objects.