Exhibition highlights ‘waste’ redesigned

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Above: Opening night at Dark Horse Experiment. Visitors were encouraged to interact with the furniture and objects shown. Posters were created to show the making process. Photo: Rene Moghadam 

Product photos: Maryam Moghadam

In May 2023, three friends, Angharad Summers, Maryam Moghadam and Carl Broesen, organised and showed work in a furniture exhibition called Pop ‘round: one person’s junk is another person’s chair. The exhibition was displayed at Dark Horse Experiment (located in The Blender Studios) in Melbourne and included as part of the Melbourne Design Week program from May 19–25. In all, 22 pieces by 12 designer makers were shown.

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Angharad Summers, Schach, chess set and table with lazy susan. ‘After seeing the amount of timber scraps going to waste at my workplace, I came to the idea of using the light and dark timbers to create a table and chess set, keeping it simple and classic with a small twist.’

The participating designers were Adam Markowitz, Alisher Mirzaev, Angharad Summers, Apple Huang, Carl Broesen, Elizabeth Lawrence, Harry Vasey, Jack Stannard, Johannes Fehrmann, Maryam Moghadam, Richard Astley, Suraj Vijaykumar.

The exhibition had three main themes: Materiality, The Exhibition Experience and Transparency. Participating designers were asked to create furniture constructed from material that had been ‘rescued’.

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Adam Markowitz and Apple Huang, Droop Lamp. Building on Apple Huang’s research into recycling waste plastic, a translucent shroud of heat formed recycled plastic sits on a handcarved base.

The brief defined rescued material as: ‘Waste materials that are reclaimed instead of being discarded – materials that can no longer be used, are no longer wanted, or are leftover from their usable counterpart (offcuts).’ Exceptions were fastenings, binding materials and finishes.

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Richard Astley, Glenlyon Armchair

The designers were briefed ‘to explore creative and original ways of using rescued materials to produce functional furniture that met the standard of high-end, premium furniture. ‘The furniture must be functional as we will be inviting our audience to interact with and use it in the exhibition space’, noted the brief. ‘We will present these objects as furniture pieces (chairs, coffee tables, sofas, floor lamps etc) in a living space, and treat our audience as our guests who are visiting our home.’

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Carl Broesen, Crescent Vases. Turned rescued spotted gum bases with stainless steel tube.

Furniture made from waste materials is usually not expected to demonstrate design sophistication due to the limitations of the material, further explained the project brief. ‘The term waste itself is synonymous with words including litter, rubbish, junk, unwanted, misused and emaciated (as in waste-away) – words with unpleasant and undesirable implications.’

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Maryam Moghadam, ‘Raiden Record Rack disassembles easily for a nomadic lifestyle. Scrap aluminium ends slide along carbon fibre rods and lock with a gentle twist. The knob is made from HDPE plastic from household waste and the frame is rescued spotted gum.

By striving to produce premium quality furniture, the aim was to alter the perception of waste material and create examples to develop a market for ‘rescued material design – even amongst clients with more refined or conservative design tastes’.

The intent was to inspire designers to work with ‘what is already there’ and showcase the potential for rescued material in design to put a halt to mining new materials, to save further landfill and also save the resources used to recycle materials.

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Harry Vasey, Table 125

To achieve the aims of narrative and transparency, the exhibition included a display of posters for each design that documented its behind the scenes journey from start to finish. The aim here was to connect with the audience on a deeper level.

Hundreds of people have now been exposed to better ways of using waste materials, and some of the works shown have since received design awards.

In the interview below, we asked the organisers if the aims of the project had been met and what the flow-on effects of organising the exhibition have been.

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Alisher Mirzaev, Honeycomb Table

Q&A with Angharad Summers, Maryam Moghadam and Carl Broesen

What was the reaction of visitors to the exhibition?
Many of our visitors didn’t realise that all the pieces were made of waste material, which was the response we were hoping for. We wanted to surprise people by showing the potential of waste material in making high quality furniture. There is a certain charm in keeping the honesty of a recycled or reclaimed material in a piece that alludes to its previous lifetime. Sometimes this honesty can elevate the piece, but sometimes it can leave the piece looking tacky and short of luxurious.

The quality of work produced and visitor responses revealed that we navigated this fine line successfully. We also received tremendous positive feedback regarding the invitation to interact with the furniture. People appreciated being able to touch and ‘test out’ the pieces, which is not generally allowed in exhibition spaces.

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Suraj Vijaykumar, Bloom Floor Lamp

Do you think your aims were met?
Yes, but at the same time no. People were impressed and surprised at the potential for waste material, but very few displayed interest in purchasing the pieces. We are not disheartened however – we understand people’s general reluctance to invest in bespoke furniture when in competition with cheaper, mass-produced furniture.

Were there any other outcomes of the project?
For the three of us, there have been opportunities outside of it. Maryam Moghadam’s record rack Raiden for example, has had considerable interest following its showcase at Design Show Australia and Design Fringe. She is currently in the process of improving its design and beginning a small batch production.

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Angharad Summers, Rope Me Up stool. Made from waste material rescued from manufacturing processes, the stool also functions as a side table or storage cube.

Angharad’s Fish stool received a positive response at Design Show Australia and was shortlisted in the IDEA Awards. Both Carl Broesen and Maryam Moghadam have also been shortlisted for the IDEA Awards and the three of us have also recently been included in a new online store called Alt Material. This allows our exhibiting work to be put in front of a wider audience for purchase.

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Jack Stannard, Illuka Coffee Table

How would you describe the successes and learnings of this project?
Despite the event being in a small gallery we believe the biggest success was the number of people we attracted to our opening night, with no experience between us organising such an event.

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Maryam Moghadam, Ioanna, spotted gum rescued from Tait Enterprises, offcut upholstery fabric donated by Martel Upholstery, discarded drum cable, recycled HDPE plastic. ‘Named after my Aunty Ioanna – the most influential person for the early cultivation of my passion for art and design.’

We were hoping to have around 100 visitors and ended up with over 120 booked tickets. Although we faced
a number of challenges along the way, we were able to pull the exhibition together and we all felt such a sense of accomplishment when it was over. Through delivering Pop ‘round, we learned the importance of communication and time management whilst balancing the workload between organising the exhibition, making our pieces and our full time jobs.

More information from Angharad Summers, see www.angharadsummers.com

 

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