If you think there has to be a better way of living, this month’s design news shows you how. We’ve got inspirational people living off-grid and news of the Design for Planet festival – a free event full of “how to” events and workshops to make businesses more sustainable. We even have furniture made from old newspapers and car exhaust pipes. We hope something will inspire you to make a change for the better
If you’re starting to think about Christmas presents, a collection launches today that would look good under the tree. Atelier100 is a programme to help craftspeople develop their businesses using local, sustainable materials and supply chains. Thirteen London-based creatives were chosen for this pilot scheme and mentored by the likes of designers Bethan Wood and Seetal Solanki. They’ve also been given retail space in Hammersmith. The participants include everyone from recent graduates to established artists, furniture makers and designers. The only non-negotiable point was that their materials had to be sourced and manufactured within 100km of Trafalgar Square (the geographical centre of the city). The aim was to lower carbon impact and to forge local supply chains and economies.
Products in the first range include the Thames Clay Vase by ceramicist Alison Cooke, made from clay excavated from 26 metres below the River Thames and handcrafted in her West Hampstead studio. James O’Brien’s Potato-Printed London Dinner Plates are a collection of second-hand plates that have been decorated with meals inspired by the neighbourhood where they were found. Other raw materials include discarded copies of the Metro and Evening Standard newspapers, cobblestones and car exhaust pipes. The materials and thought behind these products is a delight. The Wombles have got nothing on this lot.
The Atelier100 collection is on sale in store at Livat Hammersmith and online. Prices range from £7.50-£700
Ceramics are hugely popular at the moment. It’s become a favoured hobby both for fans of The Great Pottery Throwdown and those who appreciate the mindful benefit of making. It’s also appreciated as an art form; not only do prices for British Studio ceramics keep rising, but decorative vessels and bowls are now part of every homeware collection. They’re as common as candlesticks in well-decorated homes. And while some ceramicists are breaking out of the art world, with Edmund de Waal writing bestselling books and Grayson Perry presenting TV, actors and fashion designers are moving into pottery.
Now an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London celebrates the multifariousness of ceramics. Strange Clay is the first large-scale group exhibition to showcase the many inventive ways that contemporary artists have used the medium. The 23 international artists include well-known names such as de Waal, Perry and Betty Woodman, but there are also delightful works less well known in the UK. Sweden-based sculptor Klara Kristalova’s fairyland installation is a mind-bending use of clay, displaying fantastical creatures among ferns and plants. American ceramicist Woody De Othello’s work is equally surreal, moulding clay into outsized household objects – such as door keys, air con units and phones – into cartoonish, sometimes animalistic shapes.
“Strange Clay brings together some of the most exciting artists working in ceramics in recent years,” says the show’s curator, Cliff Lauson. “Using innovative methods and techniques, they push the medium to its physical and conceptual limits, producing imaginative artworks that surprise and provoke in equal measure.”
Strange Clay: Ceramics in Contemporary Art is at Hayward Gallery from 26 October 2022–8 January 2023
We’ve spent almost all our time on Earth living off the grid. It’s been just 140 years since Thomas Edison switched on his generators at Manhattan’s Penn Street Station and the first electrical grid was born. What if the grid is a blip? What if it’s an experiment we’ve outgrown? Far from being a step backwards for a fringe few, in the 21st century the idea of disconnecting and living self-sufficient lives outside dense, urban areas sounds increasingly attractive. Off-grid benefits have been found to include reduced stress, increased happiness, a smaller environmental footprint and greater connectedness to the planet and those around us.
It’s a message brought home by No Signal, a new book by National Geographic photographer Brice Portolano. Following 10 people who have willingly unplugged, establishing an existence far away from cities, without the internet, 4G or social media, Portolano’s five-year study took him from the wild archipelagos of southeast Alaska to the snow-covered forests of Lapland.
We meet Ali, a horseman in Persia; Sylwia, an artist on the Greek island of Lefkada and Elena, a lighthouse keeper in Norway, to name three. Their lives are not always easy. But their stories are unfailingly poignant, thought-provoking and inspiring. Indeed, Portolano’s portraits make the idea of swapping another night of Netflix for the majesty of the great outdoors hardly seem like much of a sacrifice.
They make it seem eminently sensible.
No Signal – Living in the Heart of Nature – Ten Portraits by Brice Portolano is available from www.teneues.com; £35
While Covid has become the weary backdrop to most people’s lives in 2022, it has had a greater effect on the inhabitants of Bhutan. The remote mountain kingdom has been closed to the outside world for more than two years in response to the pandemic, and the self-isolation ended last month.
To lure tourists back and inspire the population, the Bhutan government gave MMBP creative branding agency a dream job. The chance to brand a nation. Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom, perched high in the Himalayas. It may be one of the very few carbon-negative countries in the world (in 2021, Bhutan sequestered 9.4 million tonnes of carbon against its emission capacity of 3.8 million tonnes).
The country has long practised “high value, low-volume” tourism to protect its wildernesses. Like many countries, Bhutan closed its borders in March 2020 in response to Covid. During closure, the nation reconsidered its tourism policy and is looking at how it can invest in sustainable opportunities for young people.
Bhutan’s new graphic identity will soon be rolled out across government organisations, websites and even stamps. The designs draw on the Bhutanese yellow and orange flag and the cypress forests that cover 70% of the country and the Himalayan blue poppy, which is the national flower.
“This has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and for our team, says Julien Beaupré Ste-Marie, managing director of MMBP. “The learnings we made working alongside such an inspired group of Bhutanese people will influence how we work for years to come.
“Similarly, as the world wakes up to the damaging effects of unrestricted mass tourism and tries to find ways to mitigate climate change, this small and mighty country has many lessons to share with the world.”
Caves have always held a special allure for architects. Ever since early man sought shelter from weather and predators, caverns have been part of our homes and our history. And architects down the ages have also fantasised or been inspired by caves, from temples in India to luxury houses in Spain.
As the effects of modern lifestyles on the planet are revealed, the idea of going back to a way of life with a smaller environmental impact looks ever-more appealing. If you want inspiration and, possibly, a vision of the shape of things to come, go to the new exhibition at the Noguchi Museum, New York. In Praise of Caves: Organic Architecture Projects from Mexico showcases designs by four iconic Central American artist-architects: Carlos Lazo, Mathias Goeritz, Juan O’Gorman and Javier Senosiain.
The exhibition title comes from a chapter in Bernard Rudofsky’s The Prodigious Builders: Notes Towards a Natural History of Architecture (1977), in which Rudofsky states there’s nothing primitive about living in caves, especially as we, he believes, may have to move back underground once we’ve ruined the surface of our planet.
No matter how doom-laden the reasons for cave dwelling, the ideas for living on show at the Noguchi are extraordinary. O’Gorman’s lava cave home in Pedregal, Mexico City is fabulous, as is Senosiain’s Casa Orgánica, built in Naucalpan de Juárez in the 1980s.
In Praise of Caves, Organic Architecture Projects from Mexico by Carlos Lazo, Mathias Goeritz, Juan O’Gorman, and Javier Senosiain is at The Noguchi Museum, Long Island City until 23 February 2023
This year, the UK’s Design Council annual Design for Planet festival has the very necessary theme of “action”. The aim of the event is to help the design community act on sustainability plans using practical workshops and panel discussions.
To address the climate crisis, it’s vital to consider design because 80% of the environmental impact of a product is determined at the design stage. Featuring more 60 experts on everything from biodiversity to supply chains and 20 how-to sessions, this year’s festival could make a difference.
Topics include everything from an interview with fashion designer Phoebe English and a talk on How to Design with Ancestral Knowledge with Desna Whaanga-Schollum of DWS Creative, and Applying Circular Design principles with Mark Buckley from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, to the important of thinking about other species when designing for humans, with Anab Jain, of design agency Superflux.
It’s free to register and join the festival online – so make sure that 2022 is the year that your design good intentions become action.
Design for Planet festival is held at Northumbria University, 8-9 November. Register on the Design Council website to join online