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The installation No Lithium, No Work explores how lithium is the most common treatment for bipolar disorder and how it is also the main component in rechargeable batteries, underpinning everything from electric cars to smart phones to solar panels. The above image is a 1949 photograph of a mental hospital for WWII veterans in Australia where lithium was first developed as a treatment for bipolar disorder, a milestone in psychiatric history. Over the image, Jafri has placed a black keyboard frame and “caps lock” key from a discarded laptop. Jafri´s installation weaves together mental health, labor rights and consumer culture—from factory workers assembling lithium-powered smartphones and laptops jumping to their deaths rather than work another day for Apple or Dell to burnout and suicides by members of the creative class. Additional installation elements include photos of anti-suicide nets strung up on worker dorms at Apple-supplier Foxconn, an iPad playing the music video for Nirvana’s Lithium without sound, a mousepad with the image of Dr. John Cade (discoverer of lithium as a treatment for mood disorders) and a wireless keyboard spelling the words “Help Me.”

Lithium, or lithium carbonate, to be exact, is listed on the WHO’s list of essential medicines and is also being studied as a treatment for dementia and alzheimer’s but since the wireless revolution, the primary demand for lithium carbonate now comes from industry. The mechanisms by which lithium carbonate powers rechargeable batteries are understood but the exact way it affects the brain as a mood stabilizer remains unknown. Moreover, dozens of studies reveal that populations exposed to naturally elevated levels of lithium carbonate in drinking water exhibit lower rates of suicide. The work’s title refers to lithium’s dual use. In its unsparing examination of the nexus between the suicidal and the digital, cutting across disparate geographies and social groups, the work underscores the definitive yet labyrinthine relationship between individual symptoms and collective crises.



No Lithium, No Work (2023) Mixed media installation (wooden display table, photos, texts, objects, video, iPad, iPhone)

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