Gold Mining Waste

Gold Mining Waste

Trained as a designer, Ballen has shaped his work to date around the fields of material culture, and anthropology. Specifically studying the ‘intangible relations between objects, people, and local traditions’.

During a stint on exchange in Iceland as part of his degree at Design Academy Eindhoven, Ballen became aware of the notion of local context and history informing design. Subsequently realising the opportunity to create a body of work revolving around his native Colombia’s most treasured precious resource; gold.


Choosing one of the last remaining community owned gold mines in Colombia, the small hillside town of Marmato was selected as the location for the project. Gold mining is a waste and energy intensive business, and during the process even the much desired target is discarded as waste. Once the gold ore has been crushed and panned, a fine powder known as ‘jagua’ is left. This sand like material contains elements of gold and other precious metals and is treated with chemicals to extract any remaining value. The treated jagua and chemicals are then dumped into Colombia’s second biggest river, the Cauca, at a rate of 100 tonnes a day. Ballen saw the wasted jagua as a chance to reassess the aged old process, with the intent of redirecting the hazardous material down another less harmful stream.


With Colombia based, Belgium born glassblower Pieter van Dyck and the local community of Marmato, they built a mobile oven and cooler. Initially the idea was to take the jagua and blow it into glass, however upon realising the material wasn’t quite suitable, the jagua was used alongside recycled glass, giving it a unique green and gold flecked pigmentation.

‘The Suelo Orfebre collection uses design as a tool for empowerment’. Through which the local mining community have found value in a material they have always known as a waste material. By using the Jagua before it is chemically washed, Ballen was able to keep both elements from entering the local river and waste stream. The subsequent pieces that make up the collection are all unique, and were handblown with recycled materials during a number of workshops with the locals of Marmato.

See more of Simón’s great work at his website and his Instagram.


Simón Ballen