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Rachael Colley Blog 2: What can design do?

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The Design Museum’s Waste Age exhibition asked, ‘What can design do?’, presenting a broad range of designs which aim to be sustainable, following circular design principles as opposed to the current ‘take, make, waste’ model of consumption. Designers of IoT are encouraged to consider the products end of life, or death, in the first instance, as the starting point of the process rather than the end-point. In the exhibitions accompanying publication Josh Lepawsky states that, ‘by the 2030s-40s, if current rates continue, consumers will discard in excess of 100 million tonnes of electronic devices globally per year’ (p19). Creating sustainable, yet bespoke IoT particular to a person, family, group or community may be possible by developing and crafting objects which can be created using materials from personal or local waste streams. Free online resources, such as Materiom’s materials library, utilise food waste to create a range of bioplastics which respond to changes in moisture levels. Jon Rogers, co-investigator on the hiCraft project, sent me a range of seaweed samples in the post (kelp, pepper dulse and sea spaghetti), which I combined with other locally sourced waste materials, including my own food and garden waste, to create bioplastic variations. 

I applied to join the free STEAMhouse short course ‘Introduction to 3D printing with Biomaterials’, which was delivered online and in person by Kaitlin Ferguson and Sarah King, running from 16-30 June 2022. I tested variations on Kaitlin’s base recipe, developed from used coffee grounds, chalk, sodium alginate and water. The acidic coffee and alkaline chalk react together, the resulting material, depending on its ratios, can be returned to the ground after use, changing the pH of the soil. We were advised to produce a range of manual extrusion tests with the mixture before testing it with the 3D printer, to check to see whether the particle size was small enough and that the material could be extruded. The results of these tests could be combined to create 3D ‘drawings’ which helped me to explore form and composition. 

I also got the chance to collaborate other course members to test another Materiom recipe using ground egg shell and xanthan gum, as well as combining egg shell with ceramic waste to form a paste to extrude manually to test-out the mixture before attempting 3D printing. The test failed around half-way up the small coil pot sample it was programmed to produce. Following the course, I used reclaimed ceramic waste and added egg shell to that, pressing it into basic cardboard moulds which produced some interesting but rudimentary tests that have potential for further development. 

A research trip to London enabled me to attend a Whitby Jet carving workshop at Cockpit Arts Bloomsbury with jeweller Jacqueline Cullen, as I was interested to explore the plastic qualities of this organic semi-precious British gemstone. I also visited with the intention of seeing two exhibitions, Rooted Beings at the Wellcome Collection and Yours Eternally at Somerset House, exploring ideas around repair, care and healing. It was an inspiring exhibition showcasing a wide range of projects, including Linda Brothwell’s Acts of Care and Aono Fumaki’s repair work, combining and making whole through wood carving discarded objects salvaged from Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake. Superflux’s work asked: what can we scavenge from existing technologies in order to create a fairer, more equal, and harmonious society? Creating a range of speculative artefacts, including Airborne Pollution Sensor, developed for their film The Intersection, which conjures a fictional scenario that has witnessed the violent breakdown of society. I really enjoyed the ad hock and immediate nature of these design ideas, the way that they combined natural wood and found objects with the electronics, conveying the context in which they functioned, monitoring disruption in natural environments, detecting pollution levels, illegal logging, etc. 

“You are in an endless state of communion and infinite contemplation with other natural elements and beings. Can you see with your skin and hear with your arms? Can you think together with the air and the sun and the soil?” Michael Marder and Eduardo Navarro, Vegetal Transmutation, Rooted Beings, Wellcome Collection

Rooted Beings resonated on many levels, with Michael Marder and Eduardo Navarro’s Vegetal Transmutation audio piece grounding me in the space, and the large scale of Ingela Ihrman’s seaweed sculptures captivating and enticing me with their intriguing materiality. I realised how much I too long for another way of being, to embrace the wildness that is to be found in nature and aim to move slowly towards a sense of relinquishing control.

“Perhaps we have forgotten how to cultivate our sensitivity towards non-human life. I long for other ways of being, rather than the rational western human. In my work, I’m using the seaweeds to enter into my tummy: a vegetative place, both human and non-human, a thriving inhabited ecosystem inseparable from what I refer to as myself.” Ingela Ihrman, Rooted Beings, Wellcome Collection