Take a tour of ten exhibits that give a snapshot of how our material world and aesthetics are evolving. The Materials Tour, curated by trend specialist and head of colour & materials at Stylus, Sioban Imms highlights practitioners re-making raw materials, uncovering new and remarkable properties of natural resources, intervening with industrial processes to innovate and exploring the future of our designed environment through virtual reality.
At this year’s London Design Fair there is a marked shift towards using overlooked materials, by-products and waste to create beautiful, thought-provoking and useful products. In a world where resource scarcity is a primary concern we look towards progressive practitioners creating a more sustainable future for design. This selection should help visitors begin to navigate the important materials themes at the show.
01. Zuza Mengham
Inspired by lichens, London-based artist Zuza Mengham has made a series of sculptures that celebrate their diverse properties and powers. Lichens are natural indicators of pollution and historically they have been used as textile dyes and antibiotics. These characteristics inspired five sculptures made of Jesmonite - the designated Material of the Year at London Design Fair. Jesmonite is a versatile plaster-based material which can be pigmented, cast into moulds or applied to surfaces to achieve a multitude of textures and effects - these qualities make it a staple for prop-makers and sculptors working in film and theatre and more recently it has been used by artists and designers including Ariane Prin of Prin London who has created a site specific installation of jesmonite tiles infused with metal powders that corrode and patinate over time.
In association with Spanish wood panel and laminate manufacturer Finsa, Dutch collective Envisions explore new possibilities for Finsa’s manufacturing processes. By creatively intervening in the production line and incorporating by-products into ideas for new products, Envisions have developed a range of new possibilities. Envisions also offer a VR experience that immerses us in a world built from digital materials - this all-encompassing foray into the potential textures, colours and materiality of our built environment spurs us to rethink our material future. Brands can learn how to reinvent their product from Finsa and their creative collaborations with designers.
03. Craft Combine
South Korean collective Craft Combine developed ‘Planet Planters’ for Seoul lifestyle store Queenmama Market. Using environmental conditions to enhance patina effects on the surfaces of red copper and brass, the vessels are an embodiment of the ambient sunlight, humidity and temperature present at the time they were made. Impurities within the metal surfaces are used as a positive design element which makes each piece unique.
04. Carmen Machado
London based woven textile designer Carmen Machado combs coastlines around the globe for washed-up fishing nets, which she then upcycles into new textiles for the home. Drawing us in with a beautiful palette and clever construction, scraps of discarded fishing nets are encapsulated in upholstery fabrics. The sheer variety of the fibres she gathers provides a troubling snapshot of the scale of the greater problem that lies beneath the ocean’s surface.
05. Dutch Invertuals
London Design Fair brings Dutch Invertuals to the city for the first time to show Harvest, the acclaimed exhibition seen at Milan Design Week in April this year. Curator Wendy Plomp has brought together thirteen prominent designers to explore how pressures on resources and the economy might shape our future material landscape. Products are harvested from grown sources, mined from stardust, scavenged from urban alleyways and dumps and raw materials are remade from post-industrial waste. The show provides a though-provoking take on the future of product and material design. Each edition of the Dutch Invertuals show is drawn together with progressive exhibition design, this time they have collaborated with Dutch panel product manufacturer Leeuwerik and textiles producer Febrik.
06. Nanna Kill
The commercial rise of veganism has been making headline news lately spurring a better understanding of the impact animal rearing has on the environment. However on the flip side, trade in Danish pork is increasing - according to Reuters, Chinese consumers are boosting the demand for premium meats. In an investigation into what can be made from the by- products, Nanna Kill found that the bones are already industrially ground into a flour that is used as animal feed or an additive for cement - in fact, in 2016, the Danish cement producer Aalborg Portland used 15,000 tonnes of bone flour in their production meaning that pig bones are put into the fabric of buildings. The pig hair can be stripped off and used as a reinforcing fibre or gathered into a stiff brush - Kill adds a cushion of bristles to the bottom of her tables which can support up to 70kg and also allow it to be easily maneuvered around.
07. Irina Razumovskaya
Recent Royal College of Art graduate Irina Razumovskaya plays with traditional ceramic processes to create new forms and finishes. Blocky vessels with a terrazzo-like quality are made from clay scraps bound together with tin glaze - the character and colours of each piece depends on what odds and ends could be swept up and salvaged from the studio. Her experimental aesthetic provides a playful and progressive direction for ceramic design which sees expressive layered glazes brought together with bold forms.
08. Chen Chen & Kai Williams at Assembly
The USA pavilion, curated by Jill Singer and Monika Khemsurov of Sight Unseen showcases the work of 13 outstanding American designers who take luxury design in a new direction through innovative combinations of material and process. Design duo, Chen Chen and Kai Williams create consistently inspiring designs with their unconventional use of familiar materials – in this case the designers, using stone and glass are foraying into the world of the lapidarist (an artisan who works with decorative stone, minerals and gemstones). Stone is machined flat and then UV bonded to glass for their latest series of tables and mirrors.
09. Studio Woojai at Form & Seek
Korean-New Zealander, Woojai Lee crafts sustainable furniture from old newspapers which he hand-sorts, mulches and sculpts with. The marble-like surface has the visual appeal of precious hard stone, yet it has a warm and soft tactile quality. Hosted at the collective show Form and Seek, Lee’s work can be found amongst a collection of beautifully conceived work which will inspire and delight.
10. Hilda Nilson
In an investigation into how digital design can be used to create functional ceramics for architecture and homeware, Swedish designer Hilda Nilson 3D prints with clay. There is a parallel between the method of 3D printing clay layer by layer and one of the earliest ways of producing clay vessels - coil pots (where cylinders of clay are built up layer by layer). Nilson explores a new visual language that emerges with contemporary processes and products – the work can be found at the The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts (KADK) stand.
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