With the Central Saint Martins Creative Unions exhibition now at a close, we continue to take a closer look at the themes and works which comprised the show.
Society is organised through the use of systems – the financial, corporate, medical, political, institutional. When these systems break down or fail to cater for certain people, design can provide alternative solutions that build resilience and enable self-organisation. Across products, spaces and film, these projects employ human-centred design, fuelled by empathy and exchange. Targeting specific communities, they provide the tools for self-reliance and autonomy. Using design as a facilitator they redistribute value, encouraging solidarity and collaboration.
MA Material Futures graduate Katie-May Boyd’s project Foreign Garbage uses the beaconing cat as a symbol of useless, plastic junk. Historically the UK has sent 30 per cent of its waste to China, until a ban was recently enacted on the import of all “foreign garbage.” Focusing on the waste stream of expanded polystyrene, Boyd has developed an alternative recycling method. For her work in the Degree Show 2018 and Creative Unions, she reproduced a product emblematic of “Made in China” manufacturing with the waste intended for their landfill, challenging our treatment of plastic and the absurdity of shipping products around the globe. Here she returns to her original research into “miscellaneous manufactured articles” and their relevance to our current discourse around sustainability.
Katie-May Boyd: Miscellaneous Manufactured Articles
During the Foreign Garbage project there was one critical turning point for me. Half way through the project I developed a process that allowed me to recycle expanded polystyrene – something that wasn’t being done by anyone else in the UK. At this point I began to design the products that could be made from this material, turning it in to a functioning system. However, something felt wrong and I returned to my original research. I had been investigating waste streams, focusing on the output material (in this case EPS) but I began to think that surely it made more sense to concentrate on the source of the problem: the input.
In 2016 the UK’s number 1 import from China was “miscellaneous manufactured articles”. This category surpassed electrical, telecoms equipment and clothing. These items are things that do not fit into any other category in the World Customs Organization’s roster; by name they have no use. This is a clear indication of our insatiable appetite for mass produced goods. If we are going to attack the problems of waste and over consumption, then it is these behaviours we need to address. As James Maxwell observes in Plastics: The Layman’s Guide: “The more one looks at the ‘the problems of plastic’ the more they become identified as the problems of Society.”
Looking at our main import, our main consumptive behaviour – it evades categorisation. How can we hope to address this problem if we can’t even define it? The dictionary definition of miscellaneous itself is slippery enough: (of items or people gathered or considered together) of various types or from different sources. Fundamentally, it is a word for “don’t really know where to put this.” This is not the way to approach fixing our planet. I think, to tackle our consumptive behaviours we need to study more about what we are buying and also to categorise it. If you are making, selling or buying a plastic knick-knack that has a life span for 4 minutes, surely that should have a consequence.
Do we really want to live in a society where our main purchases have no use? What does that say about us?
Creative Unions is kindly supported by Louis Jadot Wines.