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Silicone Valley – a public artwork by John Vella

300 000 used computer keyboard keys and a truckload of silicone adhesive.


Silicone Valley is a floor to ceiling installation in a stairwell at Rose Bay High School, Hobart. It comprises 300 000 used computer keyboard keys, embedded in silicone and covers 85 square meters of wall space. The work was devised by John Vella and was commissioned through Arts Tasmania’s Art for Public Buildings Scheme in 2005.

The project began with securing thousands of obsolete computer keyboards from a Sydney recycling depot (rescuing them from their usual destination as landfill) to Rose Bay High where a group of students assisted with removing the 300 000 keys. It was inspired by the corridors and networks of the internet and places the ‘unidentified histories of those who have touched and communicated, through these particular computer keys, in direct contact with local school students’.

The splendid extravagance of this encrusted passageway could be read simply as decorative recycling, but that would overlook the significance of the complex logistical processes and the material used in its construction. These aspects offer insight into the conceptual and formal strategies of the artist and elicit reflection on our sociocultural conditions. The exponential increase in production and dependance on technology, combined with the built-in obsolescence of modernist-inspired manufacturing processes is taken to task in this work.

Silicone Valley is not only inspired by the recycling consciousness that pervades it, but like a memorial, is a moving testimony to the imperceptible incidental actions that make up our personal histories. The recycled material (is significant), not simply for its ecological timeliness but because of the unidentified histories of all those who have touched and communicated, launching themselves into cyberspace, through these particular computer keys. ” Philip Watkins, Silicone Valley, Architectural Review, …andscape (ar) 095, 2005.

Silicone Valley has been published in substantial articles in many nationally and internationally respected journals including featuring the work on the covers of two journals. The work has been linked to other major Vella commissions in relation to issues of recycling, monumentality and decay as design.

John Vella is the Acting Deputy Head and the Head of Discipline (Art) at the Tasmanian College of the Arts. This work continues his research into physical and psychological frottage.

Please note: Silicone Valley is located in a high school setting and is not accessible for general public viewing. Public artwork, Silicone Valley Silicone Valley – a public artwork Silicone Valley – a public artwork Photographer: Ray Joyce, 2005

Article published: 13 February 2015