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  • Basse Stittgen, Blood Related Objects, 2017. Photo courtesy the artist

Volcanic ash, blood and human hair: material innovations at Salone del Mobile

Our discoveries in Milan this month

One of the thrills of visiting the Salone del Mobile – the annual furniture fair that takes over Milan – is discovering new material innovations each April, finding objects crafted in all manner of extraordinary ways hidden inside the city’s galleries, palazzos and former factories. Here we share what we unearthed during the 2019 fair this month.  ​​

Formafantasma, Excinere, 2019. Photo © Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of Formafantasma and Dzek

Formafantasma and Dzek turn volcanic ash into tiles 

Volcanic lava may have been used in architecture as far back as the Bronze Age, but we’ve yet to see it reimagined as a design material. Amsterdam-based design studio Formafantasma has been researching its potential since 2010, influenced by Italian co-founder Andrea Trimarchi’s childhood growing up under the shadow of a volcano in Siciliy. ‘Mount Etna is a mine without miners; it is excavating itself to expose its raw materials,’ he says. At the Alcova exhibition during the 2019 Salone del Mobile, Formafantasma showed the fruits of its collaboration with architectural products company Dzek: ExCinere, a collection of ash-glazed tiles for interior and exterior use. Volcanic ash’s high metal oxide content makes it erratic to work with, so it took the studio three years of ‘exploding, imploding and cracking’ to achieve its refined results.

Sanne Visser, The Swing, 2017. Photo courtesy the artist

Sanne Visser turns human hair into bags, swings and ropes

Instead of plundering the planet’s precious resources, why not harvest from humans? That’s the thinking behind Dutch designer Sanne Visser’s project, which turns human hair into bags, swings and ropes. She hit on the idea while studying for a Masters in Material Futures at Central Saint Martins in the UK, a country where some 6.5 million kg of hair is added annually to the waste stream. If it isn’t burnt it ends up in landfill, but Visser recognised its potential: hair is lightweight, absorbs oil, has insulating properties and an extremely high tensile strength. Hair is already used in China and India, but Visser wanted to avoid the use of un-ecological binders or bio-plastics. For her early tests, she made yarns out of hair using a spinner and worked with a rope maker. Now she is developing low-tech machines to speed up the production process. Time will tell whether she’s able to make bags made of hair catch on…

Basse Stittgen, Blood Related Objects, 2017. Photo courtesy the artist

Basse Stittgen transforms blood into jewellery boxes and vessels

‘As long as cattle are slaughtered, blood will flow. Can this waste produce be more than just an unusable, painful reminder of our carnivorous diet?’ asks Basse Stittgen, who won the 2018 New Material Fellowship – an initiative by DOES Foundation, The Kwadraat Fund and Het Nieuwe Institute. According to American researcher Timothy Pachirat, a cow is killed every twelve seconds, which not only yields millions of tonnes of meat but also results in the wastage of vast pools of blood. Stittgen’s aim is to draw attention to the symbolic significance of blood without detracting from the grim reality behind meat consumption. He has been experimenting with a bio-based material from blood, which is first dried and then – using a heat press – is formed into objects, such as jewellery boxes, vessels and a record the plays the heartbeat of a cow. Now he’s looking for professional tools that will enable him to scale up the production. Similarly, Clemence Grouin-Rigaux, one of the Material Futures students at Central Saint Martin, has also been experimenting with applications for blood and offal with her project 'Hidden Beauty', shown at Ventura Projects.

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