Works by Formafantasma, the Campana brothers, Max Lamb and Vivienne Westwood are on display as part of an exhibition at the spectacular Artipelag gallery in Sweden that shows off design that embraces rather than exploits nature. Curator Lidewij Edelkoort told us more about it
An exhibition at the 32,000sq ft Artipelag gallery in Gustavsberg, Sweden, presents a range of contemporary design that aims to challenge the trend for overconsumption of resources that has become the hallmark of modern production.
Earth Matters: When Natural and Creative Forces Meet, curated by trend forecasters Lidewij Edelkoort and Philip Fimmano, includes designs by almost 40 designers, artists and photographers, including Fernando and Humberto Campana, Formafantasma, Fabrica, Max Lamb, Lex Pott, Juergen Teller, Vivienne Westwood, Marlene Huissoud and Marjan van Aubel. We spoke to Edelkoort about the exhibition.
ICON: On what basis have you chosen the objects in the exhibition and what does the approach of these designers reveal about the current direction of sustainable design?
Lidewij Edelkoort: The beauty of Artipelag's galleries and the surrounding landscape is a formidable aesthetic force. We felt that, as curators, we should bend with its beauty, wave with its grasses, go with the flow of its waters. The objects and installations were chosen to complement the surroundings, merging recent ecological design processes with the enchanting landscape.
The designers in the exhibition are innovative thinkers who are leading the way towards another world of making. They retrace roots, refine the earth and research its history, sometimes going back to the beginning of time. Through this process, they form archaic-looking designs from natural, sustainable materials, favouring rock, wood, hide, pulp, fibre, feathers, clay and fire, as well as using natural colours and less-polluting production techniques.
ICON: For you, what are the highlights of the show?
LE: When entering the exhibition, one finds an overwhelming landscape of boulders, clouds and horizons. We also have a room dedicated to textiles and natural dyes, as well as several galleries that focus on the work of prolific designers working in direct response to nature.
A large cabinet by Piet Hein Eek houses objects that are actually studies in reinventing materials, including the creation of objects in collaboration with insects, robots, magnets and even limestone caves. Like in the revolutionary Solar Sinter project by Markus Kayser, in which the sun's rays are used to print in 3D, we see that the future will indeed allow us to grow design in unison with nature and technology.
ICON: How do the site-specific works relate to their context?
LE: Some pieces – such as the stone tables by Lex Pott and Max Lamb, the melting ice totems by Fabrica and the Oki Nagode seaweed sculpture by Julia Lohmamn – are placed directly overlooking the landscape and are very much in dialogue with the surrounding environment.
Earth Matters is dedicated to the memory of designer Jurgen Lehl and his life's work – his installation is at the exhibition's heart, exhibited close to the water's shore just outside Artipelag and unveiled posthumously a statement about the plight for our polluted beaches. Lehl's hanging lamps may look like playful monsters or plastic jellyfish, but they are in fact a representation of the end of civilisation, an urgent wake-up call begging us to stop choking the planet with plastic and other debris from our unsustainable overconsumption.
ICON: What wider lessons can we learn from the work on display?
LE: The exhibition's epilogue is a dramatic installation by the art duo Van Eetvelde Sautour, which represents our dissected world in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. By challenging ideas about our need for resources and energy, they offer a new perspective on our planet's survival. A poetic ring of frost is generated by giant batteries that last only for one day of the exhibition before needing to be recharged, provoking us to measure the amount of energy required to make art – and everything else in our lives.
ICON: What do you anticipate will be the biggest challenges that designers face in the near future?
LE: Material is the message in today's design world, with designers looking at both low and high-tech ways to reinvent the elements with which they work, all the while staying connected to the earth – recomposing from scraps of matter, reinventing with natural and synthetic ingredients.
In response to overconsumption and our era's ecological crisis, there is a burgeoning movement against the grain, articulated well by Vivienne Westwood in her anti-capitalist manifesto, which is also in the exhibition. This philosophy is gaining momentum and will have long-reaching effects on the way we design for a new group of consumers who no longer wish to consume.
Images: Jean-Baptiste Beranger