Making everything from kinetic jewellery to pots fixed by bacteria
In a challenging time for craft education, Crafts magazine discovered a promising cohort of graduates breathing new life into materials and processes, while rethinking conventions.
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David Dong Ding
‘Jewellery is not only decoration on the body, it can also create connections and interactions between people,’ says David Dong Ding, an MFA graduate from Edinburgh College of Art. His delicate gold- and silver-plated brass designs – called Boundary of Balance – are both wearable objects and kinetic sculptures. As jewellery, the items hover precariously on the wearer’s face, with a series of interchangeable elements that can be added or removed to create different compositions that move as your body does. ‘All the jewellery pieces can be separated into different parts and worn in different ways,’ he says. But the collection really comes to life when it’s taken off and put away on its stand. Its fine details and the distribution of weight creates movement – each component adds to the whole, changing how it balances and causing the composition to turn and spin.
Chloé Rosetta Bell
One of a growing cohort of craftspeople exploring more sustainable models of making, Royal College of Art MA graduate Chloé Rosetta Bell uses overlooked materials to create elegant glazes for tableware. For her Ceramics & Glass degree show, the artist showcased two projects that resulted in tactile pottery in soft grey tones. ‘My current collections are research-driven and have been formed in response to two Michelin-starred restaurants, where they are now in use: Kitchen Table in Marylebone and Sosban & The Old Butchers on the Isle of Anglesey,’ she explains. The natural glazes for her cups, bowls and vessels were created using seaweed ash and the shells of oysters and mussels – the former were gathered from the bay below Sosban, and the latter salvaged from waste with help from Porthilly Oyster Farm. As Bell puts it: ‘The collections forge physical and sensory connections between the restaurants, their suppliers and the natural landscape from which the ingredients are sourced.’
For his degree project, Concertina, University of Plymouth BA graduate Huw Evans sought to explore the capacity of wood to be fluid and flexible. ‘Understanding a material’s capability and seeking to extract that potential forms the foundation of my work,’ says the designermaker. His collection of objects all use a method of processing and cutting timber to create a slatted formation that moves in multiple directions. This shape is then splayed to make chairs and lampshades. While the external surfaces have a smooth finish, the inner sides of the slats feature the marks left by a bandsaw, accentuating the making process. Evans’ collection scooped the award at the New Designers exhibition the Conran Shop in London, with the judges comparing his work to the early designs of Sir Terence Conran.
When researching materials for her master’s project at Edinburgh College of Art, Jasmine Linington was drawn to seaweed – a substance that grows rapidly and is therefore highly sustainable. ‘It’s often viewed as smelly, slimy and unpleasant,’ she says. ‘I was determined to change our preconceived notions, showcasing its potential within a sophisticated and high-end collection of textiles.’ She explores the use of seaweed in creating fabric, embellishments and dye. The seaweed fibre and yarn have a silky quality, the natural dye has subtle organic tones and the kelp-based sequins have a leatherlike feel. Using these, she is developing a range of accessories for fashion and interiors, as well as commissioned artworks. ‘It’s been fascinating watching people’s reactions when I reveal to them the main ingredient,’ says Linington, who now hopes to set up her own small business in Edinburgh.
For her collection of minimalist jewellery, Weighting Feathers, Central St Martins’ BA graduate Jing Jiang took inspiration from the traditional Chinese craft of tian-tsui, in which iridescent kingfisher feathers are used to adorn decorative objects. Looking to preserve the craft without the associated slaughter of an endangered species, she sourced feathers from farms and kitchens – among them, those of geese and turkeys. Keeping the delicate pieces intact while cutting and gluing them had its challenges. ‘Only after I figured out a way to show an undamaged part of feather instead of its entire shape was I able to achieve the visual trick where you cannot tell what the material is at first glance,’ she says. The results are elegant, minimalist objects that recreate a luxurious appearance, but with a distinctly contemporary aesthetic, using material that would otherwise be thrown away.
Could broken ceramics grow and bio-heal through biomineralisation? That was the question Central Saint Martins graduate Yiwei Cui asked herself on her final project for the Material Futures MA course. ‘Biomineralisation is a spontaneous self-healing behaviour that occurs in almost all living organisms,’ she explains. In her quest to see whether she could harness microorganisms in contemporary craft, Cui developed a new take on the historic Japanese tradition of kintsugi – in which broken pottery is fixed using lacquer and precious metals – whereby microbes do the work of lacquer by creating a substance that binds shards together. ‘A biotechnology called MICP can induce microbial bio-mineralisation and generate calcium carbonate in a short time. This natural technique can repair porcelain – and even create a new work with unique charm.’
‘I grew up in Malta, where I was surrounded by family and tradition,’ says MA graduate Nico Conti, who moved to London to study Ceramics & Glass at the Royal College of Art. ‘The sudden shift to a city impacted my work.’ It prompted him to adopt 3d printing, and combine the uniformity of the process with chance – embracing both digital glitches and warping during firing – to create delicate sculptural ceramics formed from 1mm-thin filaments of porcelain. The clay is either coloured black with iron oxide or left pure white; some works are dotted with golden droplets of glaze. The meeting of traditional influences with contemporary techniques is clearest in Conti’s degree show series, Of Lace and Porcelain. ‘It gets its title from the fine extrusions of white porcelain, as if it was lace,’ he explains. ‘It’s a tribute to the craft of Maltese lacemaking.’
‘I’m interested in ecology and sourcing food locally,’ says Glasgow School of Art BA graduate Harriet Jenkins. ‘I want to show the beauty of produce native to the UK, such as the cabbage.’ For her final degree project, the Silversmithing & Jewellery Design student cast vegetables in silver using the lostwax process to create a series of bowls, spoons, candlesticks and sculptures. Parts of this collection, titled Momento Vivere (a play on the Latin phrase ‘Memento vivere’, meaning ‘Remember to live’), are decorated with vivid touches of life-like green enamel. The series puts a contemporary twist on historic examples of vegetableshaped tableware, such as those by 18th-century Staffordshire potters, while other items in Momento Vivere include cast slices of sourdough bread. ‘A lot of my inspiration came from having been a baker,’ says Jenkins. ‘The bakery was a hub for the community; making bread brought people together. I want to celebrate the moments we share with other people over food, which is why I’ve chosen to preserve it using valuable materials.’
When apprenticing with a master glassblower in the UK, Laura Quinn contemplated the energy-heavy process that she had chosen to specialise in. ‘It is difficult to make an argument for glassblowing as a sustainable craft practice,’ she says. ‘Handmaking a drinking glass takes three kilns heated between 500-1200°c.’ Her project for the MA in 3d Design Crafts at Plymouth College of Art considers whether a combination of traditional craft practices and new design technologies can create a method of sustainable glass-making. She designed the moulds for a set of tumblers using digital software and 3d printing. ‘Being able to use CAD to draw and tweak the files means that most of the kinks can be ironed out before using hot glass,’ she says. ‘It provides a greater certainty that, once in energy guzzling, hot-glass production they will be a success.’ Meanwhile, her Sisyphus bracelets and lights, and Balance necklaces experiment with fixings that allow movement, adaptability and easy repair – ideas that she intends to develop on a larger scale for use as room dividers or furniture.
Florence Maisie Carter
Sheffield Hallam master’s graduate Florence Maisie Carter has combined craft practice and electronics to bring a sense of tactility to light switches. ‘My choice to work with natural textures is focused on bringing an element of our natural environment into our everyday lives,’ she says, ‘reintroducing a connection to nature that we have distanced ourselves from by living in urban environments.’ Feeling Ore, in bronze, Delrin and aluminium, is a dimmer switch that you operate by running your hand across its gritty, stone-textured surface, while Moving Rain, in ash wood, brass, copper and acrylic, is inspired by the feeling of water rippling over the skin: you scoop your hand through a chain to turn the light on and off. Interacting with these objects, explains the artist, allows something we touch every day to become personal and emotive.