Preservation, Perseverance and Positivity

Given the relentlessness with which today’s media outlets inundate our daily lives with dystopian projections of a future defined by the bleak realities of severe weather, overpopulation, and the destruction of natural resources, it is often difficult to maintain even a small degree of optimism about our planet’s inevitable trajectory. But these are the current forces to which contemporary designers must increasingly respond, as these threats loom large on the horizon. Beyond the commendable designers, and indeed artists, who have actively adapted their practices to be environmentally sustainable, we should take a moment to explore creative work that approaches this bleak portrayal with a degree of positivity through forward looking and innovative design solutions.[1]


Let us consider, then, some of the ways in which young designers have tackled the problems facing them head on, while bearing in mind Kristina Wilson’s declaration that ‘there is never any single best solution to the constellations of problems faced by a designer. There are instead degrees of inventiveness with which objects juggle and satisfy such competing concerns.’[2]


Fashion and accessories designer, Anne van Galen, a recent graduate of Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands, confronts the foreboding future by bringing beauty back into the otherwise uninviting image. While van Galen produced her Warriors of Downpour City collection on the basis of a fictional world fated with endless rainfall, it is not hard to imagine her pieces adorning and protecting the bodies of those in areas affected by intense precipitation, especially in light of the recent IPCC report. Based on the idea that a climate of perpetual downpour would alter not only our lifestyle but indeed our very posture and appearance, Warriors of Downpour City offers an image of poetic positivity in its inspired solution to dismal circumstances, real or imagined: ‘When time evolves, so will our shape and posture. In my vision, I celebrate the rain, in which fashion becomes naked, transparent and layered with thin diluted colours.’ Van Galen’s project conjures an enticing image of streets lined not with frantic pedestrians scurrying to shelter under awnings, newspapers, and umbrellas, but a far more serene scene in which communities endure the bad weather with sartorial grace. Indeed, Warriors of Downpour City is merely a concept collection, but it offers us a new lens through which to look forward, one not tinged by the idea of our inevitable demise, but rather our unfailing adaptability.


Áine Byrne, a woven textile student at the Royal College of Art (RCA), demands we stop dragging our feet and simply face up to our changing circumstances. The most recent work-in-progress exhibition at the RCA featured Áine’s unique designs, which synthesize traditional methods of weaving with modern technologies to highlight the potential of her chosen medium to respond to pressing global concerns. The designer’s inflatable ‘survival wear,’ for example, offers an experimental and exciting answer to the increasingly urgent need to preserve personal space in the face of overpopulation. While the notion of ‘survival wear’ exudes a certain disheartening quality, Áine’s work nevertheless displays an encouraging amount of perseverance in its confrontation of immediate problems. There is no evading the inevitable with these concepts; Áine does not let us wallow.


Appearing alongside Áine’s designs at the RCA work-in-progress exhibition was the work of Jennifer Green, whose vision for future textiles seeks to return to high quality natural fibers and traditional techniques. Drawing on her Canadian heritage, Jennifer’s work is committed to the revival of the once thriving Canadian linen industry by reestablishing the importance of the sensory experience afforded by these natural materials that has been lost with the popularization of synthetic fabric. Jennifer’s interest in reinvigorating long neglected methods places her among a growing group of young designers in the United Kingdom currently concerned with reviving traditional craftsmanship. Her philosophy echoes that of furniture designer Sebastian Cox who recently commented in an interview with Dezeen, ‘I believe in looking both forwards and backwards at once. We can learn so much from the past that is useful to take forward, especially when thinking about a sustainable future.’ If this trend towards natural fibers and sustainable practice continues to grow at its current rate we can look forward to a more comfortable world in which people are more connected to the clothing on their back and the furniture under their feet.


Looking forward to an uncertain future has always comprised a facet of design’s agenda, and now, what we see is as bleak as ever. With the promise of significant global shifts in the near future we need visionaries like Anne van Galen and Áine Byrne to match the pace of the changes at our doorstep. With designers like Jennifer Green and Sebastian Cox we can move forward sustainably without losing sight of the past. While these four designers approach creating for the future in individual ways, their collective message is clear: what we need from design is preservation of our heritage, perseverance in our purpose and positivity in our prospects.


Chloe Frechette


[1] The theme of the 2014 Frieze Art Fair Marathon at London’s Serpentine Gallery was ‘Extinction’ and comprised ‘both a reflexive overview and a call to action’ in response to the way in which ‘the spectre of extinction looms over the ways in which we understand our being in the world today: environmental degradation, atomic weapons, threats to communities and languages, global warming, economic collapses, natural catastrophes, life wiped out by genocide, disease and hunger – the constellation of topics around extinction is ever-expansive and as urgent now as ever before.’


[2] Kristina Wilson, Livable Modernism: Interior Decorating and Design during The Great Depression (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004) p. 12



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