Look good and do good
Funny how in a few days, one venue can change so dramatically. Soon after Part One, New Designers Part Two (3rd – 6th July) was dedicated to visual communication, product, furniture and spatial design. In comparison to Part One, this show featured fewer designs but in grander scales; as a consequence the public had more space to roam. Both amongst visitors and exhibitors the male to female ratio reversed tenfold and Part Two was a lot more masculine.
My first impression was that there was less colour and more function. Practicality is the key word in these design disciplines; as I started to investigate further however, I found aesthetic charm in unexpected places.
Despite the main floor being filled with furniture and gadgetry, there was still a “girly” section with the upper tiers of Islington Business Design Centre was dedicated to visual communication covering film and animation, graphic and costume design. I started my visit with this section.
My feature article on Part One focused on the notion of ‘entrapment’. I was out to find out how this concept was reflected in Part Two. The course tutors in BA Graphic Design at Havering College very much encouraged their students to communicate personal and societal anxieties through their visual work and many of them were not afraid to confront controversial issues. Mayara Uliana for example, used collage to relay body image anxieties in light of media ideals. Kayleigh Donelan also used collage, gathering headlines and imagery around the welfare reform bill. The aim of her piece was to encourage viewers to challenge stereotypical notions on the working class and the ‘sick note culture’ as quoted by David Cameron.
The work of Gillian Sein Ying Ha from Oxford Brookes University, who goes under the pen name of Enoki, intrigued me. Enoki’s collection of drawings and porcelain figures drew on a number of subjects revolving mainly around upbringing and parenting. Three figures of open legs swarmed by seeds addressed the emotional aftermath of abortion, seeds acting as a symbol of life before it has begun. Another set of porcelain sculptures on a plinth showed distorted female bodies filled with ivory organza and attacking a detached pair of female legs illustrating both the trauma of insomnia and the dominance of the mother figure following the loss of a father.
Enoki also presented some illustrations created with pencil and watercolours. These illustrated philosophical themes from dualism, existentialism and feminism. One noticeable piece showing a number of female figures challenged the concept of feminism and what it may mean to be one. A very smiling Enoki admitted her work may be unusually dark; it certainly contrasted with her spirited nature.
To some extent, my visual communication finds may be said to address the aftermath of an experience of entrapment. It is easy to imagine that these pieces may help in addressing social and personal issues hence underlying the therapeutic value of art.
As I moved on through spatial design towards the product design section, I quickly noticed a high moral concord amongst the graduates’ work shown. It may go without saying, but nearly every designer I chatted to, explicitly explained that they carried out their project with the aim of making the world a better place. – Sorry if the expression sounds cheesy but it provides an excellent explanation – Many of the architectural and spatial designs worked with the natural environment to optimize natural resources. This mantra carried on through to product design, with many eye-catching designs created out of waste material.
David Riley of Coventry University saw the low demand of mattress recycling as a major concern. He explained that companies find it cheaper to bury them, but with rising landfill tax and decreasing amount of disposal space, Riley chose to address all of this with his frankly-titled project: Rubbish Design. By combining shredded mattress composite with fixatives such as resin, he created a small selection of useful household items from candles and dishes to a stool entitled the ‘Thread Chair’. The unusual origin of the raw material used gave these products a sensorial texture and idiosyncratic patterns formed through the distortion of the mattress’s original designs. Riley’s project isn’t just limited to stools made of mattresses though, as he sought further product ideas that could be made from apparel waste and mattresses alike.
A simple if seemingly predictable, recyclable material is paper. That is not the case, as Rupert Elliston from Loughborough University discovered. Shredded paper is difficult to recycle due to ease of cross contamination with other materials and the small size of the waste easily getting clogged in machinery, yet we generate 12.5 million tonnes of waste paper in the UK alone.
Elliston created a simple, yet unusual, method of renewing this versatile material. He created an attachment for 3D printers – such as the Makerbot or Reprap – that simply mixed shredded paper, PVA glue and a bit of water into a smooth paste that can be moulded into incredibly resilient household products of your choosing. This innovative yet remarkably lo-fi method was reflected in the design of his machine built using mainly layers of cardboard between shot blasted aluminium. It was the visual appeal and contrasting aesthetic of Elliston’s printing machine entitled Paperbot which initially attracted me to his project amongst thousands.
It was evident at New Designers Part Two that almost anything and everything can be ‘upcycled’ into exciting new products. Before I came round to Masami Lavault’s project from Central Saint Martins, however, I did not realise you could make plastic out of milk. Lavault pointed out that it was in fact a commonplace production in the 19th century that came to a halt during the War due to the shortages for food. Fast forward to the present day, and you will discover worryingly high levels of milk waste which Lavault decided to upcycle. Dying her unusual plastic blue she created a stool and a protective vest with shoulder pads, demonstrating the material’s resilience. She chose to create the latter ensemble in light of the dairy protests that happened in Brussels last year in 2012, where farmers drenched riot police and sprayed governmental buildings in milk. The installation included these two pieces and a large wooden cow that didn’t bear any plastic creations but milk collecting containers instead. Lavault discovered an encouraging method of gathering waste milk from neighbouring households was to bring an animal along. This is evident in a successful campaign in some European countries which organises ponies and cows to collect household waste milk door to door.
While there was a general consensus to create products out of waste material, some graduates focused on non-conventional materials to create household products with, in order to utilise their unlikely advantages. Kingston University London’s Sam’s Gordon’s concrete stool very cleverly fused our desire for unique customisation and the need for mass production. Gordon’s set of concrete stools in different colours, all bearing unique marking were created using one simple technique: by tipping coloured concrete into a plastic bag at the bottom of a timber frame. The liquid concrete makes for easy manufacture while the impressionable plastic creates unexpected results. The other advantage of concrete is that the steel legs of the stool are held very firmly within the set solid material, without the use of nuts and bolts.
This highly industrial furniture collection benefitted from the surprisingly soft and inviting texture of the seat created by the creases and soft shapes produced by the plastic.
This popular object was often used to demonstrate the resilience and usability of the design process created. When I hovered towards the National School of Furniture at Buckinghamshire New University stand I was immediately attracted by Lizzy Ashworth’s beautiful, floral wooden hand-carvings. An ornate wall piece turned out to be a secret clock. Ashworth carried out these florals embellishing a flat wall-hanging that mixed digital carving used in mass production for the fenced body of the piece, with the less predictable and softer touch of hand-carving on top of it. Between these two pieces a simple wooden chair stood, out; questionably minimalistic it bore no embellishment. I sought to find out how such a simple chair found itself amongst an ornamental collection. I found shallow grooves beneath the seat as if they had been gently moulded in with human fingers. Ashworth explained this unexpected texture was to add a sensorial experience to the everyday product. Designed for the working environment, the chair’s simple yet unexpected features enable user interactivity with the product and increase awareness of others around them.
Like Ashworth a number of graduates at New Designers sought to re-introduce hand crafted elements into commercial products. In the opposite direction some graduates aimed to introduce more technology into the household. Milo Spisz from Ravensbourne placed user engagement at the centre of his creation. His interactive lamp was able to move and adjust its brightness as the users hover their hand close to the product. A transparent bowl that holds the lighting element was able to travel vertically up and down a wire, getting brighter the higher up it went.
Spisz jokingly described his light as a ‘vanity project’ as he wished to boast the intricate motoring system he created for his product to work. The aesthetic quality of his project will certainly not let his hard work go unnoticed.
I was truly impressed by the work shown at New Designers Part Two and I really hope the majority of these products make it into our homes soon. I also hope that the sustainable stance reflected across the graduates’ work may more consistently be shown in the designs available commercially. I, like many I’m sure, tend to judge a book by its cover. To be able to compete in the market place, ethical products need to be aesthetically equal to their non-sustainable concurrent. In any case I am happy that my shallow judgement led me to discover the projects aforementioned; all look good as well as do good.
All images by Sayuri Standing